Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pittsburgh Economic Mesofacts

Pittsburgh is still struggling to get out from under the collapse of steel. And if you aren't surprised by Pittsburgh topping some metro ranking, then you likely think the praises are a fluke. Take away eds & meds, Shittsburgh is back. With praise like this, who needs detractors?

We well understand why the Boston Metroversity is first with 230,000 students and 35 colleges and universities. Many of those schools have altered the landscape and enlivened the creative economy. The Colleges of the Fenway (Emmanuel, Wheelock, Simmons, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Mass College of Art and Design, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services) have invigorated Huntington Avenue. Emerson College and Suffolk University have done the same for the downtown.

In Raleigh the great research triangle of North Carolina State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke dominates. But the Pittsburgh Metroversity, ninth? It is powered by 120,000 students led by Carnegie-Mellon, Duquesne and by itself the University of Pittsburgh with its Medical Center that now employs 83,800 people and spends more than $2 billion in the community annually.

Without that, Pittsburgh would be hemorrhaging economically as would Cleveland without Case-Western or Richmond without Virginia Commonwealth. And the world is now turning to the “industry” of higher education/allied health.

I doubt the author intended a backhanded compliment. The point of the article is that higher education is an important driver of regional economic development. But the rhetoric does assume the reader would be surprised at such a high ranking for Pittsburgh.

The bone I'm picking is that Pittsburgh is all eds & meds. The spillovers aren't as mature as in Boston and Raleigh-Durham, a point that Vivek Wadhwa turned into a critique of those two celebrated innovation clusters:

Regional planners eager to replicate the job growth of areas such as Silicon Valley or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park use them as examples of government-sponsored clusters that worked. While it’s true that World War II investments in defense-related research at Stanford planted the seeds for Silicon Valley’s semiconductor industry, that forest burned down long ago. The Valley has reinvented itself many times since then. Meanwhile, Research Triangle Park achieved its success decades ago but, in my opinion, has lost momentum in the Internet era.

Pittsburgh is gaining momentum across many industry sectors such as energy and finance. Falling far short of Boston or even Seattle isn't a critique. Recovery and economic transformation take decades and this party is just getting started.

Pittsburgh hasn't arrived so much as it is heading, strongly, in the right direction. The eds & meds asterisk is progress in the mesofacts department. The best is yet to come. Meanwhile, Boston and Raleigh-Durham continue to bank on yesterday's success. The smartest cities stay smart. Past is prologue for most regions. In that regard, Pittsburgh is truly exceptional.


JRoth said...

You wants unchanging mesofacts? Carnegie Mellon dropped the hyphen from its name in the 1980s. The hyphen was in place for a scant 20 years; it's been gone for over 20. Anyone under the age of 40 started college after C-MU became CMU. It's astonishing, really.

Pauly Allnuts said...

If this Boston Herald writer is mentioning Mass College of Art, then I'll mention the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, for his Wentworth, there's Carlow, for his Suffolk, there's Chatham, for his Simmons, there's LaRoche, for his Emmanuel, there's Point Park. No, Pittsburgh is no "Athens of America" as Boston once called itself (or "Hub of the Universe" -- used unironically during a time when Boston's self-importance ran over the top). The writer, Evan Dobelle, exhibits a kind of Boston provincialism that I thought was going out of style. Guess not.