Another New Ranking of the Pittsburgh Region
CEOs for Cities, a national organization that seeks to foster innovative approaches to urban economic development, has issued City Vitals, a new set of rankings of the top 50 metropolitan regions in the country. The rankings focus on regions' talent, innovation, connectedness, and distinctiveness.
Some of the measures are pretty commonly used, such as the percentage of people 25 years of age and older who have completed a 4 year college degree.
Others are interesting, but so complex that they will be difficult for most people to grasp, such as "the percentage of the population who would not have to move from their current neighborhoods in order to equalize the distribution of high-income and low-income households across all neighborhoods in the metropolitan area." (Yes, the report actually has a measure defined that way...)
And some are flawed in measuring what they're supposed to represent; for example, the report uses "employment in private sector businesses excluding health care and education" to define the "traded sectors" of the economy. But in a region like Pittsburgh, health care and education are major importers of money, making them far more "traded sectors" than the retail sector, which the report leaves in.
How does Pittsburgh stack up on the rankings in the report?
As a "Talented City," the Pittsburgh region ranks a little below the middle. We rank:
- 26th on "percentage of the metropolitan population that are 25 to 34 years old who have completed at least a four-year college degree;"
- 27th on "percentage of the metropolitan population 25 years old or older who have completed a four-year college degree;"
- 27th on "percentage of metropolitan workers who have a college degree and are employed in private sector businesses excluding health care and education;"
- 34th on "percentage of workers employed as Mathematicians, Scientists, Artists, Engineers, Architects and Designers;" and
- 49th on "percentage of metropolitan population 25 years and older who have completed a college degree and were born outside the United States"
As an "Innovative City," we do a little better, ranking:
- 23rd on "patents per 1000 population;"
- 20th on "amount of venture capital raised per 1000 population;"
- 38th on "percentage of the adult population who are self-employed;" and
- 21st on "number of firms with fewer than 20 employees per 1,000 population" (however, the report shows this measure as a percentage and describes it as the percentage of workers employed in small firms)
Pittsburgh does best as a "Connected City," ranking:
- 14th in the "number of votes cast in the November 2004 presidential election divided by the voting age population of the metropolitan area;"
- 31st in the "percentage of the metropolitan area population who reported volunteering for a community activity in the past year;"
- 7th in the "percentage of the population who would not have to move from their current neighborhoods in order to equalize the distribution of high-income and low-income households across all neighborhoods in the metropolitan area" (in other words, most people live in neighborhoods with an income distribution similar to the regional average -- meaning that we don't have a lot of concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty) ;
- 15th (out of 39) in "percentage of non-poor households that use public transportation at least once per week" (yet even though more non-poor people use transit here, we still can't solve the transit funding crisis) ;
- 13th in the "number of foreign students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the metropolitan area per 1,000 population;"
- 48th in "percent of the population reporting taking a trip outside the United States;" and
- 34th in "number of wi-fi hotspots per 100,000 population" (but this precedes the full Downtown outdoor wireless system put in place by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership)
And finally, our poorest rankings are on a series of unusual and difficult-to-interpret statistics which purport to measure the extent to which a region is a "Distinctive City." We rank:
- 44th on "average of the extent to which the metropolitan area’s 10 most distinctive consumer behaviors exceed the national norm for each behavior;"
- 49th on "ratio of persons attending cultural events to number of persons regularly watching cable television;"
- 33rd on "ratio of ethnic restaurants to fast food restaurants in the metropolitan area;" and
- 29th on "variance of local movie attendance from national movie attendance for the top 60 motion pictures nationally in 2005"
The report does a service by providing a number of interesting measures that broaden the range of indicators that are typically used in ranking cities and regions. But in trying so hard to be different, it misses more common measures which also measure factors that are critical to the success of regions, such as job growth and cost of housing.
And the report has some interesting lessons for the Pittsburgh Region:
- The solution to our diversity and immigration issues are right in front of our noses: although we are 49th (next-to-the-bottom) on the % of the population who are foreign-born individuals with college degrees, we rank 13th in the number of foreign students enrolled in institutions of higher education per 1000 population. All we need to do is find a way to retain more of these students.
- Small businesses are already a significant part of our economy; we just need to encourage more people to start more of them.