Glenn Thrush over at Politico had a lengthy article called “The Robots That Saved Pittsburgh” which has been getting quite a bit of attention:
Pittsburgh, after decades of trying to remake itself, today really does have a new economy, rooted in the city’s rapidly growing robotic, artificial intelligence, health technology, advanced manufacturing and software industries. It’s growing in population for the first time since the 1950s, and now features regularly in lists like “the Hottest Cities of the Future” and “Best Cities for Working Mothers.” “The city is sort of in a sweet spot,” says Sanjiv Singh, a Whittaker acolyte at Carnegie Mellon who is working on the first-of-its-kind pilotless medical evacuation helicopter for the Marines. “It has the critical mass of talent you need, it’s still pretty affordable and it has corporate memory—the people here still remember when the place was an industrial powerhouse.”
Improbably for a blue-collar town that seemed headed for the scrap heap when its steel industry collapsed, Pittsburgh has developed into one of the country’s most vibrant tech centers, a hotbed of innovation that can no longer be ignored by the industry’s titans.
Pittsburgh has been getting a lot of press for its job growth, income growth, and even the reversal of demographic loss in switching from net out migration to net in migration. But is the hype warranted?
To look at whether there really has been some boom in the brain-powered economy, I decided to look at college grads. After all, if brains are what is powering Pittsburgh, then we’d expect to see more brains collecting there.
First let’s look at metro area college degree attainment change since 2000 vs. other large Midwestern regions:
|Rank||Metro Area||2000||2012||Change in % of Total Adult (25+) Population|
|1||Pittsburgh, PA||396,981 (23.4%)||513,838 (30.5%)||7.11%|
|2||Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||633,112 (33.3%)||881,581 (39.5%)||6.20%|
|3||St. Louis, MO-IL||435,940 (24.8%)||586,547 (30.8%)||5.93%|
|4||Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI||1,679,306 (29.0%)||2,190,424 (34.8%)||5.83%|
|5||Columbus, OH||291,995 (28.3%)||419,136 (34.1%)||5.76%|
|6||Indianapolis-Carmel, IN||260,705 (26.5%)||377,189 (32.1%)||5.59%|
|7||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||260,981 (27.0%)||337,253 (32.5%)||5.51%|
|8||Kansas City, MO-KS||334,225 (28.0%)||460,391 (33.5%)||5.49%|
|9||Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN||163,080 (21.2%)||233,566 (26.5%)||5.37%|
|10||Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI||676,906 (23.2%)||819,347 (28.2%)||5.01%|
|11||Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN||319,469 (24.8%)||419,714 (29.6%)||4.78%|
|12||Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH||343,103 (23.9%)||405,731 (28.5%)||4.58%|
Pittsburgh is #1 and is one of the tops in the country in its increase in share of the adult population with college degrees. That’s good news. However, this isn’t all it seems. Pittsburgh is the clear #1 among large metros in the percentage of its population over age 85. Last I checked it was also a rare metro with natural decrease, that is, more deaths than births. Pittsburgh’s attainment rates are being boosted at a higher rate than other places because more poorly educated older cohorts are dying.
Let’s look at it in terms of actual brains, the people with degrees:
|Rank||Metro Area||2000||2012||Total Change||Pct Change|
|3||Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN||163,080||233,566||70,486||43.22%|
|4||Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||633,112||881,581||248,469||39.25%|
|5||Kansas City, MO-KS||334,225||460,391||126,166||37.75%|
|6||St. Louis, MO-IL||435,940||586,547||150,607||34.55%|
|10||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||260,981||337,253||76,272||29.23%|
Pittsburgh doesn’t look so great here. It’s towards the bottom even in Midwest metros in percentage gain in the total number of adults with degrees, and the total number of new grads is lower than in some other Midwest metros that are smaller than Pittsburgh.
However, let’s look at a core municipality view. (Louisville excluded because of a city-county merger):
|Rank||Municipality||2000||2012||Total Change||Pct Change|
|1||St. Louis city, MO||42,338||65,161||22,823||53.91%|
|2||Columbus city, OH||128,058||177,251||49,193||38.41%|
|3||Pittsburgh city, PA||57,267||77,500||20,233||35.33%|
|4||Chicago city, IL||462,783||623,484||160,701||34.72%|
|5||Kansas City city, MO||73,824||98,806||24,982||33.84%|
|6||Minneapolis city, MN||91,027||119,231||28,204||30.98%|
|7||Milwaukee city, WI||64,742||79,520||14,778||22.83%|
|8||Indianapolis city (balance), IN||127,608||152,998||25,390||19.90%|
|9||Cleveland city, OH||33,949||38,369||4,420||13.02%|
|10||Cincinnati city, OH||55,215||56,938||1,723||3.12%|
|11||Detroit city, MI||61,836||56,770||-5,066||-8.19%|
Here Pittsburgh is back to showing strong growth. I should also point out the very good showing by St. Louis, a region conventionally viewed as slow growth. Pittburgh had strong growth in people with degrees inside the city. If I were to judge just based on this quick look at the data, the relatively small city of Pittsburgh appears to be gearing things up around its educational complex, but the rest of the region is still somewhat a laggard in brainpower growth. The high tech turnaround may be more a city of Pittsburgh story than a regional one.