Welcome to Cleveburgh! Pittsburghers need to rethink their place in the world
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To anyone who has survived the many cold slugfests pitting the Steelers against the Browns, this word may grate like fingernails pulled across a chalkboard. But chalkboards have seen their day. It may be time to realize that what separates Pittsburgh and Cleveland is more artificial than real. It may be time to talk about the once-unthinkable: a combined Cleveland-Pittsburgh metro region.
A two-hour drive up the turnpike is all that separates downtown Cleveland from downtown Pittsburgh. Suburban counties of both regions are much closer.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland, along with Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Weirton and Steubenville, could all fit within the area that currently makes up the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area. Cleveburgh is not a vast "megalopolis," and in many ways it already functions as a single region.
Northeast Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania are far more interconnected with each other than either region is with other parts of Ohio or Pennsylvania. The day-to-day interaction of local businesses are geared toward regional partners, not Harrisburg or Columbus. Pittsburgh industries are far more linked to markets and suppliers in Youngstown, Akron and Cleveland than with those in Allentown, Scranton or even Philadelphia. In so many ways the state boundaries we think of as important are no more than lines on a map.
Both regions share an economic history that has defined them. Both regions have worked to streamline fragmented local governments. Both regions have sought to re-educate their workforces and redefine themselves in a new economy.
For the most part, each region has proceeded independently. Could more be achieved by working together?
What is Cleveburgh?
The metropolitan statistical areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Steubenville, Weirton and Youngtown, along with adjacent counties, add up to a population of more than 6 million and a labor force of more than 4 million. They make up a combined market that many local businesses already treat as a single region when looking to the future.
Nowhere is the connection between the two regions stronger than in the labor market. The interconnected Cleve-burgh workforces have long had a symbiotic relationship, and it's been growing over time. Both regions have long obsessed over migration and job growth while both have depended on each other for workers.
Annual migration among Cleveburgh communities dwarfs the movement of people to other places across the nation. Daily commuting over state borders is a growing phenomenon. It is not uncommon to see workers from Ohio and West Virginia looking for jobs in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh residents considering jobs in Weirton or Youngstown or farther reaches of the region.
In many ways Cleveburgh already exists. The Regional Learning Network was formed in 2009 and brings together local leaders of Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh to address shared problems. The TechBelt Initiative brings together emerging technology industries of the greater Pittsburgh and Cleveland regions. These are seeds of what could become broader regional cooperation -- if we make it so.
Cleveburgh is not meant to be the single definitive map of our region. It certainly is not the only version of what a "greater" metro area might be; other broad regional definitions are being discussed.
The Pittsburgh Regional Indicators Project looks broadly at 22 counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, while the Power of 32 regional visioning project focuses on a 32-county area extending into Maryland. Each of these definitions, and possibly others, are meant to expand how we Pittsburghers view our place in the world -- and, hopefully, how the world views our place in it.
If Pittsburgh and Cleveland can greatly expand the cooperation that has only just begun, then maybe we can lose the inward-looking parochialism that also is part of our common legacy.
The challenge of competing as a region can only be met if we combine both metro areas' networks of resources, if we share ideas, capital and talent. Cleve-burgh could take advantage of a much broader set of strengths than either Pittsburgh or Cleveland can tap on its own.
This all sounds straightforward, but it is far from where we are. Can our leaders pitch the region jointly for future investment, or must we treat each other as competitors far beyond the gridiron?
No one definition of our greater region is right for all circumstances. But we can't be limited by municipal or state boundaries that mean less and less as time goes by.
Roads and rivers, power lines and pollution; all ignore the lines arbitrarily drawn on maps centuries ago. It is our mental map of who we are that will have the most to do with who we become.
First Published January 2, 2011 12:00 am