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Pittsburgh's growing popularity reflected in migration numbers

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 11:18 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Erek and Melanie Lam of Pine relocated to the area from Rochester, Minn., and Dr. Erek now works at UPMC Passavant.

Something unusual is happening in the Pittsburgh region: More people are moving here than leaving — something that hasn't happened for decades.

The reversal in migration trends highlights the boom in the gas industry and Pittsburgh's transformation from a blue-collar, steel industry town to a center for technology, health care and banking.

Pittsburgh's growing popularity also is being fueled by its low cost of living and national recognition as one of the best places to live.

“These past two years of higher immigration than out migration have surpassed any of the 20 years I have served as relocation director during my 32 years in real estate,” said Elaine DeBildt, with Prudential Preferred Realty.

Prudential and other companies involved in relocation services say they have noticed an uptick in business trends that point, at least anecdotally, to a reversal in people fleeing the region for opportunities elsewhere.

The trend is buttressed by data from the U.S. Census Bureau that show the seven-county region's population rose by 3,906 to 2,360,733 in the past two years. The census numbers would include births as well as residents moving into the area.

But the data underscore numbers from Prudential. DeBildt said last year Prudential handled relocation transactions for 1,091 families who moved into the Pittsburgh region while only 209 for those leaving.

Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services agents helped 929 families who were seeking to move into the area but referred 651 leaving the area to agents in their new locations,” said Sam (cq) Murphy, relocation manager and director of business development.

Other realtors and moving companies report similar trends in their business, higher volumes of incoming referrals than referrals of those moving out, although they declined to provide specific numbers.

“We've been seeing this immigration into the region over the past couple of years,” said Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Among those who moved here last year were Erek and Melodie Lam, who came to the region from Rochester, Minn. For Melodie, it was actually a homecoming.

The former Charleroi resident was thrilled when UPMC hired her physician husband, Erek, who works as UPMC Passavant. And with the help of Kevin Mihm of Coldwell Banker, they found a house in Pine Township that fits their lifestyle, she said.

The changing trends in relocation activity — with more people coming than leaving — started in 2011 and shows no letup, DeBildt said.

“The increase in immigration here is part of a broader trend we are observing here with a workforce at an all-time high at the end of 2012, and we still have 20,000 job openings,” said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The region is attracting new residents because of promotions to woo businesses and families and because of the acclaim it has received as a good place to live, work and study. Immigrants are coming here from foreign countries and students who come to study end up finding jobs and staying.

U-Haul International Inc. said that 9.9 percent more people using their service moved into the region last year than moved out with most trips shorter and tend to be along the East Coast. The company did not release figures on these moves.

Medical institutions are just one of the corporations or businesses transferring employees to Pittsburgh, Murphy said.

“Last year, we closed on 342 referrals of families moving into the area — our agents had 929 incoming families — and completed 239 of the 651 referrals of residents moving out,” she said.

Among corporations her agents worked with who have either moved people into the area or out, are Westinghouse Electric, Shell Oil and Mylan, Murphy said.

“This has signalled a turnaround for corporations who, during the past recession years held up relocating personnel, but now have resumed the practice,” she said.

Among the driving forces bringing people to Pittsburgh are “(Marcellus) shale, our high quality health care services, for educational reasons, our conservative way of living, our economy and our low cost of living,” she said.

Prudential was involved in four major group relocations last year, DeBildt said.

There were groups from Bayer out of West Virginia; Gardner Nash from Peachtree, Ga.; Chevron from all over the nation, including Alaska; and a 30-member group from Google, she said.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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