Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Diasporans Speak

Harold Miller is on a roll: His latest post features anonymous Diasporans speaking about how they wished the Pittsburgh economy were strong enough to keep them here. One of Harold's commenters is an alum of my law school, and he/she tells a tale that I've heard more than once from my former students. After months or years of trying to scratching out a career locally, they move to DC / New York / Boston / Austin, and the world is their oyster. Or they give up the romance of working independently and entrepreneurially, and retreat to the security of the Big Firm.

All the data in the world about livability doesn't mean a thing if it can't be integrated into a narrative about inclusion and expansion and opportunity. Take a look at Bill Steigerwald's recent Reason column on Pittsburgh's "death spiral" (and this is *after* release of the livability data!). The column is gloomier than it needs to be, but it benefits from an air of plausibility. Pittsburgh sure feels stagnant, doesn't it? Technically, it's sort of stagnant and sort of not, depending on which way you slice the numbers; sure, the outmigration data don't tell the real story about population change in the Pittsburgh region, and the "most polluted" data are skewed by where the data were collected. The problem is this: Where's the synthesizing narrative to back that up? That points to economic Springtime in Pittsburgh?

Please, someone, point me to a Counter to Bill's Point, an essay that talks about how young professionals came to Pittsburgh a few years ago to join or establish a new business, networked seamlessly in the interstices of Pittsburgh's economic establishment and found that no one cared where they went to high school or whether they had ever failed at anything. That talks about how they found enthusiastic mentors steeped in Pittsburgh's ways yet eager to blaze new paths. How they found eager future suppliers, partners, clients, and customers; credit at reasonable cost that bore in mind the inevitability of past failure; a business- and family-friendly regulatory climate (low business taxes, sane real estate taxes); and a political system best characterized as benign.

In short, Pittsburgh needs Harold Miller to post happy endings.

Maybe there's a Manifesto/Diaspora project in here. Can the Diaspora write the story of the New Pittsburgh? Endings both sad and happy; happy is best, but the truth is what everyone needs to hear. For a start, Diasporans need a place to write that's more visible than blog comments. Ideas?


Anonymous said...

I'm quite sure there are positive stories out there. I think people who want to complain tend to be more vocal in general, so it may *appear* that there is no good news.

I kind of hate it when people say "Well, I had trouble finding a job there, so the economy sucks." Obviously there are jobs here, and people are finding them. A few people's individual stories don't neccesarily mean much.

But I guess the issue here is that those stories are getting out there, and the positive stories are not. So I think you make an excellent point - we need to create a venue for the positive stories to be told.

Anonymous said...

I'm a guy who moved here a few years a go with no real ties to the region. So yes, people do come here and enjoy good employment and some level of opportunity. And it's a nice region to live in, especially if you have kids.

That said, as an "outsider" the issues that keep this region from realizing its full potential are so totally basic it amazes me these aren't being done. It's pretty simple:

1) Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, etc. have too much government - It's ridiculous. Why do we need a FT State Legislature, FT City Council, 130 municipalities. This government infrastructure weighs things down and stifles organic growth. Start tearing it down. States such as Texas and Virginai thrive and their legislatures are not in session 90% of the time. Ours shouldn't be either.

2) 1950's Labor Mentality - Unions are dead and have been for decades in every part of the country except for the Rust Belt. One union needs to be sacrificed (PAT, Fire?) to send a clear signal to the populace that the old way of doing things are OVER. We need to tip the balance back in favor of the citizens and not the special interests.

3) Do something bold - cut taxes and just see if revenues actually increase as a result of more opportunities. If by chance it doesn't work (and there is tons of data that supports it will), scale back these changes but at least give the lower tax agenda the opportunity to work.

Only by being more competitive than "sexier" markets can the Pittsburgh region thrive. We can't win on weather, coastal proximity, etc, so we have to be better at certain things to level the playing field.

I wish we had better leadership here. The Dems are so old school it's scary and the Republicans are sinfully non-existant. The public is to blame for this in my opinion. They are not demanding results from their "leaders".

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail squarely on the head with this post. Pittsburgh suffers from a fear of change and fear of failure that is very troubling. There is a shame that accompanies failure in this area that just isn't present in other more dynamic economic regions.

I don't know how to fix it, but admitting the problem is the first step.

Schultz said...

anonymous #2,

Who are you because you need to be running things around here. I am serious. Those are all big roadblocks to Pittsburgh becoming a leading metropolitan area.

The key is "do something bold." I think Pittsburgh's mission statement should be something along the lines of "be different" or "be unique." Enough trying to emulate other regions - be Pittsburgh, be fresh, be different!

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly w/ anonymous #2 (and 1)...
I guess the key is what can we do? Despite the mayoral race (lack thereof) sucking bigtime, there is some good news from the changes in city council.