Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Diverging Fortunes: Charlotte Versus Pittsburgh

Back in 2006, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a short series demonstrating how Charlotte shot past the Steel City. Pittsburgh's decline is Charlotte's boom. The migration tale:

Younger people are moving to Charlotte not just from Pittsburgh but from all over the country. From 1995 to 2000, the Charlotte metro area had the third-highest attraction rate among people who were single, between the ages of 25 and 39 and had at least a bachelor's degree-- gaining 10,091 such people during that period (the Pittsburgh area lost 7,444 such people during the same years). The only metro areas with a higher migration rate among the young, single and well educated were Naples, Fla., and Las Vegas.

That still stings. Charlotte and the Sun Belt were doing something right. Pittsburgh and the Rust Belt were doing something wrong. That explained the diverging fortunes. Taking a look at the metro GDP growth numbers for 2004-2005, one can forgive the Post-Gazette for the slight. Charlotte had no problem recovering from the Dot Com recession. Calling Pittsburgh's recovery "sluggish" would be generous.

Five years later, we have new numbers to ponder. Most stark is the flipping of Rust Belt and Sun Belt. Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) offers a quick analysis of the latest BEA report. Charlotte doesn't stand out in a bad way so much as Pittsburgh stands out in a good way, placing eighth in GDP growth among cities with over 1 million people. Post-Gazette coverage of the news:

The Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area's output grew enough to improve from ranking as the nation's 24th largest gross domestic product in 2009 to 22nd in 2010.

The region's GDP, which is the measure of all of the goods and services produced here, was $115.7 billion last year. That's a 4.1 percent increase from 2009 to 2010 based on inflation adjusted dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and was better than the average 2.5 percent growth for all of the metropolitan areas.

Breaking out comparisons by market, the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill area of North and South Carolina may still have a US Airways hub, but Pittsburgh passed that region in terms of economic output last year. Charlotte fell from the 23rd place to 24th.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., area also fell, slipping from 22nd to 23rd.

Pittsburgh's new ranking moves it back to where it stood in 2001 and 2003. In 2002, the area surged to 21st place.

Emphasis added. Perhaps I am projecting. I think the schadenfreude is palpable. Regardless, I have a sense that metro GDP is a volatile metric. Charlotte could well push past Pittsburgh next year.

That brings me back to the Nielsen Local Television Market Universe Estimates. I finally got a hold of the actual numbers. You can see how Pittsburgh (24th to 23rd) moved past Charlotte (23rd to 25th). More significant is the change in the number of TV homes. Pittsburgh rose by over 10,000. Charlotte dropped over 25,000. In fact, of the top 25 TV markets only five showed an increase in homes: Houston, Miami, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh-Durham.

My point being that there are more than a few arrows pointing up for Pittsburgh and down for Charlotte. Woe is Charlotte doesn't accurately reflect the economic landscape. Pittsburgh is escaping the gravity of the Great Recessions during the early 1980s.

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