Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Laurel Highlands is Part of the Flat World

You may have missed the news in February that Boston-based Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) is establishing a product development center in Uniontown. The project is expected to create 125 jobs over the next three years. (Sadly, the Post-Gazette appears not to have reported on this, although the Tribune-Review and the Business Times did.) While PTC is not quite Google, it is a $700 million company with over 3,700 employees worldwide, the majority of whom are located outside the United States. Creating 125 high-paying software development jobs is a great boost not just to Fayette County, but to the entire region. Contrary to the widespread belief in southwestern Pennsylvania that technology jobs only locate in the City of Pittsburgh, PTC is just the latest in a number of important technology companies that have located in southwestern Pennsylvania outside of both the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. In the flat world, technology jobs can locate anywhere, and the high quality of life throughout southwestern Pennsylvania can be an important attraction for those jobs. Moreover, the announcements by Google in December and by PTC in February demonstrates the potential for attracting R&D centers as a regional economic development strategy.

The challenges of marketing southwestern Pennsylvania as a region were underscored by a story earlier this week in the Boston Business Times about the company's decision. The article made it sound like Uniontown is a hopeless Appalachian backwater, rather than part of the Pittsburgh metro area, referring to Uniontown as an "outpost," "coal country," and "a remote site". The author suggested that the company should have taken a lesson from George Washington's experience at Ft. Necessity in Fayette County 250 years earlier, saying "...Washington stuck around long enough to see how isolated the spot was, and ... beat a hasty retreat back East." The author goes on to say that "[Uniontown] is going to be a tough sell to engineers with their entire lives before them. Once you've checked out Waldo the white tiger at the zoo, caught Bob Newhart at the local theater, and toured a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, you are pretty much left with trips to the local golf resort and state park...In other words, better make sure there is enough on that hiring bonus for a satellite dish."

Maybe Boston is not only misinformed about the proximity of Uniontown to Pittsburgh (it's closer to Pittsburgh than Cape Cod is to Boston, for example), but also a little (or a lot?) jealous of a region that offers equivalent urban amenities and housing at less than 30% of the cost in Boston (where housing prices are forcing talent to leave).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of that famous New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg in which everything west of the Hudson is the hinterlands, with the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

Boston may be high tech, but it has ALWAYS been parochial in its attitudes.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to think more regional. Maybe if we had 20 counties in PA or Metro governments we could progress.

9:47 PM  

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