Job growth, dollar value, culture attract workers to Pittsburgh

| Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

Tamiko Youngblood moved to the Pittsburgh area last August from downtown Chicago to take a university teaching job.

"Pittsburgh is a wonderful place for the price," said Youngblood, 43, now a Moon resident and associate professor of engineering at Robert Morris University. "I got almost 2 12 times the space and at less cost. To me, that was awesome."

Her move illustrates how the Pittsburgh region is evolving these days. For example:

• More people finally are moving into, rather than out of, the region.

• Job growth is outstripping rates in comparable cities.

• Education is one of several key sectors behind that growth.

• The low cost of living here helps attract people.

Those are some of the findings of the second annual "Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow" report released Saturday by Pittsburgh Today, a local research affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh. The organization examined the seven-county area's economic and demographic characteristics and compared them with 14 peer markets, such as Cleveland and Philadelphia.

"When you have a regional economy with an unemployment rate lower than the national average, that becomes attractive," said Douglas Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today's Regional Indicators. "People look at Pittsburgh and think, 'Hey, I can get a job there.'"

The Pittsburgh region counted 1,144 more people moving to the area than moving out of it in 2009, according to latest Census Bureau data. That marked a reversal of two decades of net out-migration in the Pittsburgh region.

The net inflow is "particularly impressive in light of the fact that national migration rates have slowed and are lower than what is usually seen during times of economic hardship," the report said.

"I'm a native of Virginia, but the opportunity to move up here and start a program was too good to pass up," said Robert Zullo, 37, associate professor of sports management at Seton Hill University, Greensburg.

Zullo moved to Murrysville in 2010 from Harrisonburg, rural northwestern Virginia, to start the Seton Hill's sports management program. He was drawn by this region's variety of professional and amateur sports teams and events, as well as Pittsburgh's breadth of cultural offerings.

Education — along with health, energy and finance — were the primary fields that enabled the Pittsburgh market to add 2.35 percent more jobs last year than in 2010, the best job-growth rate of its 14 market peers, said the report. The average employment change among the 15 markets was just 0.7 percent upward.

The Pittsburgh region added about 26,700 jobs in 2011, giving the region about 1,164,000 jobs at year end.

In addition, the region's 6.6 percent nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December was better than all but Minneapolis and Boston, of the 14 other markets Pittsburgh Today analyzed.

At the same time, however, the region still struggles by other measures. One is transportation.

The Pittsburgh region is home to 1,133 "structurally deficient bridges," more than any American metro area with at least 2 million people, said the report. In addition, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, facing crisis-level budget shortfalls, has proposed slashing bus service.

"The most important part of the economy is human labor, and people have to be able to get to work," said Heuck.

The region still lacks ethnic and racial diversity. Its population is only 3.1 percent foreign born, the lowest ratio of any of its 14 peers. A silver lining is that about 54 percent of the area's 59,000 foreign-born residents have at least a bachelor's degree, the highest percentage of any metro area in the country, the report said.

Hispanics only account for 1.3 percent of the Pittsburgh region's population, the lowest ratio of the 15 peer markets. Blacks make up only 8.4 percent of this region's population, lower than all but Boston, Minneapolis and Denver.

Many of those blacks struggle here. In a 2011 Pitt survey of about 2,200 African-American residents in Western Pennsylvania, almost 18 percent said they had trouble paying for basic necessities, such as housing and food — more than double the rate of non-blacks.

"It's an asset that lay fallow when your African-American community is not reaching the level of success they aspire to," Heuck said.

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