Pittsburgh: The Steel’s Gone – Get Over It!

“I been a-workin’ that Pittsburgh steel,” Woody Guthrie sang to a wandering worker in his 1940s song, Hard Travellin’. If he came through the city nowadays, chances are his lyrics would be something like, “I been a-livin’ that Pittsburgh good life.” Once known for its steel industry and little else, Pittsburgh now boasts a number of thriving industries, including high tech and health care, and is also a center for academic research. And here’s a big surprise: Pittsburgh offers free public transportation.

Concern for Quality of Life

Pittsburgh residents say their city began working on quality of life issues right after World War II — long before most U.S. cities. They say it’s what makes the city such an attractive place to live. This concern has led to the evolution of old-style, individual neighborhoods with pre-mall emporia, such as:

  • Bakeries
  • Affordable housing (well below the national average)
  • Low crime rate
  • Public transportation system that is free until 7 p.m.

The city also boasts one of the fastest commute times in America.

Raw Material for Change

The steel industry’s gone, says the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. And it tells those nostalgic for a return to the Steel Era to “get over it — we have.” Rather than dwell on the past, the Chamber points to the steel industry’s legacy, noting that thousands of workers laid off from steel mills 20 years ago founded technology-based firms, and later created the raw material for thriving high-tech companies.

University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University’s renowned technology programs have also contributed to the city’s high-tech boon by supplying highly trained workers. The area’s 30 additional colleges and universities offer many research courses, with particular strengths in engineering, business, law and pharmaceuticals.

Downtown, old steel mills are being renovated for new high-tech businesses. A number of major corporations have made their homes in high-rise buildings around the picturesque Golden Triangle, where the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers converge. They include:

  • Heinz
  • PPG
  • Alcoa
  • USX
  • PNC Bank Corp.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) says that, along with major corporations, the city’s employment growth areas include security, financial institutions and biotechnology, while some traditional manufacturing industries, such as stainless steel, still exist. Pittsburgh employs 34,000 people in its hospitals, 8,000 in health care services, and more than 11,000 at US Airways. The U.S. government also employs 20,000 people.

The Sporting Life in Steel Town

The construction boom also includes two new sports stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers. According to the PRA, the city’s nightlife is “getting better all the time,” as it points to a host of new clubs and activities. The “Strip” warehouse district, which has nothing to do with adult entertainment, has new bars and restaurants opening all the time.

For those considering a move to the one-time steel capital, the PRA recently conducted a survey showing the region’s most in-demand professions in 2000:

  • Marketing, advertising and public relations managers
  • Technical trainers/instructors
  • Electricians
  • Dining room and cafeteria attendants, and bartenders
  • Short-order cooks
  • Multimedia developers
  • Specialty fast-food cooks
  • Restaurant, lounge and coffee shop hosts/hostesses
  • Tech support workers
  • Machinists

Source: Pittsburgh Region’s Occupation and Workforce Link (PROWL), produced by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, from research conducted in October-November 1999.

With the rejuvenation under way here, it looks like Pittsburgh is “steeling” itself for the future.

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