As world economies turn up, Pittsburgh's falls

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Pittsburgh can stop celebrating how well it weathered the recession, because as other cities around the world are experiencing a recovery, Pittsburgh is falling behind again.

In a study of 150 cities in the U.S. and abroad, researchers at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., found that Pittsburgh really did fare well during the recession. The city, which was ranked 128th for growth before the recession, rose to 41st in the world during the recession, but that was mainly because in a world losing jobs and income, Pittsburgh lost less.

However, as other cities are rebounding, Pittsburgh is falling behind again and now ranks 129th in the post-recession era.

Alan Berube, one of the authors of the Brookings report, said Pittsburgh's "growth" during the recession was really a measure of its lack of falling as far as other cities. So while Las Vegas collapsed, Pittsburgh, buoyed by its universities and hospitals, did not lose as much; hence even with a loss, the city was 41st for growth.

"Standing still was a good place to be," Mr. Berube said. Standing still now is not something a city should be doing. "That's the problem." While he said it might take a few years to get a complete view of any region in the post-recession economy, the picture is "not too rosy for Pittsburgh at the moment."

Mr. Berube also had some information that could be considered fighting words in Pittsburgh: Cleveland is doing much better. Cleveland, which was ranked 135th for growth before the recession, rose to 131st during the recession and is now ranked 49th of the 150 international metropolitan economies.

Las Vegas, which was 14th in the world before the recession, is now 146th. "Las Vegas built the most consumption dependent economy in the U.S.," Mr. Berube said.

Cleveland, however, still has a manufacturing base that many cities mostly gave up. It's the cities in the United States that still have a good manufacturing base that are growing because the weakened dollar is driving exports.

Brookings conducted the global study because, as Bruce Katz, the director of the institution's metropolitan policies program, said, "Metros are the engines of national prosperity."

As a metropolitan area, Pittsburgh is not just competing against Cleveland or Baltimore -- which is 42nd for growth since the recession -- but is competing on a world stage, according to the study's authors.

Istanbul, Turkey, ranked first for growth; Shenzhen, China, second; and Lima, Peru, third, in the Brookings study. The highest ranking U.S. city was Austin, Texas, which was ranked 25th before the recession and 40th during the recession, and finished 26th in the world.

The goal of studying the cities of the world is to create a grammar of success for cities, according to Wolfgang Nowalk, of the Alfred Herrhausen Society in Germany,

"Cities are the expression of humankind; we have nothing else," Mr. Nowalk said. "If cities fail, the states will fail, the world will fail."

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped produce the study, said local governments in the United States operate in ways that prevent regional economies from growing.

That is an issue about which local leaders both in foundations and government are trying to address. One initiative to eliminate the hurdle of political boundaries is The Power of 32, which is addressing growth in 32 counties that span four states in the Upper Ohio River Basin.

The organization has been holding community meetings throughout the region in recent months. More than 40 county commissioners have pledged to work together to bring economic development to the region as a whole.

For the study, Brookings looked at the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, 50 cities in Europe, including the capitals of every country, and the 50 largest cities from the rest of the world.

Brookings considered the pre-Great Recession period from 1993 to 2007, while the recession was considered the year each city had its worst year of growth, which was sometime from 2007 to 2010, and the recovery is considered the time after that.

For Pittsburgh the recession was calculated over two years because the measures for the study spanned 2008 to 2010. The two measures in the study were employment and per capita income.

In most cities, per capita income and employment hit their lowest levels in the same year. Pittsburgh was an exception. It recorded its worst unemployment in 2009, but its worst ranking for per capita income in 2010.

The Brookings Institution is available online at http://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/1130_global_metro_monitor.aspx


Correction/Clarification: (Published December 2, 2010) An article Wednesday on the economies of cities around the world contained the wrong ranking for Las Vegas. It is currently ranked 146th of 150.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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