Guess what?: We still make things
Three long, often painful decades after the demise of Big Steel, upon which it depended so heavily, the Pittsburgh region's economy is stronger for being more diversified. But manufacturing continues to be one of its greatest strengths.
The region's 97,000 manufacturing jobs, about 8 percent of total employment, remain far short of their 1979 peak of 279,000 or 25 percent but are increasing. It's easy to overlook today's efficient, high-tech manufacturers because they make lower-profile products than did the old mass-production steel plants and are more specialized and diverse. Statewide, no single type of manufacturing accounts for more than 5 percent of the overall sector.
Yet manufacturers' estimated 2011 gross regional product rose 10 percent over 2010, to almost $13 billion, while average regional manufacturing wages were more than $57,000, about 17 percent higher than the overall regional average. And in 2012, an industry group ranked the Pittsburgh metro area 19th in total manufacturing businesses among 388 metro areas nationwide.
There's valuable synergy among the region's manufacturing, high-tech, research, education and business-services sectors. Abundant, affordable energy from natural gas is adding to the region's longtime advantages in terms of work ethic, infrastructure and proximity to markets.
And with such promising new processes as 3-D printing, manufacturing's future is bright — as a key sector of a truly 21st-century regional economy.