Attracting talent: Pittsburgh

Our research clearly indicates that where recent college graduates concentrate you get prosperous economies. And increasingly that concentration is occurring in vibrant central cities.  Specifically high density, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods. For the details see our Young Talent in the Great Lakes report.

Cities – with the support of their regions and states – across the country get it. And have made retaining and attracting young talent an economic development priority. Unfortunately, not here in Michigan.

One of the cities that gets it and has reaped the benefits is Pittsburgh. reports that the region has reversed a generation of out migration of young talent. They report the number of 18-24 year olds living in the region was 67,445, by 2000 it had shrunk to 49,461. They write: “Specifically, the people who were leaving were the young, 20-something, professional and educated workers who we really needed to transform and move our economy forward,” said Chris Briem, chair of Pitt’s Center for Social and Urban Research. But by 2010, after decades of efforts to revitalize the central city, they can write that the brain drain has been reversed as the number of 18-24 soared by 16% the last decade to 57,745 in 2010.

The city’s Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has made retaining and attracting young talent a top priority. He writes: “A main component of our City’s Third Renaissance is our ability to retain the educated and talented students that attend our world-class institutions,” Ravenstahl said. “Pittsburgh has so much to offer young people, from available jobs to high quality of life and affordability and I’m happy to remind them that Pittsburgh has what they need and want after college.”

And the region has reaped the advantage of this focus on young talent. As we wrote in our 2010 annual report on the Michigan economy, metro Pittsburgh is the prime example of a region that has successfully made the transition from a prosperous factory-based economy to a prosperous knowledge-based economy. The article lists high-tech jobs, medical institutions, higher education and finance as the drivers of the region’s economy, not steel. Metro Pittsburgh today is every bit as prosperous  – compared to the nation – as it was when it was steel dominated. In 2009 (still the latest available data) metro Pittsburgh ranked 15th of the 55 regions with a population of one million or more in both per capita income and, maybe most importantly, per capita income from private sector employment earnings.

Dr. Briem is exactly right when he says: “the young, 20-something, professional and educated workers who we really needed to transform and move our economy forward…”  As we say in closing our presentations: “Either we get younger and better educated, we get poorer.”If we do everything else as well as can be done that we call economic development and don’t retain and attract young talent, Michigan will be one of the poorest states in the country. Retaining and attracting mobile talent is that important.

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