An anonymous comment makes an excellent point about the importance of city politics, something which I hadn't really appreciated. The stagnant water on Grant Street makes the region look like a dead end for economic development:
Large self-contained companies like Westinghouse usually have fewer uncertainties, and locating in a second class township is pretty safe. But if you are a company that depends upon networks, and you prefer to locate in the city, than there are a lot of risks doing that right now. Ironically the uncontested elections, which are supposed to portray a sense of stability, instead seem to be signalling that new ideas are not welcome, even though the city's finances may be below the water line.

Is there lemonade in those lemons? For smaller companies that rely on financial, professional, and technological synergies and networks, what are your options these days -- assuming that you want to stick around Pittsburgh?

Possibility one -- look around the existing "networked" Pittsburgh neighborhoods: Oakland, Hazelwood, the South Side, the Strip, Lawrenceville. Anonymous suggests: That future doesn't look so bright. Lose the shades. Is that right?

Possibility two -- look to the burbs. The other day, over at Blog-Lebo, I offered what one reader calls the "Tech Lebo" proposal. Mt. Lebanon has a pleasant but underdeveloped downtown retail strip and a surplus of what I think is Class B office space. It also has one of the region's excellent coffee houses. Could start-ups and would-be start-ups coordinate their efforts and negotiate discounted rents for space in exchange for filling up empty space? It would generate some much-needed networking -- and put much-needed foot traffic on Lebo sidewalks. There are a lot of younger professionals in the South Hills who might leap at a short -- or nonexistent -- commute.

For the firms, is the move worth the stigma? What about the burbs themselves -- is this an opportunity that they should seek out? I mention Mt. Lebanon only to throw out an example; lots of towns could do the same, or have begun to do something similar. Wexford, for example. Now that Westinghouse is planning to leave Monroeville, should Monroeville look for a big score to take its place, or lots of little bets? Anonymous might say: For a smaller town looking to make a move on the City of Pittsburgh, now's the time. Economic development officials there might place a call to Innovation Works.

Possibility three -- worth mentioning, if not completely seriously: Go virtual. Why sign a lease when everything can be coordinated online? Success here depends on scale; eventually, if you take the benefits of networks seriously, physical location matters. But not everything needs to be bricks-and-mortar; if you're a company looking for space, consider what needs to be physical -- and what doesn't. And if you're a neighborhood or town with something to offer, consider whether what's available matches a need.


16 Responses to "Networks"

Bram Reichbaum said... 3/26/2007 3:11 PM

So, extend Ravenstahl's extension of Peduto's tax abatement out even further? Urrgh.

Presumably there are kinds of networking that can be done in a physical city -- at the gym, at the bar, at the at pinball joint, on the street -- that can NOT be replicated online.

Now, Mt. Lebo: haven't spent too much time there. But it lacks a certain grit no?

Mike Madison said... 3/26/2007 3:14 PM

I'm not sure what "a certain grit" would be, but whatever it is, Mt. Lebanon has no grit. But you don't need grit to make a business network work. The Silicon Valley has no grit.

Bram Reichbaum said... 3/26/2007 3:49 PM

Okay. Beautiful, beautiful weather can be a substitute for grit. As possibly a few other things.

jim russell said... 3/26/2007 3:50 PM

I recently received a delightful e-mail message from one of the staff at She told me about two co-working spaces currently set up in Bellevue: Creative Treehouse and Thinktank.

I don't know how well these relatively nascent enterprises are doing, but I like the idea of offering space for collaborative networking.

F2F networks can and should seek out more welcoming political geographies. The problem is that if the City ever gets it act together, I doubt if the burbs could compete.

Mike Madison said... 3/26/2007 3:54 PM

Bellevue offers a good model. See my post at Blog-Lebo from earlier this month. (My understanding is that Creative Treehouse is in Bellevue now; ThinkTank has moved out.)

jim russell said... 3/26/2007 5:55 PM

Good ideas you posted over at Blog-Lebo.

I might be reading into the e-mail message too much (I'll ask for clarification), but looks like they are a strong local promoter and driver of the kind of spaces you hope take root in your neck of the woods.

