In the question of moving to Pittsburgh, people are voting with their trucks.
A study by U-Haul found more of its trucks were arriving in Pittsburgh than leaving town at a greater percentage than anywhere else in the country.
What that means is that more people were renting U-Hauls to move into Pittsburgh than to move out of town. Pittsburgh's growth rate, according to the U-Haul index, was 9.04 percent.
That was well above the second-place finisher Henderson, Nev., where 7.54 percent more trucks arrived than left. The company will not release actual numbers of how many trucks come or go. A spokeswoman said that was proprietary information.
"This is just another positive indication of what we have known has been going on for the last two or three years," Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said Thursday.
Mr. Flanagan said that for a generation, the leadership of Pittsburgh has been wringing its collective hands about the "brain drain" as younger, educated Pittsburghers left town and an aging workforce behind.
The U-Haul survey, Mr. Flanagan said, is an indication that younger people -- those fit enough to carry their own furniture -- are moving into the area.
Michael Pena, 30, fits the profile of a U-Hauler, but saved the money on truck rental by moving all of his stuff from Los Angeles to Wilkinsburg in his own Jeep.
Mr. Pena, CEO of AutoRef Inc., originally came to Pittsburgh for the business incubator program AlphaLab. This winter, with AutoRef up and running and even the recipient of local venture capital money, Mr. Pena packed his stuff in California and drove to Pittsburgh in front of a massive snow storm.
U-Haul general manager Mike Glancy, 44, said he was surprised to learn Pittsburgh was named the top U.S. growth city. Day-to-day, he said, it didn't seem like the company was receiving that many more vehicles than they were sending out.
Mr. Glancy said he has noticed more people in the 22- to 32-year-old range moving to the city in the past nine months.
The number of U-Hauls arriving in town fits with the expanding labor force, which ended the year having grown at a rate of 2.1 percent.
The bad news for the labor market was that the number of jobs did not keep up with the number of new workers, so the unemployment rate rose from 6.9 percent in January 2012 to 7.5 percent in January 2013, when there were 9,900 more people who were unemployed than there were the year before.
The U-Haul study also jibes with a report by the website Pittsburgh Today, which showed that while Pittsburgh lost population from 2003 to 2009, that trend reversed in 2010 and carried through 2012. The Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly also looked at U.S. Census data last month and found the regional growth rate to be 0.2 percent since April 2010, raising the total metropolitan population to 2.36 million.
Pittsburgh residential housing sales benefited from last year's growing population.
After seven years of declining home sales, the Pittsburgh metro area in 2012 logged its first positive year of home sales since 2004, according to RealSTATs, a South Side-based real estate information service.
An additional 3,147 buyers took the plunge into homeownership in 2012 compared with 2011, a 13.4 percent increase. All told, 26,628 homes changed hands in the Pittsburgh region last year, up from 23,481 in 2011. Each of the region's five counties -- Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland -- saw increased home sales in 2012.
As for the U-Haul trucks, according to the company, the top five places they are coming from in one-way moves to Pittsburgh are Philadelphia, Erie, Columbus, State College and Washington, D.C. As for the trucks that are leaving town, the top five places they are going sounds very similar: Philadelphia, Erie, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Washington, D.C.
While Pittsburgh is the top growth area, meaning more trucks come here than leave, a separate survey showed the top destination for a U-Haul is Houston, though it seems that just as many people pack up their U-Haul and get out of there, too.
Tim Grant and Molly Born contributed. Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699.