Bold Action Needed: Helen Casey, Bill Schenck, Farnam Jahanian
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?
Helen Casey—CEO, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services
Over many years, our public and private sectors have worked together to make Pittsburgh comparable to almost any city in the world. Our incredible arts have choices for all tastes, from antiquities to the avant-garde. Our restaurants are hot and our parks are glorious. Our clean rivers and banks teem with boat traffic, bikers and walkers. Our education and medical institutions put us on the international stage, attracting world-class research funding and talent.
Still, we need to grow the region’s population.
While attracting national and international businesses, we also need to help local businesses grow here, instead of expanding elsewhere. What incentives can help them reach their goals here? We need programs for small and start-up businesses—not just for tech and energy but also service, support, manufacturing and retail—to help attract people and create jobs.
You can’t have a vibrant growing region without a strong core. Downtown must be the jewel in the region’s crown, shining above the rest. We also need better transportation between Downtown and the airport, and we need better, faster and cleaner transportation between city neighborhoods and all of the region’s communities.
We’re one of the nation’s most affordable regions for homes, but Allegheny County taxes shock out-of-town buyers. When you add taxes to the average home cost, the region becomes less competitive. A $200,000 home has average taxes of $500 per month. Also, with baby boomers staying in their homes and working longer, there is a lack of available homes. Builders struggle to build in the needed price ranges because of high municipal and environmental fees. And construction of all kinds is further limited by a tremendous shortage of workers, despite great training and scholarships.
Finally, to overcome the overall worker shortage, we must seek and embrace diversity at all levels—not just the highly educated. And we must welcome working-class immigrants as we did in the early 1900s.
Bill Schenck—Former Pa. Secretary of Banking; Co-founder and Vice Chairman, TriState Capital Bank
We can win or we can lose. The middle ground is not sustainable.
In 1960, Pittsburgh was the 16th largest city in America. Today it is number 66. The United States’ population has nearly doubled since 1960. Pittsburgh has half the residents it did then and continues to get smaller.
We weathered the Great Recession better than many, but from the vantage point of Washington, D.C., or the desk of a major growth company’s CEO, we are not an economically vital region high on the list for attention.
We can change that view. Merge Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
We will become the 10th largest city in the United States. That does not change our level of economic vitality overnight, but it does change how we are perceived by the outside world. It shows that we have come together to take charge of our own destiny, that we have forward-thinking leadership, and that we are a region to be seriously considered when federal dollars are allocated and corporate investments are made.
We can join many vibrant cities across this country experiencing the benefits of growth in population and quality jobs. We can remain number 66, or we can become number 10 and demonstrate that we are ready to go.
Farnam Jahanian—President, Carnegie Mellon University
As a university, we stimulate growth by attracting and developing exceptional talent. And while academic institutions will continue to help grow Pittsburgh’s reputation as a top destination for innovators, I believe that public-private partnerships focused on workforce development will most effectively drive long-term growth. As society faces an evolving technological future, we must mobilize today to nurture a dynamic, diverse workforce that is prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, including a focus on upskilling or reskilling the existing workforce. We need community colleges, universities, the private sector, and government to come together to create meaningful pathways for all citizens in this new economy and we must also be deliberate in recognizing and removing the structural barriers that prevent people from leveraging transformative opportunities. Cultivating a competitive workforce in this way will attract and grow the companies that will spur long-lasting economic development in the region. Importantly, in order to make the most of these investments in human capital and retain the region’s talent, it is also so critical that our communities are recognized as great places to live, work and play—with excellent schools, parks and green spaces, clean air and water, a vibrant cultural life and accessible transportation.