Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pittsburgh, Alabama

Mobile, Alabama is celebrating the arrival of two new steel companies to the region. Is this industry good for the economy? The ever vigilant and skeptical local media asks the tough questions:

But where are we headed? Are we becoming another Birmingham or Pittsburgh, a steel town with mostly manufacturing jobs? What if you want to work in a nice cushy air-conditioned office instead of a steel plant? And what about jobs to attract and retain the much-touted "creative class?" Is Mobile’s economy diverse enough to offer the range of jobs needed to continue to grow and prosper in the 21st century?

Before the Pittsburgh proud inundate the author and the Lagniappe (a Mobile newspaper), know that a resident there already set them straight:

The writer asked if we are "becoming another Birmingham or Pittsburgh, a steel town with mostly manufacturing jobs?" She must not know much about either of those cities because if she had checked she would see that both Birmingham and Pittsburgh diversified their economies decades ago.

Speaking of Birmingham and Pittsburgh, both of those cities got a lot cleaner when the steel industry died down. Why haven’t you had any discussion of the possible environmental problems from bringing the steel industry down here? Is it because of the ad the steel plant bought in your paper? How else are you connected to that new plant?

The debate about the new steel mills aside, Pittsburgh is still hidden by the smoke and soot of yesteryear. Even Birmingham, in the same state as Mobile, is stuck in the past. How can former industrial powerhouses shake the negative historical images?

What these shrinking cities need are a few shining examples of economic diversification and a return to global prominence. Sure, the quality of life in Pittsburgh is much improved, but the city still isn't a success story; lacking the dramatic turnaround that will serve notice that the Burgh is indeed back. Until then, the default image of Pittsburgh is the one the city projected the last time it was a dominant player on the world stage.

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