Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anchoring Pittsburgh's Boom

Pittsburgh is changing, fast. The economic acceleration is undeniable, even among the most ardent regional cranks. The strengths in eds/meds, finance, and energy are impressive enough. But none of the three are really a game-changer. Slow and steady as she goes ...

The recent news about entertainment-tech is the pop that has been lacking in Pittsburgh. 31st Street Studios is the anchor, the missing ingredient for the city's entrepreneurial scene. One of themes that Mike Madison explored at the sorely-missed Pittsblog is economic anchor tenants. The concept ties in neatly with liberal thinking about talent migration. Ideas and people should move around freely. The economic anchor tenant also encourages talent to take on more entrepreneurial risk. Employees leave the anchor for a startup. But the talent flow isn't a zero-sum game. The rising tide raises all boats, even the anchor tenant hemorrhaging talent.

The driving force behind Pittsburgh's economic anchor tenant is the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University. There has been some spillover activity from the ETC such as Etcetera Edutainment and Schell Games. The growth of these companies has been interesting to track. But the activity is a very small piece of the overall economic pie. 31st Street Studios changes all of that:

Major movie studios are cashing in with increasingly popular digital animated movies.

And Michael Kadrie believes Pittsburgh's zoetifex Studios LLC can join those Hollywood heavy hitters as he works to establish an animation production studio here.

"We're not going to be a little boutique animation studio," said Kadrie, who founded zoetifex and works as art director for a Strip District advertising agency. "We want to compete with Pixar and Dreamworks." ...

... A number of people in the industry who live in Pittsburgh or have ties to the region are supporting Kadrie's efforts.

And in a deal that further raises Pittsburgh's profile, 31st Street Studios this week announced it will establish in Lawrenceville the nation's only high-tech "motion-capture" studio outside Hollywood.

"The reputation of the city is becoming huge," said Todd Eckert, who will run the motion-capture studio and also serves on zoetifex's advisory board.

"I think the work that zoetifex is doing is timely," Eckert said. "It is another piece in a comparatively large puzzle. Maybe 10 years ago it might not have been a great idea, but today it's perfect."

Emphasis added. There is a synergy between the 31st Street Studios anchor and the ambitions of zoetifex. They will be competing for the same talent without really competing. Both are close to the source at the ETC. Talent and knowledge will, hopefully, flow easily between the two companies. My bet is that ETC culture will make sure that happens.

The entertainment-tech cluster is distinctive and Pittsburgh is a great site for such development. I think this economic activity will come to define the city, more so than eds & meds or even energy. Where have you gone, Roboburgh? Hello Hell with the Lid Off productions.


Tom Mc said...

Was not expecting a grade of "A" for Racial Equity for Latinos. This must go back to your comment about higher educated immigrants.

Jim Russell said...

I'd file that grade under "Sample Size Too Small".