Sunday, May 21, 2006

People Don't Know Pittsburgh

On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an interview with H. J. Heinz Company Chairman and CEO William Johnson about the company, the national economy, and the Pittsburgh Region. The H.J. Heinz Company was started here and maintains its headquarters and R&D operations here.

The article quotes Johnson as saying "People don't know Pittsburgh, people are ignorant of Pittsburgh. Getting people to come here is tough, but once we do get them here they don't want to leave."

The implication is clearly that Pittsburgh has the kind of quality of life it needs to retain talent (assuming the jobs are here), but people around the world don't know it until they get here. His solution? Pittsburgh must do a better job of marketing itself.

Johnson also said that the reduced number of flights at Pittsburgh International Airport and the lack of international flights is "not a problem...[but] an inconvenience." In other words, the situation isn't likely to cause a business to leave, but it could be a partial negative for a company considering where to locate an operation that relies on air travel.

The Tribune-Review story is available here. Examples of the kinds of assets the region should be marketing are available in the Quality of Life section of, and the key marketing strategies needed are described in the Marketing Strategy section of


Anonymous phd said...

I just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed your blog since finding it last week. I was a little upset by the interview when I read it. I agree that there are a large segment of the population that do not know enough about the strengths of Pittsburgh. But I think that there is a solid minority that would like to come to Pittsburgh but have been shut out for one reason or another. I count myself as one of those individuals, even though I am still trying to find a space for me in Pittsburgh. I would chalk it up to regionalism, but that would be too generic, since all towns have a certain amount of regionalism. Anyway, I was just disappointed that marketing was the solution mentioned, because I know of a few very talented individuals who would have or would like to come without any need for marketing. It is for these people that Pittsburgh needs to work harder as well.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Harold D. Miller said...

What are the kinds of reasons that have caused you and others to be shut out? We should see if they can be addressed.

The need for better marketing does not imply that the region can't improve the quality it's offering, too. For example, the research conducted for the Regional Branding Initiative several years ago found that although Pittsburgh was "friendly" it was not necessarily truly welcoming to or supportive of people with diverse interests and backgrounds. (See page 3 of ). Population-wise, the Pittsburgh Region is still one of the least diverse in the nation.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous phd said...

It is a tough question to answer because there are a number of reasons that an employer could reject any individual candidate. At this point, there are things in my background which make me a tougher sell to a Pittsburgh employer, so I'm not the best one to speak on this issue. But after a few days of thought, here is my best guess at explaining the dilemma (or dance):

I probably can't afford to move to Pittsburgh without a job. I have too much student loan debt and other financial issues to move to a city without a reasonable shot at a job. There are more employers in my field in NYC, DC, Chicago, LA, etc., who are more likely to hire a person with my qualifications. They also pay more (even though competition in my field is now national). I have more connections in these cities because they are larger and my friends have faced similar dilemmas and chosen the big city and the higher pay. So I would like a job offer before committing to Pittsburgh.

But employers in Pittsburgh have played this game before as well. They have all lost out on candidates without strong ties to Pittsburgh who have chosen to go to another city. They have wasted time on people like me that say they are willing to go to Pittsburgh but ultimately go somewhere else. So they require a strong connection to Pittsburgh or that you are already in Pittsburgh before they are really willing to spend the time to interview you. They are less confident that they can attract a candidate to Pittsburgh and keep them then other employers in other cities. In other cities, there are also different attitudes about the employer-employee relationship. It is expected that you will leave your employer for somewhere bigger and better in a few years, and they hope to convince you not to leave. There are also dramatic differences in the cultures of workplaces of different employers within a city in my field. I do not get the same impression from my brief time in Pittsburgh (since most employers in the field are a spin-off of one employer). Why are employers in other cities willing to interview or provide me with a job offer when I am not living in their city? Perhaps it is because these cities are filled with "transients" -- people that have followed the jobs to their city in the first place. Or perhaps it is that the labor market is tighter. Or perhaps they are better able to predict their employee needs 6 months into the future. Or perhaps I am just imagining a difference.

Once a Pittsburgh employer does hire an outsider, it is tough because the outsider does not have the same human capital (social connections within the city; access to mentors; etc.). It makes it more difficult for the outsider to compete than someone who has grown up in Pittsburgh and is already part of the "club." So the employer may begin to perceive the local as having a higher value than the outsider. Perhaps that is justified; perhaps not.

I called it a dance earlier because I believe that it is one with the same (or similar) steps when any employer is hiring (in any city). It isn't a problem that is specific to Pittsburgh. It may not even be any more difficult in Pittsburgh than any other town. It is a problem that certain people overcome and certain do not.

The quality of offerings could always be improved, but in my case, it is the problem of the employer - out of state candidate dance and "human capital" deficiency that I think is the problem.

11:02 PM  

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