There was no way for her or the PG to run more than a small snippet of what I wrote when she asked for my views of the good and the bad things about Pittsburgh's last 10 years, especially from an economics point of view. This is the complete version of the relevant part of my written response; of course, she and I also talked at some length on the phone.
My sense is that from an economics point of view, one really good thing happened in Pittsburgh, and one yet-to-be-evaluated thing happened.None of that is or should be earth-shattering or even newsworthy, but I thought that the context might interest some people who read the article in the PG.
The good thing is that the region finally broke free of the psychic hangover caused by the collapse of steel. Steel's history still matters to Pittsburgh, and there is still a sizable but hardly dominant metals industry in Pittsburgh. But ten years ago the public sphere was nostalgic; it still longed for the return of a dominant industry, which could be steel or something like steel. Today, everyone in Pittsburgh knows that the region will never again be a one-industry economy. Curing that hangover has released a great deal of innovative energy across the region, from the tech spinoffs of the universities to the emerging creative communities of Lawrenceville, Garfield, and the North Side to the restoration of public facilities along the waterfronts.
The yet-to-be-evaluated thing is the emergence of the eds-and-meds economy .... "Eds-and-meds" is code; what everyone really means is that Pitt, CMU, and UPMC are the major public institutions in Pittsburgh. They're the big Pittsburgh players today in terms of employees, budgets, and dollars cycling through the region. But we don't yet know how significant they can really be in terms of contributing to the region's growth. Put a different way, if eds-and-meds are so great, then why isn't the Pittsburgh economy doing better? Part of the answer is that if it weren't for eds-and-meds, Pittsburgh would look truly dreadful! But that's only part of the answer. The other part is that eds-and-meds don't create economic momentum in the same way that big industrial enterprises used to create economic momentum. We don't really know yet what they do or how they do it. But we know that they're essential.
Next up: Pittsburgh's Next Decade.