Western Pennsylvania's census gain driven by jobs

Brian Bowling
| Sunday, April 8, 2012

Western Pennsylvania's amenities, natural beauty and low cost of living make moving here easy, but three recent transplants say they mainly came for the jobs.

Sam Levey, 51, of Friendship moved here from Chicago just before Thanksgiving. The vice president of product development and operations at BodyMedia Inc., Downtown, said he wouldn't have come to Pittsburgh if he hadn't found a job that offered interesting work with good people. But he passed up similar jobs in other areas because he and his wife, Lisa, didn't want to live there.

"This was it," he said. "We like Pittsburgh. It's the right size. There are lots of activities you can participate in."

The 10-county area of Western Pennsylvania showed population gains in 2011, according to Census Bureau population estimates released last week.

Allegheny County's population increased by 2,233 people from 2010 for a 2011 population of 1.2 million people. The region's population — despite losses in some counties, like Westmoreland, which saw a 614 decrease from 2010 — rose by 930 people for a 2011 population of 2.6 million people.

The 10-county region includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Newcomers rather than newborns made the difference. The region had 3,468 more deaths than births, Census figures showed.

"I don't think there has been any sustained migration into Allegheny since the 1920s," said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research.

The number of jobs in the region in February, the latest data available, increased by 17,800 from February 2011, based on a state survey of employers. Those figures were not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Briem said he expected the region to gain population but was surprised at the Allegheny County numbers.

Allegheny County has suffered from the regional decline caused by the collapse of the area's steel industry more than 30 years ago and the longer trend of people moving from central cities into suburbs.

Briem said he didn't have a ready explanation for Allegheny County's gains, but "most migration in the U.S. is related to employment and labor conditions."

The other migrations are by students and retirees, but in numbers smaller than worker migrations, he said.

Levey said that while an interesting job brought him to Pittsburgh, he and his wife enjoy exploring its diverse neighborhoods and picked Friendship because of its central location and proximity to shopping.

"It's a little bit of a fixer-upper, but it's a good way to get to know the neighborhood," he said. "We're having a lot of fun."

His co-worker, Nic Wilson, 25, of McCandless moved here a year ago from Boise, Idaho. Wilson, a marketing specialist, obtained his graduate degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, W.Va., and started looking for opportunities in Boise and Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh won out because its rapidly growing number of startup technology companies make it an exciting place to work, he said.

"It's a big city with a lot of opportunities," he said. "I kind of feel like it's driving Pittsburgh now instead of the old industrial steel era."

Haluk Oran, 56, of Phoenix is searching for a home in the North Hills. He became the senior director of sales and marketing for Plextronics Inc., Harmar, the day after the Super Bowl. He and his wife, Suzan, planned to live in the city, but have fallen in love with the hills and trees.

"We do prefer a yard," he said.

Oran passed up a job offer in San Jose partly because of Pittsburgh's lower cost of living, but also because of its amenities and Plextronics' potential.

"Both the company and job were more interesting to me," he said. "Pittsburgh surprised me. I thought it was more based on the older industries."

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