Pitts­burgh prime

Lead­ing in­di­ca­tors that will im­press Ama­zon

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Forum -

It was a busy week for peo­ple who keep track of the progress of Pitts­burgh. Ex­ec­u­tives at a world-chang­ing re­tailer, which is out­grow­ing its head­quar­ters in Seattle, should take note.

• The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion de­liv­ered an im­por­tant re­port Wed­nes­day, “Cap­tur­ing the Next Econ­omy: Pitts­burgh’s Rise as a Global In­no­va­tion City.” Funded by the Heinz En­dow­ments and the Henry L. Hill­man Foun­da­tion, it con­firms the ex­ist­ing at­tributes of the re­gion and pro­vides a roadmap for cap­i­tal­iz­ing on th­ese as­sets — as well as a kick in the pants to the ven­ture cap­i­tal com­mu­nity, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and civic lead­ers. “Pitts­burgh 2030: An In­no­va­tion Job Gen­er­a­tor, or a ‘Could Have Been’?” is the con­clud­ing chap­ter. But the re­port rec­og­nizes the strides made in re­cent decades and in­stills con­fi­dence that Pitts­burgh can “at­tract global mar­kets, tal­ent, cap­i­tal and com­pa­nies.” That is what Ama­zon wants to hear.

• The Al­legheny County Air­port Au­thor­ity re­leased on Tues­day an am­bi­tious $1.1 bil­lion plan for en­hanc­ing Pitts­burgh In­ter­na­tional Air­port by strate­gic sub­trac­tion and ag­gres­sive mod­ern­iza­tion. It bears close in­spec­tion, but no one could ac­cuse the au­thor­ity of twid­dling its thumbs and ac­cept­ing the sta­tus quo. In the mean­time, the air­port an­nounced Thurs­day a deal with Qatar Air­ways for cargo ser­vice, an un­der­used com­po­nent of the un­der­used air­port. The goal is to en­tice more cargo busi­ness, once the world sees it work­ing here. Ama­zon, among its many facets, is a trans­porta­tion lo­gis­tics com­pany and will want to lo­cate in a city that is in tune.

• New data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau show that a “dra­matic de­mo­graphic trans­for­ma­tion” is un­der­way in Pitts­burgh. In short, more young folk with bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and higher in­comes are pop­u­lat­ing the re­gion. And go­ing against the trend that has char­ac­ter­ized the city for so long, the per­cent­age of 65-and-older res­i­dents is lower than the nation over­all. Noth­ing against the el­derly, whose wis­dom en­dures, but the en­ergy of youth is a wel­come fac­tor in a re­gion that for so long matched de­mo­graph­ics with some Florida re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties. Ama­zon will surely take notice of this trend line.

• Speak­ing of those young peo­ple: Pitts­burgh was one of three places re­ceiv­ing an A+ rat­ing in a na­tional list of best met­ros for mil­len­ni­als. The web­site Apart­ment List cal­cu­lated the job mar­ket, af­ford­abil­ity of hous­ing and liv­abil­ity, and found Pitts­burgh to be top-notch. In ad­di­tion, the job site Glass­door named Pitts­burgh the No. 1 city in the coun­try for jobs. “Pitts­burgh is a rare ex­am­ple of a city that has a thriv­ing econ­omy for young peo­ple, but is still rel­a­tively af­ford­able,” con­cluded a re­searcher from Apart­ment List. Rank­ings like th­ese, based on hard data rather than sub­jec­tive judg­ments by mag­a­zine style ed­i­tors, drive de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Ama­zon wants to lo­cate in a place that peo­ple want to live in.

• The Al­legheny Con­fer­ence on Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment made the right move by nam­ing Ste­fani Pash­man as CEO, ef­fec­tive Oct. 2. Ms. Pash­man has spent the past seven years as CEO of Part­ner4Work (for­merly the Three Rivers Work­force In­vest­ment Board) and es­tab­lished an im­pres­sive track record in match­ing em­ploy­ers with skilled work­ers. It’s hard to imag­ine a lo­cal leader bet­ter placed to ful­fill the con­fer­ence’s mis­sion of job cre­ation. Ms. Pash­man should be­come a cen­tral player in the bid to woo Ama­zon.

• Hyperloop One picked the Pitts­burgh-Colum­busChicago line as one of 10 fi­nal­ists for its pro­ject. It would whisk peo­ple in pods trav­el­ing 700 mph be­tween the cities — mean­ing, some­one in Chicago could zip over to Pitts­burgh in 30 min­utes for lunch with an Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tive.

• And the globe-trot­ting eater and ex­plorer An­thony Bour­dain pre­viewed his “Parts Un­known” show about Pitts­burgh, which will air Oct. 22 (while Ama­zon ex­ecs are mulling over the pro­pos­als that are due a few days ear­lier). As he told the Post-Gazette’s Dan Gigler, “I’m just re­ally in­ter­ested in Amer­i­can cities that are chang­ing, com­pany towns transitioning to ser­vice in­dus­try or other in­dus­tries. ... I kind of fell in love with Pitts­burgh.”

But the es­sen­tial story of the week was the con­tract with Maya De­sign to help craft the pro­posal to Ama­zon for its se­cond head­quar­ters. The city’s Ur­ban Rede­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity quickly agreed to di­rect $50,000 to the pro­ject, and oth­ers will be con­tribut­ing. This is money well spent and it should keep flow­ing. Maya, based Down­town, helped the city ap­ply for last year’s $50 mil­lion Smart City Chal­lenge from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Pitts­burgh nar­rowly missed win­ning, but the process brought to­gether many sec­tors — ed­u­ca­tion, foun­da­tions, gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties — to make the pitch. The same co­hort is ready to join forces for this all-im­por­tant mis­sion.

The bid to show Ama­zon that Pitts­burgh is the ideal lo­ca­tion for its se­cond head­quar­ters is a defin­ing mo­ment for the city. The ex­er­cise it­self will bring out the best in Pitts­burghers, forc­ing ev­ery­one to en­vi­sion Pitts­burgh’s re­turn to its place as one of the most im­por­tant and bustling cities in Amer­ica. “We’re shoot­ing for the stars, we’re swing­ing for the fences,” said Kevin Ack­lin, the mayor’s chief of staff and chair of the URA. All in­spi­ra­tional slo­gans are wel­come as Pitts­burgh en­er­gizes its best qual­i­ties to win over a com­pany that would pros­per here and cat­alyze a new round of growth.

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