Thursday, March 16, 2006

What Kinds of Talent Does the Pittsburgh Region Need to Attract and Retain?

Innovation and entrepreneurship created the engine that drove the economy of the Pittsburgh Region throughout most of the last century. That same engine can drive the regional economy through this new century. The key is creating a steady flow of ideas and successfully turning them into companies and jobs.

Does the Pittsburgh Region have enough of the right kind of talent to do that?

Two kinds of talent are critical: (1) the technical talent to develop new ideas, and (2) the managerial talent to successfully commercialize them.

More Scientific Talent Needed

The good news is that the Pittsburgh Region has been doing better than other regions in creating the kinds of scientific occupations that develop new ideas and new products – between 1999 and 2004, jobs in science and engineering increased in the Pittsburgh Region almost twice as fast as in the U.S. as a whole.

The bad news is that despite this growth, Pittsburgh still has a smaller proportion of its workforce in these occupations than most other comparable regions.

Increasing the number of people with advanced skills in science and engineering should be a priority for the region. How do we do that?

One way is by increasing support for university research and by attracting and retaining corporate R&D centers. The continued growth in research funding at CMU, Pitt, and UPMC, the continued strong presence of long-standing corporate R&D centers for companies like Alcoa, Bayer, PPG, and U.S. Steel, the successes in attracting research centers for Intel, RAND, Seagate and others over the past several years, and the successes just in the past three months in attracting R&D centers for Google and Parametric Technology Corporation that will create hundreds of jobs, all prove that southwestern Pennsylvania is an ideal spot for growing R&D jobs. (The newest issue of Pop City has an excellent story about how and why Google decided to put its R&D center in Pittsburgh.)

Attracting more of these should be one of our region’s top economic development priorities. R&D jobs are high-wage jobs, and they have a strong multiplier effect throughout the region.

Management Talent Needed, Too

A second piece of bad news is that Pittsburgh ranks dead last in the nation in the proportion of its workforce in management, business, and finance occupations.

One of the biggest challenges our region faces in commercializing the technologies coming out of our universities is finding the management talent needed to run startup companies. Although it’s growing, the region doesn’t yet have enough “depth of bench” in terms of serial entrepreneurs and people with experience in marketing, finance, etc. for entrepreneurial firms.

How do we solve that? One approach is by attracting people with experience in managing startup companies to come here, both to advise startups and to step into management roles in the promising ones. For example, the Executive in Residence program at the Life Sciences Greenhouse does exactly this. But it needs funding to attract more such Executives.

This is an area where increased state funding in the coming year’s budget for technology development could help provide a major boost to the region’s entrepreneurial efforts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Need to create more large tech companies and make the existing large companies more entrepreneurial. That is best place to find new entrepreneurs.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

Increased state funding for technology development won't help provide a major boost to the region’s entrepreneurial efforts -- unless it comes via OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE. But even that is a far-fetched dream.

State funding doesn't drive real entreprenuarial efforts. I feel state funding generally hinders, not helps.

8:59 PM  

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