Who's Winning the Competition for Young Talent?
Atlanta claims it is.
A new study released by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce last week says that the number of college-educated 25-34 year olds in Atlanta increased by 46% between 1990 and 2000, faster than any of the 25 largest metro areas in the country, and 5th fastest among the top 50 regions.
The total number of 25-34 year olds in Atlanta (regardless of education) increased by 20.9% between 1990 and 2000, also the highest growth rate among the top 25 regions and 5th highest among the top 50 regions. The 25-34 year olds represent 17.6% of Atlanta's population, second only to Austin among the top 50 regions.
In terms of diversity, the study reported that Atlanta had the 5th highest percentage of African Americans and the 7th highest percentage of Hispanics among its 25-34 year olds in 2000. Overall, it had the 7th lowest percentage of whites among its 25-34 year olds (59.1%). It had the fifth highest increase in Hispanic 25-34 year olds between 1990 and 2000 (391%) and the third highest increase in African American 25-34 year olds (36%).
Why the focus on 25-34 year olds? The Atlanta Chamber notes that "while educated people in their early 20s move around, those in their mid 20s and early 30s are settling down, pursuing careers and starting families. The likelihood of moving to another state or metro area declines sharply in the early 30s. So attracting people in the 25- to 34-year-old group offers metros the best chance of building a stable base of human capital that fuels a region's economic future."
How does Pittsburgh stack up on some of these same measures?
- Compared to Atlanta's 20.9% increase in total 25-34 year olds, Pittsburgh experienced a 24.8% decrease, the 3rd largest decrease among the top 50 regions. (The study notes that this age group declined nationally by 9% during this time period.)
- Pittsburgh had the highest percentage of whites among its 25-34 year olds of any of the top 50 regions (88.0%).
- Pittsburgh had the 4th smallest increase in Hispanic 25-34 year olds between 1990 and 2000 (19.6%) and the fourth largest decrease in African American 25-34 year olds
(-17.5%) among the top 50 regions.
Perhaps most depressingly for us, Pittsburgh was the 15th largest contributor of 25-34 year olds to Atlanta between 1995 and 2000. The study reports that 888 more 25-34 year olds moved from the Pittsburgh Region to Atlanta than from Atlanta to Pittsburgh during that time period.
Unfortunately, the study doesn't report Pittsburgh's increase in college-educated 25-34 year olds. But Census reports indicate that the number of people age 25 and over (not just 25-34 year olds) with college degrees increased by 23.1% in the Pittsburgh Region between 1991 and 2000, the 26th highest growth rate among the largest 36 regions. Pittsburgh is likely doing even better in the 25-34 year old group, given the relatively high population of seniors in the Pittsburgh Region.
How does Atlanta explain its success? According to the Atlanta Chamber, focus groups there cite Atlanta's competitive advantages as:
- Affordable housing;
- Cultural opportunities;
- Jobs; and
- Atlanta International Airport.
Affordable housing? Pittsburgh's got that.
Cultural opportunities? Ditto.
International airport? Pittsburgh has one of the best. Although Pittsburgh International Airport has fewer flights now that it's no longer a USAirways hub, we still have direct flights to most major U.S. cities, and lower prices than hub cities do. (Lack of international flights is still a problem here, though.)
Jobs? Well, there's where we do fall short. Between 1999 and 2005, the Atlanta region created nearly 110,000 net new jobs, a 4.9% increase, whereas the Pittsburgh Region created only 10,000 net new jobs, an 0.9% increase.
Can the Pittsburgh Region catch up to Atlanta? Fortunately, in addition to affordable housing, extensive cultural and recreational opportunities, and a good airport, we have major economic assets to build on -- our universities and medical center.
A key role that our colleges and universities play is bringing in talented individuals and exposing them to the high quality of life in the region. Moreover, they create new technologies that can be commercialized in order to create new jobs that will be attractive to young people after they graduate. But the region needs to insure that the universities and medical center have the funding to continue increasing R&D investment and it needs to provide the capital and support that entrepreneurs need to create jobs.
In addition, the lack of diversity in Pittsburgh makes it hard to attract minorities to the region. Again, one of the key roles the universities play is bringing in diverse populations, particularly young people. The region's challenge is to retain them once they are here.