Stability spurs more growth in Pittsburgh

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Slow and steady wins the race: It works for the tortoise, and it seems to be working for Pittsburgh.

The latest annual "Pittsburgh Today and Tomorrow" report by PittsburghTODAY found that Pittsburgh continues to make modest economic progress after years of decline.

PittsburghTODAY is a nonprofit part of the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social & Urban Research that tracks the region's progress compared with 15 other areas of similar size, geographic and demographic makeups.

Doug Hueck, program director for PittsburghTODAY, highlighted data regarding population growth, unemployment levels and housing appreciation rates as examples of the city's revival.

Pittsburgh's metro unemployment rate was 6.6 percent at the end of 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, ranking sixth among the 15 regions studied. The figure bested the average unemployment rate of the 15 regions, which was 6.8 percent.

Mr. Hueck credits increased diversification of economy, including the education, health care, energy and finance sectors.

It's growth that is three decades in the making, Mr. Hueck said.

"It bodes well," he said. "It speaks to the turnaround after the mills closed and unemployment was 18 percent."

Job growth in Pittsburgh was 1.5 percent in 2013, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. The city ranked fifth when comparing wages and cost of living.

Housing values in Pittsburgh are also faring better than most. Pittsburgh was one of two cities with an increase in five-year housing appreciation rates. The city joined Denver, which took the top spot. Housing appreciation rates rose 8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More people moving to Pittsburgh is giving the city a boost, too.

Mr. Hueck said more people are moving into Pittsburgh than out of it, a trend that only began in 2010 after years of population decline. He said people moving into the city are younger and well-educated, which has contributed to the economic success.

The PittsburghTODAY report shows the population is on average older than most of the other 15 regions studied. Nearly 18 percent of the population is 65 or older.

Despite progress, there are areas to improve.

Mr. Hueck calls Pittsburgh "one of the whitest" of the 15 regions studied, adding that many companies are looking for ways to boost immigration and economic growth. Foreign-born people make up 3.3 percent of the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, the lowest rate of all the 15 regions measured, while 86.6 percent are white.

Still, Mr. Hueck said the incremental progress means Pittsburgh is headed in the right direction.

"When you have an unemployment rate under the national average, people begin to notice," he said. "People are moving here, We've become much stronger in recent years."

Lauren Lindstrom: llindstrom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1964.


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