Leading indicators that will impress Amazon
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.