Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Pissburgh Sucks

Aaron Renn has two new offerings about the better half of the two Rust Belts. He has some nice words for Pittsburgh while also noting the strong performance of Indianapolis. Of course, the good news is welcome. But that's not really the issue. Perception is what matters:

Most observers do not associate the Midwest with urban success, but quite the opposite in fact. But while there are plenty of places that are legitimately suffering, there are also plenty of success stories out there that don't always get the mindshare or press they deserve.

Bottom line, the success is ironic. Indianoplace? Surely you jest. Jest on. Know thyself.

Aaron serves up plenty of cold hard facts telling the other story about the Midwest. Despite his best efforts, the megaregional brand prevails. The depressed backwaters of globalization are boring. Not to mention, the weather is lousy. (One of these days, I'm going to tell my Randy Pausch story)

I've yet to drop the bombshell. This will be Data Point #2 in my attempt to triangulate the talent migration narrative for the Rust Belt:

“If we’re going to have our headquarters here, we want to support organisations that make Houston a better place to live,” Plank says. It is that attitude that has made talent intent on staying in Houston.

Mike Linn, executive chairman of Linn Energy, knows that first-hand. He decided in 2006 to move his Pennsylvania-based oil and gas company to Houston. “I couldn’t attract engineers and geologists to move to Pittsburgh. If you want to attract the most talented people to grow a company, Houston is the place to be,” he says.

His staff like running into others from the industry at soccer games, or while shopping or walking to meetings in Houston’s underground tunnel system. “It spurs conversations and deals,” he adds.

Linn, clearly at home in an expensive suit as he walks past paintings, sculptures and other treasures at the Museum of Fine Arts, felt welcome here. Despite being a newcomer, his involvement in the energy sector meant he was invited to serve on various boards that serve the local community, such as that of the museum – something, he said, that in places such as New York or Boston is reserved for sixth-generation residents.

In that extended passage from the Financial Times exists Pittsburgh's inherited misfortune and its shortcomings. Regarding the shortcomings, serendipity is not a strong suit of the city. This is a result of the legacy costs, the subtle snipe at the good old boys networks of Boston and NYC.

The inherited misfortune is that non-Rust Belt talent won't move there. This is the Ann Arbor crisis. The shadow of Detroit destroys all inmigration (but not immigration).

All of the above is why Pittsburgh won't follow Calgary. Calgary is Canada's Houston, just later to the game. What's Canada's Pittsburgh? Please don't say Sudbury.

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