I'm interested in how such spaces can be networked virtually across the country and around the world.

The contact offered up the following blog:

Coworking Community Blog

Jonathan Potts said... 3/26/2007 9:37 PM

I lived in Mt. Lebanon, right off the Washington Road business district, and I have to concur that it is gritless. However, it has a lot of the amenities that the companies I think Mike has in mind would value.

Now, if you want a bit of grit, you can travel a little farther north into Dormont, which has fewer amenities but would perhaps be able to offer plenty of space to start-ups once Mt. Lebanon is tapped out. And when Dormont takes off, I'm sure we can find some places in Brookline. No decent coffee house, but we have two bakeries, and they even make cupcakes.

Cupcakes, Mike!

Mike Madison said... 3/26/2007 10:09 PM

Cupakes, indeed!

Now that the Post-Gazette has tried to blow the lid off of the local cupcake biz-ness, the time may be ripe for a regional economic development-based blogathonic cupcake smackdown: A true test of the Cupcake Class.

Stay tuned.

Schultz said... 3/26/2007 11:49 PM

Dormont - home of best sandwiches in the burgh at Fredo's Deli. It's on Potomac - and so is the new movie theater which opens this weekend. Check out Fredo's if you haven't been there!

C. Briem said... 3/27/2007 10:39 AM

so we now need a cupcake conference?


Bram Reichbaum said... 3/27/2007 12:14 PM

I'll gladly attend the Cupcake Conference as an ornery troublemaker.

Adam said... 3/27/2007 2:32 PM

Hold on... the movie theater in Dormont is re-opening? That's great.

I've had a soft spot for Dormont the last few years. Twice a year or so when I drop my car off for service on West Liberty Avenue, I walk up a mile up the hill to Dormont and have breakfast and poke around in the used bookstore on Potomac Ave.

Dormont looks like it should be poised for some semi-urban, semi-suburban development--it has a T stop, a walkable central area, easy access to downtown for commuters, not far from Mount Lebanon, etc.

Jia said... 3/27/2007 3:19 PM

Sorry about arriving late to the conversation, Jim just sent me an email about it. (a ten-year-old local tech startup) is the world's largest online marketplace for freelance talent, but we're a strong believer in supporting the local community. While we think globally, we act locally.

Currently, I'm trying to get Creative Treehouse, Thinktank, and any other freelancing-related groups together for a public discussion on a live podcast (which uses TalkShoe , another local tech company's service) in the near future.

I'm also helping out with a "New Media" conference next month, BootCamp PGH. If anyone is interested anything I've mentioned, feel free to contact me for more details.

And you're right about the cupcake stores. While personally I'm not a big fan of them, I do believe they're a leading economic indicator of strong growth.

Jefferson Provost said... 3/27/2007 7:52 PM


I thought the same thing about Dormont. In fact, that's why my wife and I bought a home there. You can get a great deal on a house, and get a nice blend of urban and suburban living. With grit! (but not too much)

The Potomac/West Liberty area is nice, but unfortunately it doesn't (yet) have the mix of shops necessary to keep pedestrians there. It has too many small taverns and old lady hair salons, as well as a variety of businesses that have no place in a sidewalk district. (Gone windowshopping for fire extinguishers lately?) In this respect, I think Dormont may be the opposite of Mt. Lebanon: Where Lebo has too restrictive a vision for their business district, Dormont seems to have no vision at all.

Still, if the Hollywood Theatre does manage to reopen (it's been RSN for months), it will be a big boon. Potomac is also ripe for a good coffeehouse, one that includes some kind of art/performance space would be really great.

As far as a "TechDormont" vision, Dormont seems to have much less office space than Lebo. On the other hand, what office space they do have seems pretty cheap. I saw some advertised for $9/sqft/year.

Jonathan Potts said... 3/27/2007 8:25 PM

I used to live in Dormont as well. (I can't seem to escape the South Hills) and I feel much the same way. Although, like a lot of communities around here, it's pretty much been in a holding pattern for years.

Schultz said... 3/28/2007 3:53 PM

Not sure what is playing but is what the sign on the front said the theater on Potomac's grand re-opening is this Friday, the 30th.

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