"Pittsburgh is still a manufacturing center. In fact, manufacturing is still the largest contributor to regional personal income (other than retirement benefits! -- see my Post-Gazette column on this a while back). In fact, I think one of the biggest problems in the region is that people erroneously think we're NOT a manufacturing center any more, and so we don't place a priority on the kinds of policies that will retain what we have and grow more of it. Moreover, I think that Pittsburgh has already gone through a process of shedding the lower-wage, lower-value manufacturing jobs that other regions have yet to go through (we lost our jobs to the sunbelt, and they will now lose them to Asia). Because of that, if we don't screw it up, manufacturing can become even more significant here in the future relative to other regions."
Interesting. I wish I had a staff -- or a grad student in labor economics; I'd like to look at some data. I still think that Harold is out in the cornfield, going against the grain. Some quick notes on his argument:
First, are manufacturing wages as a percentage of regional personal income a fair measure of whether or not Pittsburgh is a manufacturing center? That statistic doesn't tell you anything about the concentration or distribution of income, or about the number of jobs involved, or about the overall trend line for personal income. Lots and lots of assembly line jobs or a smaller number of professional jobs? You can't tell, but my money is on the latter. Is modern regional "manufacturing" is completing a shift away from the kind of commodity production that characterized Pittsburgh's earlier industrial economy? I think so. Is personal income growing or falling?
Second, manufacturing as a percentage of the current economy conceals an important and obvious change in denominator: the total dollar value of manufactured goods produced in the region. In constant dollars, I'm going to guess that this number has gone down steadily for the last 50 years, and probably longer. I'm also going to guess that this trend is pretty consistent across the Northern United States, from New England through the Mid-Atlantic and Middle West states; in other words, I don't think that Pittsburgh is a leading-edge city when it comes to the need to replenish its local economy.
Maybe I'm wrong about that (data will tell), but I have a back-up hypothesis: I'll bet that even if the dollar value of manufactured goods has remained level, or even increased, the number of regional jobs associated with producing those goods has gone down. What is manufacturing's share of total employment? I'm pretty confident that those numbers go down, down, and down over the years.