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100 Leading Locations Analysis: Despite a Reputation as Business Unfriendly, Southwestern Pennsylvania is Booming

Jim Russell, Publisher, Burgh Diaspora (Spring 2011)
Oh, to be Austin. Area Development magazine lists it as tops among "Leading Locations for 2011". A key reason for the region's success is the abundance of talent:

Austin's robust tech work force will fulfill these jobs. According to the Census, the area has the sixth most educated work force in the nation. [Dave Porter, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce,] says its highly educated potential employees are the top reason companies choose to relocate and grow in Austin. Many workers filter into the city's labor pool via the University of Texas at Austin, the state university system's flagship school, which has more than 48,000 students.

When attracting business, reputation is king. Austin means an ample supply of smart employees. Texas is business friendly. Peruse the cream of the crop. A metro has one or the other, perhaps both. What is Pittsburgh doing there in such illustrious company?

One of the other surprises, Oklahoma City, offers a few hints. Concerning recessions, both OKC and Pittsburgh suffered devastating economic blows in the early 1980s. The latest downturn seems mild by comparison. Area Development highlights fiscal prudence as a strong point. But the diversification of industry is a better rationale for Oklahoma City's recent run of good news. Pittsburgh can count that among its positive attributes.

Pittsburgh also has the workforce
. The Creative Class isn't migrating there en masse a la chic Austin. Talent is developed organically. The whims of relocation are not an issue. Yet Pittsburgh is suddenly consumed with pulling the best and brightest from elsewhere:

The 800,000-square-foot, eco-friendly tower will be a recruiting tool for the company and city, said Doug Gensler, a principal in the Boston office of Gensler, the architecture firm that designed The Tower and Three PNC.

Pittsburgh is outgrowing the supply coming from local universities and colleges. That's a huge shift from as little as five years ago, when I first started tracking the economic progress of Rust Belt cities. Despite the reputation as business unfriendly, Southwestern Pennsylvania is booming.

I think that quality of workforce has become much more important than policy regime. The pool of prospective employees is shrinking. There is always a state willing to cut a better deal. Talent is the new oil. Oh, to be Pittsburgh.

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