A New Chapter

A new chapter
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After 26 years at the helm of the Post-​Gazette, John G. Craig Jr. founded the Regional Indicators project and its Web site, pitts​burghto​day​.org. And since this magazine began five years ago, every issue has contained one of his reports on the state of the region.

His goal was to provide what he called “The city-​state of Pittsburgh” with the best information available about how the region is doing, both within its borders and compared with similar American regions. When he died in May, he left behind one of the best regional information systems in the country.

In mid June, the group that controls the project — its advisory committee, led by Paul O’Neill — appointed me to succeed John and charged me with not only continuing the project, but forging new projects that will make a difference in the civic life of this region.

With the help and support of key local foundations, this project has built a Web site full of facts about this region in 10 categories: arts, demographics, economy, education, environment, government, health, housing, public safety and transportation. I invite you to see what it has to offer at pitts​burghto​day​.org

We’re currently reconstituting most of the committees attached to the 10 sectors above. And at a meeting of the arts committee, one of the members asked who the intended audience for our information is. I answered that when John and I started a similar project 15 years ago at the Post-​Gazette — PG Benchmarks — we ran the project on the front page of the Sunday paper in an era where such a report might attract a million readers. To date, our audience with the Indicators has been Pittsburgh Quarterly readers, periodic newspaper audiences and “dataphiles.”

I asked the arts committee members what they thought our audience should be. “Businesses, business leaders and tourism groups such as Visit Pittsburgh,” came the first answer. “Arts groups who need the information for advocacy,” came another. “Community leaders and decision makers,” came a third. And finally, one suggested our audience is “People who are in a position to act on the information we produce.”

Another question was: “Are we aspirational?” That is, do we have a goal for the region that we want to help it reach or are we simply measuring how things are? The answer is yes. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. The indicators are guideposts to how we’re faring in our quest to build our region. But if we’re “aspirational,” doesn’t that bias our reports? No, not really. Consider the unemployment rate or the number of burglaries per 100,000 population. No one questions whether these reports have an underlying bias. It’s a given that high unemployment and high crime rates are undesirable. As a society, we agree that working and public safety are public goods. In the same way, our project measures what our committees believe are unambiguous items in building a great city.

In the next year, you’ll see changes in our project. We’ll be working to expand our audience and our offerings. Next spring, information from the 2010 census will start to become available. We also will be embarking on a larger change, namely periodic in-​depth journalistic reports on key issues for our region.

Finally, I wouldn’t want to have a Pittsburgh Today column without some numbers…

Job growth

In late July, we received advance copies of the June jobs numbers for the Pittsburgh region and others against which we compare. The surprising numbers show Pittsburgh adding 4,800 jobs since June of last year. This ranks Metro Pittsburgh as No. 1 among the 15 benchmark regions in job growth in that 12-​month period. With a .42 percent increase, Pittsburgh is one of only five benchmark regions to have added jobs from June 2009 to June 2010. Cleveland fared second best, with job gains of .41 percent. On average, the benchmark cities lost .43 percent of their regional jobs, with Milwaukee faring the worst with a loss of 2.22 percent (see figure 1).

If we look at job growth from June 2008 through June 2010, Pittsburgh jobs declined by 2.42 percent, but our losses were the least of all benchmark regions and less than half of the benchmark average of 5.41 percent. Baltimore was next closest to Pittsburgh with losses of 3.09 percent, and Detroit suffered most during the two-​year period, losing 11.2 percent of its jobs. (For a more detailed analysis, read Harold Miller’s blog at pitts​burghto​day​.org)

Hotel occupancy

We’ve also just received fascinating information showing Pittsburgh to be a particularly good place to be in the hotel business. In the first quarter of 2010, Pittsburgh had the second highest revenue per room, the second highest occupancy rates, and the third highest average daily rate among 12 benchmark cities.

In revenue per room, Philadelphia led the regions at $58, followed by Pittsburgh and Baltimore at $52; the benchmark average was $41. Philadelphia again led in occupancy rates with 56 percent, (see figure 2) followed by Pittsburgh with 55 percent; the benchmark average was 50 percent. In average daily rates, Philadelphia was highest at $104, followed by Baltimore at $96 and Pittsburgh at $95; the benchmark average was $83.

The secret to our relative success, however, is found in the fourth measure: the number of hotel rooms in the region (see figure 3). With 22,354 rooms, Pittsburgh ranks ninth among the 12 regions and considerably below the average of 28,760. In other words, there’s room for more hotels here.

Finally, as we set a new course with this project, I invite you to get involved — either by joining our effort or by learning more about Pittsburgh at pitts​burghto​day​.org

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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