Pittsburgh region's profile on the rise among Chinese

Carnegie Mellon University students Charles Zhang (left), age 28 and Tain Wu, age 22, on Wednesday April 25, 2012.
Carnegie Mellon University students Charles Zhang (left), age 28 and Tain Wu, age 22, on Wednesday April 25, 2012.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 8:48 p.m.

Tian Wu came to Pittsburgh from Shanghai, China, to get a good education and a job in America. She's not sure whether she'll return to China, she said on Wednesday.

Wu, a Carnegie Mellon University senior majoring in business and statistics, landed a job with Deutsche Bank on Wall Street in New York, where she'll move this summer after graduating. Eventually, she said, she would like to make her way back to China or elsewhere in Asia, but those plans could change.

"I came here just for college," said Wu, 22. "There is a good chance I could stay here in the U.S.," she said, "if everything goes smoothly."

Wu is a member a Chinese population in the Pittsburgh metro area that is growing, getting younger and is increasingly female, according to 2010 statistics the U.S. Census Bureau released today on race and ethnicity.

Overall, 10,921 people in the Pittsburgh metro area identified their race in the 2010 Census as being mainland Chinese. While that was less than 0.5 percent of the area's 2010 total of 2.34 million people, it represents a 68 percent increase in that population over the 2000 Census.

The metro area consists of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Thomas Buell Jr., marketing director for the nonprofit Global Pittsburgh, said the numbers reflect a couple of trends. One is that foreign students and business people in general are paying more attention to Pittsburgh because of events such as the G-20 economic summit that was held here in 2009.

"Pittsburgh has a higher profile," he said.

He also said that interior areas of the country are drawing more Chinese, who historically located in cities on the East and West coasts.

A breakdown of today's numbers shows that much of the growth is driven by college- and middle-age adults and that the number of Chinese women in the area is growing faster than the number of Chinese men. The figures include anyone who identified themselves as being solely Chinese in the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

They numbers show that the median age of the region's Chinese population dropped to younger than 29 from older 31 during the 10 years. Meanwhile, Chinese women increased in number by 78 percent while males increased by 59 percent.

"It is probably related to higher education, the new technology industries and jobs in the medical profession that are here," Duquesne University associate history professor Jing "Jay" Li said of the growing Chinese population.

"Many Chinese seem to be related to these kinds of work and college education," said Li, who came to the United States to pursue a doctorate at Rice University in Texas before joining Duquesne's faculty in 2002.

Li considers himself an "exception," noting that few Chinese are coming to the United States to study the humanities as he did.

"They tend to specialize in the natural sciences and engineering," he said.

The area's other major universities can attest to the gains. The number of University of Pittsburgh students from China spiked from the fall term of 2000 to the fall term of 2010, according to university records. The 2010 enrollment was 789 students, compared with 265 in 2000.

Carnegie Mellon experienced a similar increase with its fall 2010 enrollment of 780 students from China, sharply higher than its fall 2000 enrollment of 273.

Wu and fellow Chinese student Charles Zhang, 28, worked yesterday to spread the word about this weekend's CMU Summit, a forum to highlight U.S.-China innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities. The summit will feature more than 100 companies and institutions.

China is the world's second-largest economy in terms of gross domestic product behind the United States, but statistics show China is growing at a much faster rate.

"We want to connect the Chinese population here and the mainstream American population so they better understand each other," Wu said. "We want to bring investment to Pittsburgh and connect the two nations."

Zhang studied for an undergraduate degree and later worked in London before moving to Pittsburgh in 2010 to earn an MBA from CMU. His parents plan to come from their home in Wenzhou, near Shanghai, for his graduation ceremony later this month.

American universities are major draws for Chinese students, as they are in the United Kingdom, Zhang said.

"The education system, college is very influential," said Zhang, a permanent resident who lives in Oakland.

Like Wu, he's not in the United States just for education and training.

Zhang will start a job with Corning Inc. in upstate New York in June. He said he plans to stay in the country unless Corning wants him to relocate to one of the company's facilities in China.

Statistics show that foreign-born residents, including Chinese, are about twice as likely to start their own businesses and create jobs, Buell said.

"It's good news for the Pittsburgh economy," he said of the new data.

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