Friday, September 18, 2009

Resurrecting Tom Murphy

While everyone in Pittsburgh is rushing to the fore to take credit for the celebrated turnaround, one of the architects of the transformation tours the country and describes how to pull a Pittsburgh:

Murphy, who still makes his home in Pittsburgh, praised Baltimore leaders for taking the initiative to encourage new approaches. “Cities that have been doing okay don’t have the same imperative to try different things,” he said. “I think to Baltimore’s credit, the Inner Harbor and development associated with it has been fairly successful. But I think what they’re saying is, it could get stale.”

He cited the example of Pittsburgh’s South Side Works, a $300 million project that transformed an abandoned steel mill into a shopping center, as an example of the type of project he has tried to nurture.

“The whole idea of public-private partnerships and the public underwriting the debt, in places like Pittsburgh they’ve been really essential,” he said.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy will be writing an economic development vision plan for Baltimore. I appreciate what Murphy's critics have to say, but I can't dismiss all the interest in his advice. Why are so many cities actively seeking his expertise?

Urban leaders are keen to replicate Pittsburgh's success. I figure that over the next decade people will talk about the city with the same reverence lavished upon Chicago in the 90s and Murphy will get a lot of the credit. Not that I begrudge him the recognition, but I'm inclined to think that the proximity to Washington, DC is mostly responsible for the escape from economic malaise.

The Partnership for Public Service this month released a report indicating that the federal government will need to hire 270,000 workers to replace retirees and staff expanded programs over the next three years. That's going to translate into roughly 120,000 new jobs here in the D.C. area alone.

This steady economic activity and job creation translates into the nation's greatest concentration of wealth -- at least among young workers, if a new Nielsen study is to be believed. This metro area now contains an incredible 16 of the top 50 counties for 25-to-34 year-olds making $100,000 or more.

It's easier to get into most area restaurants than it was two years ago. But two years from now, it's going to be a lot harder scoring a good table around here than it will be just about anywhere else in the country.

As those restaurant queues get longer, the push factors for migration will get stronger. DC will become one of the country's biggest engines of talent churn. Pittsburgh will benefit as it already has in terms of the G-20 Summit. The concentration of wealth in the DC area has helped to pull up Southwestern PA.

The agent, or catalyst, for the spillover is the Burgh Diaspora. The power of a diaspora to spur economic development is on full display right now at the Global Irish Forum in Dublin:

On the first night about 50 of us were packed into a bus and brought to the residence of the U.S. Ambassador Dan Rooney. What followed was a wonderful warm welcome by an inspiring host who, of course, knows all about celebration from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Frankie Gavin and the new De Danann played a rousing concert and the lead female singer looked a dead ringer for former De Dannan diva Maura O'Connell; even better she sang like her too. It was a great opening to the forum.

Craig Barrett former Chairman of Intel was there, as were John Hartnett and John Gilmore of the Irish Technology Leadership Group.The ITLG is in the process of raising $100 million to fund start-up ventures in Ireland. So far they have about $40 million of that raised and venture capitalists striving to jump on board.

The ITLG may well be the engine that helps recovery in Ireland more than any other single group. The idea is simple - make Ireland an incubator like Silicon Valley of innovative technology and creative thinking. Provide the funding and allow the Irish group to utilize an American base in San Jose where the ITLG is located. Then using best American business practices and Irish innovation create a successful start-up.

All new companies need money, contacts and luck, The last cannot be guaranteed but the other two certainly look like they will be provided by the ITLG folk who are truly blazing a trail.

One of these days, I hope to see a Global Pittsburgh Forum and a similar kind of diaspora network. In an ad hoc manner, the Burgh Diaspora in DC is already doing what I envision. This suggests that the East Coast Connected model would work well in the Tech Belt. Just as Atlantic Canada actively plugged into the global city of Toronto, so could Cleveburgh take advantage of the amassing of wealth in DC.

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