Dear Mr. President: Welcome to Pittsburgh, a city you know well
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It's good to see you back even after multiple visits, including the G-20 summit you hosted here in September 2009. You chose Pittsburgh for global attention because of the region's recovery from industrial collapse in the 1980s and its rise as a rich destination -- in culture, business and natural beauty -- for all to see.
You have held up Pittsburgh as a model for the nation -- a place that overcame severe economic circumstances and found a way to refashion itself. That reinvention, in part through the growth of the high-tech sector, health care jobs and university expansions, has the region poised for a brighter future.
But Pittsburgh, like most places in America, still faces difficult challenges. Sure, the metro region's unemployment rate is lower than the national average (in May, 6.8 percent vs. 8.2 percent). We escaped the painful housing market collapse that befell other parts of the country. And our urban core, Downtown Pittsburgh, is a vibrant business center by day that draws sports, arts and dining fans by night and weekend.
Still, there is much more that our region can be, and it will take the right policies by the right president to give us the chance.
• We need more jobs. That means more companies that will reap success by adding American, not foreign, workers -- even though we live in a global economy. At your first stop Thursday of this two-day bus tour between northwestern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania, you reminded the audience of some of your efforts on this front.
Three years ago, you took the risk of a taxpayer bailout to save General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group from bankruptcy, and this week you announced the filing of an unfair trade complaint against China over duties imposed by the Asian nation on American-made cars and SUVs. Steps like these come decades late for the heyday of the industry that gave the Steel City its well-known, but now somewhat dated, nickname.
Even so, this region needs job creation policies that will keep more of its young people here and, with any luck, even bring back many of those who left in the Pittsburgh diaspora for greater prospects. We lost a generation of sons and daughters after the closing of too many steel mills, and many would return if we had more chances for employment.
• We need a better transportation network. Costly wars and a colossal economic downturn have prevented the United States from investing in not just the transportation plans of the future but also the programs that maintain highways, bridges, transit systems and river locks in the present.
Too many roads and bridges are suffering from financial neglect and risk becoming safety hazards. Too many transit programs are forced to raise fares while starving service. And too many aging locks and dams, like those on our own three rivers, are threatened with collapse, potentially costing entire regions the loss of a unique and efficient mode of shipping goods.
With this lengthy to-do list on basic transportation, the United States will only be able to keep dreaming of the futuristic-sounding systems, like maglev and high-speed rail, that other nations are building and using today.
• We need the makings of greater personal opportunity, and they come through an assortment of policies. Effective schools, regardless of a town's wealth, that teach children to be intelligent and self-reliant. Safe cities and neighborhoods that provide the rich soil for growing businesses, families and civic life. A sustainable social safety net that balances the needs of our most vulnerable citizens with support that the rest of the nation can afford.
It's true, Mr. President, that Pittsburgh can be Exhibit A for the kind of America you'd like to see elsewhere -- strong values, hard work, family commitment, respect for country. But we can't afford to be smug or self-satisfied. We, too, are a work in progress.
This election is as important for Pittsburgh as for the rest of the United States. We hope that, in your visit at Carnegie Mellon University, we will learn more about the opportunities you believe you can deliver for America. Because we're eager to hear from your opponent, too, and to play our part in choosing the next president.
First Published July 6, 2012 12:00 am