Via Chris Briem, a link to an interesting editorial in the Pitt News about attracting educated young professionals to Pittsburgh--and maintaining the ones already here. As usual, there is a lot of discussion about Pittsburgh's "reputation." According to the Pitt News editorial:
Pittsburgh doesn't have a poor job market or a bad reputation. It has no reputation as a place for young professionals to work, live and play comfortably.
Well, maybe so. But my question remains the same: So?
I am getting mighty old, having graduated from college in 1995. At that time, which towns had a "reputation as a place for young professionals to work, live and play comfortably"? I have no fricking idea.
First of all, just about the last thing I had in mind was comfort. And most of my classmates were a lot like me. Stacking bodies eight deep in a Manhattan shoebox? Sure. High-tailing it to Silicon Valley in order to get rich? Why not? No one cared about "comfort." Anyone who would have said that their priority was a place to "live, work and play" would have been kicked summarily. In the nuts.
I am serious here. Let's say a headhunter had called me up and offered me a job. My first question would have been, "What's it pay"? Second question would have been, "What's the job?" Third question would have been, "Any bars near the office?" I would have gladly taken a job in Wichita had one been offered. I would have gladly taken a job in Corpus Christi. Toledo. Pittsburgh. (I would have actually been really keen on Pittsburgh.)
I ended up in Baltimore. Because my older sister lived there. Know why? Because an even older sister had gotten a job there. That's right. A job. With Westinghouse. She was an electrical engineer. I don't remember comfort or any of that being part of her consideration. It was the late 80s. That's where there was a job. So she took it. Period. And my other sister followed a few years later. As did I.
I am not sure what any of this means. If anything. But I do find this interesting... A quote in the editorial:
The Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project is one of those organizations trying to elevate the city's reputation. P.U.M.P. is the "voice of youth in the region," a group that exists to attract and mobilize young people and to teach them about the benefits of living in Pittsburgh, according to Molchany.
"We give people access to decision makers and keep them involved in local politics and issues," she said. "We try to show people what Pittsburgh has to offer."
I think P.U.M.P. does a lot of great stuff. And I am sure they will keep doing that. But here's the deal: Let's say that when I was in college, the headhunter had called and said, "This new job is in a city where we give you access to decision makers," I would have said, "Do you mean bartenders and hot chicks?" Because those were the only decision makers I was interested in at the time. They controlled everything that mattered.
If I had a job offer in a city where I had access to politicians and a job offer where I had no access to politicians, I would have chosen the job that paid more. Even if it amounted to five dollars a paycheck.
Which I guess means that I was not the kind of person P.U.M.P. is trying to attract. Fair enough. And maybe times have changed. Maybe kids are basing their career decisions on reputation and comfort. But I think not. For instance. Let's say the banking industry hits the skids and takes Charlotte with it. Bank of America stops hiring. And fires everyone between the ages of 22 and 35. Do you think that young graduates are going to keep moving there? For the apple-tinis? The access? I honestly don't think so.
And let's say that a decidedly unhip city (take your pick) develops a huge industry that pays recent graduates a huge percentage more than they would make elsewhere. What do you think would happen? Listen, I don't care how crappy the city is. Say it's in Death Valley. Let's say it's in the Snow Belt. Let's say it's in the Rust Belt. Let's say it's in Siberia. I don't care if it's comfortable. Or if they have access to decision makers. Doesn't matter. Young people will move there.
Here's a thought experiment: Hang around Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford during the hiring season. Figure out who all the best candidates are for the "prestige" jobs at the major investment and consulting houses. Figure out who among them is moving to NYC. (Many of them will be.) Then say, "Well, why not move to Pittsburgh? I have a job there that will pay you $300,000 your first year out." I bet you would get some takers. And they wouldn't ask about access or comfort or hipness or apple-tinis. I think Silicon Valley demonstrates the truth of this quite nicely. And I think Charlotte does, too.
I hate to sound simplistic. And I do not want to disparage people who are doing a lot of good work promoting the city and making it more attractive to young people. But at the end of the day...
People move where they can find work. And for a long time young people could not find work here. I think the city's reputation was fine. And still is.