PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions


Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

Forum: Beyond 'Border Guard Bob'

Marketing Pittsburgh means much more than just retaining 'knowledge workers,' writes Christopher Briem. We also have to attract them from other places

Sunday, June 25, 2000

What does it mean to market the region and to whom should the region be marketed? These are fundamental questions that will shape the future of the region and they need comprehensive answers.

  Christopher Briem is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics and a Research Associate at the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. His work focuses on regional economic modeling and forecasts. His e-mail is 

Often the debate centers on how to keep our younger workers, specifically those with high tech or "knowledge"- intensive skills, from moving away. Who are these workers? The census estimates that all of the people employed in the region in computer-related occupations numbered 13,870 or just over 1 percent of the total workforce in 1998. All of the engineers amounted to another 14,050 workers. Certainly there are key industries that are dependent on the most recent and advanced set of skills being produced in American universities.

However, this group is only a small part of population migration and growth in the region. The future of the region depends on making Pittsburgh an attractive place to those with specialized skills, but also to a much broader range of workers and firms. What is crucial is that the region builds and maintains a dynamic and diverse economic base.

The interconnections within the local economy can easily be forgotten. For example, high-tech firms can only come if we have sufficient construction workers to build them the facilities they need. Even the core firms of the new economy, the Dells, Gateways and Microsofts, need a trained and motivated manufacturing workforce to get their products out the door.

The workers that are needed are not only the latest engineers and computer scientists but also the best carpenters, accountants, managers, and machinists. In the end, workers will only stay if there are sufficient doctors, teachers, and even coffee shop owners here to make the region livable for them and their families. All of these occupations are part of growing the region in the long-term. We need to focus on both training the local workforce in the skills that that are needed and also on bringing these workers here from other regions in the country.

The region seems to focus little on how to attract workers from elsewhere and almost obsesses on the opposite problem of keeping people from leaving the region. The memory of the 1980s has formed an indelible part of people's identity here. The current reality is that the structural change in the economy that literally forced hundreds of thousands to seek work elsewhere is in the past. Some memories seem never to die.

We may no longer force people to leave, but we have fallen behind in bringing workers here. Some evidence of that has been the nearly nonexistent international immigration into the region. The census estimate for net international migration was a dismal 839 between 1998 and 1999. This places the Pittsburgh region near the bottom of the list as a destination for international immigrants. A century ago, the steel industry was fueled not only by coal and iron ore, but also by the steady stream of workers who arrived here from overseas. We need to become the destination of choice of the new immigrants who are crucial to the expanding regional economies across the country.

The future of the regional population depends on a number of things, only a part of which is determined by the level of out-migration from the region. The region is not such a laggard when it comes to the rate at which people move out of the region. Census estimates show that the rate of net domestic out-migration in the region is less than 0.5 percent of the population per year. While this is something to be concerned about, it is a small fraction of what this rate was 15 years ago when it measured 4 to 5 times higher. When you consider that part of out-migration includes retirees heading to warmer climes, the rate of out-migration of the working age population has dropped even more dramatically.

The focus on retaining vs. attracting workers is pervasive in local policies. One marketing character thought of by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, whose mission is to promote Pittsburgh, was the genial "Border Guard Bob." The image was of an older, uniformed sentinel on Pittsburgh's borders keeping our citizens, in particular the younger workers, from leaving the region. This is the same logic that inspired the East Germans to build a wall around Berlin and is likely to have as much success in the long-run. An advertising campaign with Bob or any of his relatives is focused on selling Pittsburgh to Pittsburghers. Why money or time is spent on selling the region to the people who know it best is a mystery.

It seems like a losing battle to compete for workers against some of the fastest growing and most dynamic regions in the country. What's surprising is that there does not seem to be a massive hemorrhage of Pittsburghers heading to San Francisco, Atlanta, or even Austin. Data on migration flows produced by the IRS, which track changes in the addresses of tax filers, shows that half of the people moving out of the region wind up elsewhere in Pennsylvania or in nearby Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., or New York. The same locations are the most likely that people moving to Pittsburgh come from. Why can we not compete against Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore when it comes to attracting and retaining workers? Do we even try?

Merely trying to retain young workers is a strategy of limiting opportunities, for them and for the region. Do we want to keep the young people of the region from having the widest range of opportunities in the world? Of course not. We seem to want the world-class education system but not the world-class graduates who will be sought by the best firms in the world. It is impossible to have one without the other.

There is nothing wrong with working toward matching local graduates to local opportunities, but that should not be at the expense of seeking and finding the best graduates from elsewhere and luring them here. Local firms, governments and organizations such as the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance can be instrumental in helping even small and medium-sized local businesses expand their recruiting efforts outside of the region.

The future of marketing Pittsburgh will be determined soon. Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey brings a unique perspective to marketing the region by having once lived and worked in Atlanta, a fast growing region. Soon the important choice of a replacement for Tim Parks, as the head of the PRA, will be made. The future direction of marketing the region may well be determined by these two individuals. The focus that emerges is hopefully one that will sell Pittsburgh to a larger world.

The future of the local economy may be decided by how well we compete for workers in the new economy. Even though the local unemployment rate and economic conditions are better in the region now than in many decades, the same is true across the country. Workers have more choices than in the past and the very nature of economic competitiveness now depends more on the quality and depth of the local workforce than ever before. We need to sell ourselves to the world and do so now.

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy