Sunday, September 21, 2008

Floating Higher Above Some, But Not All of the Competition

August was another bad month for workers nationwide, but the Pittsburgh economy continues to buck the trend. Although there were 400,000 fewer jobs nationwide in August than a year earlier, the Pittsburgh Region has nearly 4,000 more jobs than it did a year ago.

The gap between the Pittsburgh Region and much of the rest of the country is widening in a positive way. Although job losses quadrupled nationally between June and August, job growth in our region nearly doubled.

Pittsburgh's performance relative to other regions improves with each passing month. In August, four more major regions fell into the job loss category -- Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis -- meaning that a majority of the top 40 regions have now lost jobs compared to a year ago. Not only is Pittsburgh among the minority of major regions where there are more jobs than a year ago, but the Pittsburgh Region's ranking improved a notch in August -- we now have the 15th highest job growth rate among the top 40 regions, and the 14th highest growth rate in private sector jobs.

Our major life preservers continue to be higher education and health care, followed by professional and business services. Although we still have fewer manufacturing jobs than a year ago, the rate of loss reversed a bit in August, whereas it appeared to be accelerating in June and July. 29 of the other 39 largest regions lost manufacturing jobs at a faster rate than we did in August.

On the negative side, job losses in Pittsburgh's financial sector accelerated in August; there are now 400 fewer finance-related jobs here than a year ago, and the increase in the rate of job loss was higher here than in many other regions. The leisure and hospitality industry, which helped boost the region's overall job growth in July, lost jobs in August; that's a change from recent years, when the industry has typically added jobs in August.

Although Pittsburgh's current economic mix has helped "recession-proof" us in these challenging times, it should not be mistaken for good performance. Even in the midst of the recession, regions like Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Norfolk/Virginia Beach, and Seattle are creating jobs from 2-8 times as fast as the Pittsburgh Region is. If we're going to ever match that, we need to keep working to create a better business climate and to grow startup firms. With the credit crisis growing, it will be particularly important to make sure that the small businesses in our region can get the financing they need to stay in business and to take advantage of growth opportunities when they present themselves.


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