Pittsburgh's youth exodus reverses: Millennials are being drawn to the city
August 8, 2016 12:00 AM
Between 2000 and 2014, the number of young college graduates in Pittsburgh grew by 53 percent.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After decades of concern about Pittsburgh’s shrinking young population, recent studies of U.S. census data show that the city has joined the national leaders in attracting college-educated millennials.
The Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the adult population in Pittsburgh continued to decrease — down 9 percent between 2000 and 2014 — the percentage of young graduates grew from 10.5 percent to 16.8 percent. The latter is one of the largest booms seen among the country’s large cities.
Only Jersey City, N.J., and Washington, D.C., experienced more millennial growth, which is being seen mostly in former Northern industrial cities.
“St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are former Rust Belt cities that were given up for dead but are making a comeback because their universities were able to remain world-class centers of research,” author Antoine van Agtmael, a trustee at the Brookings Institute, told the website curbed.com.
But there’s more to the attraction than education and business opportunities. The quality of life plays a big part, said Rebecca Bagley, the University of Pittsburgh’s vice chancellor for economic partnerships.
Museums, parks, bike trails, social and artistic events and affordable housing carved out of former industrial buildings have proved attractive to young people setting out on their own from other parts of the country.
“I think we’ve made the transition from the Rust Belt to the new economy city with the diversity in our economy, so I’d say we’re ahead of the curve,” Ms. Bagley said. “It’s kind of Rust Belt chic, having older infrastructure that has so much character. That can differentiate cities like Pittsburgh as we transition to the new economy. Places like Denver and Seattle don’t have the kind of bones that we have from that history.”
Between 2000 and 2014, the number of young college graduates in Pittsburgh grew by 53 percent, or almost 15,000. That figure fails to keep up with the city’s overall population drop of about 29,000, but it is still seen as a positive sign.
Of course, some growth is to be expected, the researchers said, as the large millennial generation of those born starting in 1982 moved into the 18-to-34 age group. Nationally, the number of young college graduates grew 36 percent since 2000. But the former Rust Belt cities are seeing more than their fair share.
Part of the reason is that large national companies offer employees certain salaries based on their jobs, so it’s only logical that those workers gravitate to parts of the country where those dollars go further.
“Consider the growth we’ve seen here in the past few years,” Ms. Bagley said. “Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt really own economic development opportunities, especially in sciences areas, and I think we’ll see more growth in jobs in other fields. The economic drivers are pretty diverse: manufacturing, health care, life sciences, IT, software, financial services. And that could spur jobs in retail, entertainment and other services.”
Physicians Rusty Lieurance, 31, and his wife, Lexi Franks, 31, moved from Denver to the North Side four years ago. On a sunny summer day, you might see them biking near the home they bought in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood.
“We really like it,” Dr. Franks said. “It seems like, even since we’ve been here, there’s been a lot more to do and there’s a lot of growth. Especially here on the North Side. We go to the Mattress Factory a lot and the museums. We’ve adopted the Pirates.”
“But we’re still loyal to our Broncos,” Dr. Lieurance said.
Neither one had been to Pittsburgh before their jobs brought them here. But they have found the city to be a good fit for them.
“Our jobs afford us the chance to meet other young adults, so we’ve made friends,” Dr. Franks said. “There’s a lot of new things to do here and a lot of opportunities for younger people especially. New restaurants, lots of cultural stuff to do.”
Other than the mountains, Dr. Lieurance said, they’ve been able to find most everything that was available in Denver.
“And there’s so many outdoor activities,” he said. “Biking, hiking, kayaking.”
Katinka Honervogt, 25, who works in chemical sales, came from Cologne, Germany, last year and is renting an apartment on the South Side. Likewise, she had never been to Pittsburgh before her job brought her here.
“It’s a friendly city and people are very open-minded,” she said while having drinks with friends and co-workers at Poros in Market Square. “It has a bigger-city character, like New York or Chicago, but there’s still a lot of nature.
“You have the museums and the gallery crawls. I think Pittsburgh is doing a lot. I would say the quality of life here is very high, but it’s not advertised abroad. It’s not a beach city, it’s not a vacation city, so people around the world do not know the beauty of Pittsburgh.
“The only thing that is annoying is parking.”
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1456.
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