Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pittsburgh's British Twin

Shrinking cities around the world tell a similar story. Economic development variance within this cohort is the story we should be telling. That Sun Belt policy is somehow superior to Rust Belt policy doesn't wash. Birmingham, Alabama would be delighted to pull a Sheffield, United Kingdom:

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills plans to replace them with new local enterprise partnerships and will receive initial submissions from interested parties in the autumn. In the meantime, though, some cities already involved in regeneration and job creation have set up practical but relatively inexpensive programmes to support their local entrepreneurs.

An excellent example is Sheffield, a city with a great entrepreneurial and industrial heritage, which has reinvented itself since the coal and steel days of the 1980s into a modern industrial centre. ...

... Extensive redevelopment has provided new modern factory and office space, including a purpose-built, state-of-the art building for the third of the national enterprise academies being set up by Dragons’ Den panellist Peter Jones. Considerable investment has also been made into the support infrastructure, with the digital region of Sheffield and South Yorkshire soon to offer the fastest broadband internet in Europe.

It is also home to the first city-based economic development company: Creativesheffield, which was set-up in 2007 with a remit covering regeneration, innovation and enterprise. Chief executive Paul Firth explains that foreign investors sometimes arrive expecting to find Sheffield stuck in a rust belt, but always leave impressed by a modern city with more open space than most other industrial environments. This has attracted inward investment from many large corporations, including Capita and electronics retailer DSG.

I emphasized the part of the passage that most reminds me of Pittsburgh, a city that also defies Rust Belt expectations. For brownfield cities such as Sheffield, changing perceptions is difficult business. I think that's why stronger performing metros with significant legacy costs fail to jump out of the crowd like other boomtowns. Most people simply don't know or believe that real change has occurred.

All the hard work is starting to pay off. Now the trick is to get outside talent and enterprise to buy into the turnaround. Don't expect such a shift in perspective to happen overnight. Take the long view and track which Rust Belt cities are trending upwards.

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