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.