Monday, August 12, 2013

People + Permutation = Propsperity: Notes on "New" Pittsburgh's Economic Gambit

Knit the Bridge

Do you want more business? To generate a lot of tax receipts to pave streets and pay pensioners? See increased school enrollment? Foster community infill and redevelopment? Got to have people.

Tons and tons of people...

As the immigration debate continues in Washington, there's a different discussion unfolding in many Rust Belt cities: How to attract more immigrants. Cities like Detroit, Dayton, and Cleveland are all working to expand their immigrant populations as a way to help revitalize local economies. The World's Jason Margolis reports on what's happening in Pittsburgh. (The World, Jason Margolis)

Seriously, you guys. We are doing this.

Expect it to be a central motif from now on. Immigrants follow other immigrants, it is known. If such efforts succeed and we become a truly, authentically global city, imagine the possibilities.

Chris Briem observes:

With support from such a wide range of the political spectrum you would think immigration is one of the least contentious issues out there. That and Pittsburgh would be doing so well at attracting and welcoming immigrants over the last decade.  Never would such logic fail you worse. (Null Space)

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot.

Double time?

Related to becoming a population magnet, a synergistic avenue should be the region's public "tourism" investment, which we find in the care of an independent, not for profit chamber of commerce-style cartel. A look at Visit Pittsburgh's Ode to Meeting Planners gives an idea as to that agency's overriding mission.

At any rate, once all these new cats are 'burghers, ideally we'd like a critical mass of them (and their kids, very likely) along with us to become entrepreneurs: attracting a lot of wealth, jobs and catalyzing innovation.

Think Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs, and the woods-witch who invented Heinz Ketchup. Or think groceries and marketplaces, restaurants, craftspeople and software developers. Risk-takers who don't mind starting in a "starter" office or storefront.

That's where a new website -- -- comes in. The site, created by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, is a "one-stop shop" for entrepreneurs, with links to resources that can help them get their business off the ground, events for entrepreneurs and information about venture capitalists who might be interested in investing in their company. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

The stylishly modern LaunchPGH joins a bare-bones but more user-friendly Built In Pittsburgh. I have no idea which one warehouses better resources. If we're resigned to being capitalists, though, we might as well compete.

But we're haggling over the amount of salt in a complex entrepreneurial souffle. Speaking of innovation, nobody has written more about Pittsburgh's environment for it that Mike Madison at Pittsblog:

Investors in Palo Alto are willing to take flyers on deals that their gut tells them are at least potentially viable; in Pittsburgh, even the smallest deals are vetted ... and vetted ... and vetted ... by incubators and counselors and university offices, long before investors are brought to the table.  The result is that Pittsburgh innovators and entrepreneurs learn to be more conservative than their West (and East) Coast counterparts and competitors... [snip/snip]

Far too many of these organizations and individuals -- though far from all of them -- operate in a Divide the Pie mode.  "This is way things are done; why should we do things differently" is either explicitly or implicitly part of their program.  Or, "look around; the system works really well; Pittsburgh's current condition is evidence of that." (Pittsblog)

In a pair of posts, Madison identifies needs for more risk capital, more talent, more "grease and glue," better state labor and employment law, and too much "complacency" as barriers to building that powerful entrepreneurial culture.

Related to that "grease and glue" ingredient:

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, a URA board member, said he was "very perplexed" by the group's statements, characterizing them as "misfacts and distortions." (P-G, Mark Belko)

“It’s just amazes me that folks believe what they believe about the URA,” [Chair Yarone Zober] said. (PBT, Tim Schooley)

I think I see part of what was going on there. In presenting demands regarding curtailing "economic violence against black neighborhoods" along with a bouquet of flowers, Pittsburgh for Trayvon was probably looking at the URA as an institution going back sixty years (which would include 2007-2008). Through that lens, the critique oughtn't be terribly controversial: on occasion, our economic development agencies act to help clear away "roadblocks" (including perceived undesirables) and hand swaths of precious real estate and other large public investments over to established corporate ventures. There is always pressure to do so. And on each occasion, "supply side" arguments are marshaled to defend the policy, which certainly has valid points in terms of job growth and economic activity.

But we also understand "investing $X million in a neighborhood" does not mean planting the cash in the soil or distributing it to residents via helicopter; it could just mean handing it over to the Penguins or to Walnut Capital to do whatever appeals to them. That might not make for "sticky" trickle-down to any local community; it might even lead to economic suction.

So in the wide-angle view, how a "redevelopment" agency considers and addresses Pittsburgh's economic climate for its minority populations is a layered discussion. Any reasonable analysis would conclude something like, "We've been improving, but could still do a whole lot better. The balance between fostering growth and strengthening our foundation is not yet ideal. And since we must continue our transformation to an innovation-economy anyway, we should be reexamining a lot of what was once fundamental about how we allocate our resources. This is a timely discussion, thank you for the flowers, come back anytime."

But alas. Having come around to engaging more stakeholders in the Hill District lately, and on a day when the board was approving that specific Larimer development, the URA board members probably took the demands as a personal or political attack - as an indictment of a well-orchestrated snapshot in time. And as a threat to their own reputation and legacy, which is not itself of vital importance.

File this exhibit under, "Complacency". And color-code the whole "Complacency" file in fuchsia.


  1. The wide angle view is not really wide at all. My Q: Does community redevelopment bud from an agency?

    Likewise, IMNSHO, real entrepreneurs don't don't give a hoot about a one-stop-shop. That's the type of talk of control freaks, agency and government folks that isn't worthy of the time sink of an entrepreneur seeking to be my neighbor.

  2. I have no idea what the point of this post was or what it said. Seriously, we are all now dummer having read it.

    1. Jeez - can't believe you guys are that up tight. It was a play on words you dummy.

    2. "Dumby".

      What didn't you understand about the post? Not the most sensational muckraking to be sure, would you like me to return to that?

  3. Did someone miss place his or her decoder ring?

  4. Just sharing ... here's the most pointed comment posted on the PG's Sunday profile of the Republican candidate for mayor:

    Sisi Ville · Top Commenter · Works at Critical Energy Infrastructure Information

    As a former neighbor of Josh Wander I can, with confidence, say that he is an unemployed lout who cannot even manage to supervise his children for a few hours and prevent them from beating up on other children in the Hobart street parklet. The idea that he could "educate" a single other person is ridiculous. I'm just shocked that he claims to have a graduate degree... he used to claim that he had a PhD plus a few other grad degrees from questionable online "universities". Maybe he is smart enough to get a masters at the PIA school at Pitt but I witnessed him and his family on a daily basis and would say that all he is a patriarch wannabe whose wife supports him while he goes on manly romps with his guns.

    Reply · Like · Follow Post · 12 hours ago

    1. I suppose this is what you get for putting your name on a ballot, but it hardly seems worthwhile in this case.