Bold Action Needed: Timothy Parks, David Malone, Jane Werner
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?
Timothy Parks—President and CEO, Life’sWork
Twenty years ago, as CEO of the newly formed Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, I faced the daunting challenge of devising a comprehensive marketing plan for growing the region.
Then, as now, one of the most pressing and seemingly intractable issues was growing our population both by retaining a higher percentage of the thousands of the region’s college graduates as well as attracting others to Pittsburgh. Thus was born the now “infamous” (and perhaps somewhat misguided) character of Border Guard Bob who, through a multimedia campaign, was created to poke fun at ourselves while delivering the message that before you leave, take another look at the opportunities Pittsburgh offered. Today, with a much improved and diversified economic landscape, we still need to dramatically shift in-migration trends.
While we must re-double our efforts to invest in and keep our indigenous workforce to adapt to the 21st century economy, I believe we need to embark on a bold, perhaps even provocative, branding/marketing campaign explicitly targeting individuals, internationally and domestically, to consider Pittsburgh as a place to restart or build new lives. As with the endless chase to provide economic incentives to sweeten the pie for corporate relocations, let’s create a fund (an immigration Kickstarter fund) to facilitate “familiarization” tours as well as incentive packages for individuals and families to come to Pittsburgh.
We don’t need to bring back Bob, but we need to aggressively and unapologetically tell the world that Pittsburgh is an exciting, welcoming and inclusive place.
David Malone—Chairman and CEO, Gateway Financial
Why don’t we turn problems into opportunities? Evidence shows clearly that differences in health are striking in communities with unstable housing, low income, food deserts and poor transportation, etc.—resulting in a substantially disproportionate share of accelerating health care costs (estimates as high as 50 percent of our region’s total health care costs). These same communities are plagued with dismal high school graduation rates and generational poverty. We also know that appropriate intervention that connects people with readily available services can dramatically improve the lives of those born in these underserved communities.
There are a myriad of initiatives working on parts of the problem. However, it would be far more effective if we would come together and work on a unified and organized plan. We have the resources, and the problem is relatively small here compared with other regions. Why can’t Pittsburgh become the first region in America to solve this problem?
Highmark and Allegheny Health Network are focused on the fact-based vision initially developed by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and inspired by work from organizations such as Catholic Charities and Mission of Mercy. It is being implemented by the community-based initiative “One Northside,” led by the Buhl Foundation and Project Destiny.
The goal would be to connect every family with existing providers. The result would be declining health care costs, increased graduation rates, a more robust and diverse workforce and countless neighbors having a chance to share in the prosperity and dignity deserved by all.
Jane Werner—Executive Director, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has always been a city for families. I’m constantly amazed at the generations that stay in the region and all of the “expatriates” who find their way back home when it’s time to start a family. It’s a great place to raise children. That’s especially true for families of means. Unfortunately, children whose families are at the lower end of the economic scale tend to lose out. I propose that every decision we make as a region is made with all children at the center. The pre-K proposal, put forth by the county executive, is a great place to start but what about our elementary, middle and high school citizens? If we become known as a region committed to all children, no matter their economic status, then we become a region focused on the future. Our air and water would get cleaner, our educational system would be stellar, our infrastructure and housing would improve, our health care would focus on the most vulnerable, immigration to Pittsburgh would become desirable, wages would rise and our arts would become even more vibrant. We would truly become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, filled with people who think of children first.