Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pittsburgh Steel-less

The New York Times offers another feting of postindustrial Pittsburgh. This article is one of the "most e-mailed" at the Times website and my inbox was full of messages from people passing along the feel-good story. First, the ray of economic sunshine:

Deindustrialization in Pittsburgh was a protracted and painful experience. Yet it set the stage for an economy that is the envy of many recession-plagued communities, particularly those where the automobile industry is struggling for its life.

“If people are looking for hope, it’s here,” said Sabina Deitrick, an urban studies expert at the University of Pittsburgh. “You can have a decent economy over a long period of restructuring.”

Talk of Pittsburgh being the diamond in the Rust Belt rough motivates me to throw caution to the wind and move my family there as soon as possible. Moving at a time when most people cannot relocate is a competitive edge. Pittsburgh strikes me as worth the gamble, ignoring the better bets in DC or just about anywhere in Texas. But the Pittsburgh labor market still stinks if you don't live there:

There were moments when the rebirth of steel seemed plausible, if not imminent. Ryan Campbell grew up in the shadow of the great Homestead Works, now the site of a vibrant shopping mall. When he graduated from college in 2001, steel drew him in.

Mr. Campbell took a job at a small specialty mill as a foreman. He loved it — the huge cranes delicately pouring pots of molten fire, the camaraderie on the production line, the proud heritage of making something tangible — but soon realized he could never make a career there.

Overburdened with retiree pension and health care costs, competing against both imports and modern minimills, the steel industry was convulsing again. An initial round of layoffs at Mr. Campbell’s mill was followed by a second, then a third. “I need to go paddle on a different boat,” Mr. Campbell told himself.

He posted a résumé online and was sought out by recruiters for Medrad Inc., a health care company founded by an emergency room doctor in 1964 in Pittsburgh. Now a unit of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, Medrad last year opened its fourth facility in the area, this one for making disposable syringes. Mr. Campbell, 31, is a production manager.

What brain drain? What talent shortage? For someone who wants to move to Pittsburgh, the local labor mobility (not to mention the tight trust networks) might as well be the Berlin Wall. My favorite port in the economic storm isn't exactly posting "help wanted" at locations outside of Pittsburgh. "Imagine My New Job" doesn't count when the thrust of your marketing campaign is in an area with relatively strong job growth.

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