Bold Action Needed: Jim Roddey, Diane Holder, Bill Strickland
At a time when the Pittsburgh region is continuing to lose population and has been seeing regional job losses the past few months, we asked a group of regional leaders to respond, in 200 words or less, to this question: What action do we need to take to create the kind of growth, vitality and dynamism that will stem our population loss and catalyze a strong future?
Jim Roddey—business executive and first Allegheny County Executive
On the surface, Pittsburgh and its 10-county metro is a vibrant, bustling metropolis destined for great success. We see hotels and restaurants opening throughout the area, the new Shell cracker plant promises jobs and expansion, new health care facilities are opening and more are being planned. Yet just beneath that lurks a pending metropolitan crisis. The region is losing population.
The 10 surrounding metro counties have fewer births than deaths, fewer young people remaining and almost no immigration. Butler County is the exception. However, its modest growth is mostly the result of people migrating to the county from the city of Pittsburgh and other areas of Allegheny County; thus the metro area has no net gain. It has become clear that the region cannot sustain itself unless this undeniable trend and its dire consequences are reversed.
The only solution that can slow the losses, stabilize the population and begin to create real growth is some form of immigration. It will not be easy, particularly if the federal immigration policies remain unchanged. It will require significant investment, the cooperation of local state and federal governments as well as the business, education, philanthropic communities and organized labor. It will require “all hands on deck.”
One possible plan could be entitled “Welcome.” In a 10-year timeline, it would bring in 5,000 immigrants from each of six target countries from Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America and Africa. Country selection would be subject to approval by multiple federal departments and agencies.
Allegheny County would have 15 designated locations with 500 immigrants each. And the other nine counties would have 45 locations with 500 immigrants each (an average of five locations per suburban county). Years one and two would involve planning, approvals and securing of funds. Planning must include but not be limited to housing, job training, jobs, education, health care, transportation, culture and English and citizenship classes. Year three would see 500 immigrants, followed by 1,500 in year four, 3,000 in year five, and 5,000 each in years six through 10.
Diane Holder—President and CEO, UPMC Health Plan
Increasingly, questions such as “Will you live long enough to live forever?” are less the realm of science fiction than science. Gene therapies and anti-aging research promise to prevent disease, reverse cellular aging and extend the lifespan. Technology, big data and artificial intelligence are rapidly accelerating disruption in health care. The digital age has ushered in novel care strategies including the opportunity to carry a physician in your pocket on a smartphone or own a “digital pet” to lessen social isolation. Innovation is key to reducing the burden of illness in our nation and lowering the nearly 18 percent of GDP spent on health care. Developing advanced industries through innovation is also a key driver for regional growth and economic improvement.
Pittsburgh is home to two of the nation’s top 25 research universities for tech transfer and commercialization. Additionally, it is home to the nation’s only academic medical center that has both a very large, comprehensive clinical delivery system and a large health plan—a laboratory to test methods and models to improve health and cost outcomes. Much of the regional intellectual property for health improvement technology lives in these regional assets. Innovation on steroids attracts and retains talent for high- paying, future-state jobs and competes with other regions which are aggressively investing. We need to further invest in our educational institutions and facilitate a broad regional alignment, enhance public-private initiatives and encourage a statewide leadership effort to build infrastructure for innovation at scale.
Bill Strickland—Founder and Executive Chairman, Manchester Bidwell Corporation
My thoughts are primarily focused on the predicament of African American students enrolled in the public school system. I fully support Dr. Anthony Hamlet, Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent and his efforts to dramatically improve graduation rates for all of their students; and, he has asked me specifically to join an Ethnic Studies Committee with an emphasis on African American and Hispanic students. Also, as chair of the Pennsylvania Economy League, we have formed a partnership with the public schools with a focus on career education and job placement. This effort, while in its infancy, will have a real impact in stabilizing the migration of students of color because of their inability to demonstrate the academic and experience level demanded by industry. There are literally thousands of children who fit this description. I believe any effort to address population decline will fall short if this subject is not front and center in any serious discussion of stopping population decline in the Pittsburgh, Allegheny County region. The other significant factor that desperately needs to be considered is the epidemic of mass incarcerations of African American and Hispanic students who are effectively removed from the population pool because they are in jail and contribute to the decline in persons available to work, live and contribute to the census and overall population count.