Baseball in Pittsburgh: Is it Worse than We Thought?

From today's New York Times, an analysis of university-led economic development that compares building a new Silicon Valley to building a competitive major league baseball team.
The one thing the study does find to be consistently associated with high-tech start-ups is the presence of star scientists — not the ideas, which can be copied, but the scientists themselves. This seems to be the one way in which a university can be used as an engine of business growth.

Landing the best scientists in the world can start a place on the way to economic superstardom. The catch is, there are not many superstars and they mainly want to be near one another.

The study covered 1981-2004 but identified only 1,838 scientific superstars. That is about the same number of people who played in Major League Baseball over that period.

Framed that way, trying to make some town into the next Silicon Valley by attracting the best scientists is rather like trying to start a new baseball team and turn it into the New York Yankees.



5 Responses to "Baseball in Pittsburgh: Is it Worse than We Thought?"

Anonymous said... 8/17/2006 4:35 PM

This has little to do with the article but something about the analogy strikes me.

Maybe you CAN build a winner from scratch in a short amount of time, but is that really what we want? It seems to me that a number of regions we envied in the 1990s as budding "Yankee" regions turned out to be more like the Florida Marlins.

I would think a region that grows sustainably - bringing all of its residents along for the ride - is that team that ends up consistently a little above .500 every year.

Anonymous said... 8/17/2006 5:09 PM

Well, CMU certainly has a collection of star scientists in computer science and robotics. They've lost one or two over the years to Stanford (notably Sebastian Thrun, leader of the winning team in the DARPA Grand Challenge), but many have stayed. CMU's school of computer science is perenially ranked in a multi-way tie for first place with Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley -- those rankings are based on faculty reputation.

Is Pitt/UPMC in a similar position for medicine/bio-science? The only star I can think of is Starzl, but I'm not familiar with the field.

Jim Russell said... 8/17/2006 6:40 PM


Anonymous said... 8/18/2006 12:49 AM

What is interesting about this article is that it validates EXACTLY the approach that the President of UPMC, Jeffrey Romoff, has used to build UPMC. A great series of articles on UPMC/Romoff was published in December.

In part, it shows that the recruitment of great scientists from across the nation was a critical fundamental element behind UPMC's growth from 500 employees in 1970's and 10M revenue to one with 40,000 employees, $5.1 billion in revenue now. They've been developing and incubating new businesses; people have left to start and run other businesses; wealth has surely been created; and they continue to attract great medical scientists and huge grants (i.e. risk capital.)

It amazes me that their achievements have not been highlighted more. We finally have a shining example to talk about yet people still focus on what we don't have. I guess they get less publicity because the state, foundations and economic development organizations aren't part of it.

Even this series spends too much time focusing on Romoff and his personality/style. Let's face it - bold, driven leaders who aren't swayed off-course by the doubters are what this region needs most. We haven't had one like this since Andrew Carnegie.

Jim Russell said... 8/18/2006 1:03 PM

I actually clicked on the link and read the article this time. The lesson is that investing in your local university and students is a bad strategy. Labor mobility vexes every region:

"Beware of investing in things that can move. As it turns out, graduates and research ideas both tend to move around a lot."

You don't invest in your schools to improve the local population. You do it to attract new people. Pennsylvania does a great job attracting people to its institutions of higher learning. Mission accomplished. But then the graduates will leave, just like they do in every other region. Silicon Valley says thanks.

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Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

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