Tuesday, July 31, 2007

puzzling pittsburgh pessimism

Here is the latest press release on the employment situation in the Pittsburgh region. What does it say?

Employment: UP
Labor Force: UP
Unemployment: DOWN
Unemployment Rate: DOWN

Yet in this article, the conclusion seems to be: a pretty pitiful performance. And with the article is this graph that shows the regional unemployment coming down from 5% to 4% in the course of a year, yet the caption for the figure is "remaining steady". I needed to go check the definition of steady. If that graph showed an identically sized increase from 5% to 6% what do we think that graph would have had for a title? In fact, the local unemployment rate decline is one of the biggest declines in the nation. steady?

So are there a lot of things I wish were doing better in the region. Absolutely. Dare I mention the equity issues. Does local job growth lag national trends? sure. But to just compare local job growth to national job growth ignores a lot of structural demographic issues that may not make sense. Consider that unlike the US as a whole where employment is up along with population, here employment is up despite population decline.

I have commented earlier here and here on the long term picture, but lets just look at the short term. How about the total unemployment trend in recent years which looks like this:

Another way to look at the data is the difference between the local and national unemployment rates. That picture looks awfully different vs. just a year ago:

Other short takes. Also from the news reports: construction employment is holding steady... last I checked, the casino and the arena have not really begun major construction as yet... How many jobs will those two sites alone put into that number? Those projects may sustain employment through the offseason which is going to do some funny things with the seasonal adjustment of those numbers in the fall and winter.... I will have to muse on that more in the future.

There is something different going on. Historically 4.0% is a very low unemployment rate for the region. When employment hit it's highest point in 1,156,800 million in March of 2001*, the local unemployment rate was actually higher at 4.5%. I can only find 4 months since 1970 when the region's unemployment rate was lower. Two of those months were March and April of this year and the previous months: January and February of 1970. .

In fact... the 1,156,700 employment count for the region would make it the 2nd highest seasonally adjusted employment total in the region since 1970... all of 100 jobs short of the all time high in 2001 which I would place good money was the highest employment count ever in the region. So if the employment count can bump up 200 jobs, will the articles still be dour as they report a new all time high in local employment? Again, you have to take into account that regional population is down ~50,000 people since that employment peak in 2001.

* The press release quotes June 2002 as the highest employment total.. that is the number without seasonal adjustment. The seasonally adjusted employment is what the news usually speaks to and that peak was in March 2001.


Monday, July 30, 2007

and again city-county consolidation

PG again talks about city/county consolidation. It's a complicated issue, about as complicated as it gets in local politics. I have had different people tell me that city-county consolidation could take all sorts of forms: everything from a simple state resolution dissolving all 2nd class cities (of which there just happens to be only one), to a straightforward merger of the city by the county, to what would have to be the case: some complex bifurcated city government existing as a shell within the county structure.

I have to admit that in any of these scenarios I only have one question: where does the city's debt land in the end? It was an important lawyer in town who told me that simply dissolving city government was once seriously considered years ago. That's a pretty extreme scenario and it's funny to think about it that way. If the city just disappears one day and nothing else happens, where do any unpaid bills get mailed to?

Anyway, this is nothing new. but for new readers who are interested I will again put up this link for my Primer on Regionalism and Fragmentation in Pittsburgh. One snippit of history long since forgotten: there once was a plan to merge city and county governments. Not only that, but county residents once overwhelmingly voted to merge the city and the county. Only the ultimate legislative legerdemain in Harrisburg blocked it from happening.

That was in 1929. Why did it fail? In what was called a "printer's error" the enabling legislation of the county-wide resolution was altered, supposedly without legislators' knowledge, to require approval from a "majority of voters in a supermajority of municipalities" to a "supermajorty of voters in a majority of municipalities". There is some serious game theory for you. But in the end it meant that even though the consolidation plan was approved by 69% of the voters in the county, the resolution technically failed. Why? Most voters approved resolution. Even a supermajority of municipalities approved the resolution, but only 49% of the municipalities approved the resolution by 2/3rds or more. Thus it 'failed'. If the enabling legislation had been worded as the legislators intended, the referendum would have passed and few of these current debates would be going on.

and to my knowledge, history never fully resolved how the 'error' (it was also called a political 'joker' at the time) was introduced into the legislation... although an educated guess would narrow down the culprits to a few or one. For a hint as to who that was, consult Jason T. down at Tube City Online.

Which brings up one of the most surreal political ads of all time. Attached was a full page newspaper ad that was placed in support of the 1929 city county consolidation referendum. Can you imagine such an ad today:


Sunday, July 29, 2007

short takes

Veggie-Burgh: KDKA has a story on the vegetable oil auto conversion cluster in town. (it sounds more important if you call it a 'cluster' these days) Rarely mentioned is Pitt's own veggiemobile or their efforts to convert a veggiebus. (I am not sure that is actually an active project these days.. but still worth mentioning)....

Was Barry ever really a Yinzer? A good writeup in the Baltimore Sun on Barry Bonds' history here in the Burgh with a mention of my homonymic cousin Sid.

Who is subsidizing whom? Last week rural PA opposition prompted congress put at risk the idea of placing a toll on I80 to fund transit/transportation in the state. The Beaver County Times has a pretty sharp rebuttal worth a read.

Rain and Remembrance: From the Census Bureau: ..folks in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh, are pretty certain that it will rain. According to local records, rain has fallen on July 29th 109 times in a132-year period. This has inspired an annual rain day festival in the town, with a street fair, entertainment and a beauty contest. At one point the event honors 250 men from the area in the 110th Infantry — nearly half of whom were either killed or wounded in combat on July 29, 1918. Read more about some of the Rain Day Boys.

Steel Redux? The census is also the source for this AP story: Ohio Steel Industry stabilizing. More interesting is news of Russian investment in a possible new steel plant in Cleveland.

Indigo is a color right? Not news, but the company planning on building a hotel in East Liberty formally put out this PR last week. It says they will be putting a Hotel Indigo on Highland Ave. in East Liberty.

Pittsburgh made.. the world took. Same story, but still and interesting read on Homestead and environs in something called Rivet Magazine.

Pittsburgh of the (Great White) North. A shout out to Andrew Hanon, a columnist for the Edmonton Sun who takes some pride in thinking of Calgary as Canada's Pittsburgh.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

OT: speaking of new technology

Not anything to do with Pittsburgh, but it fits with the theme of how new technology can be confusing. Via Adfreak comes this link to this old public service announcement explaining the use of newfangled rotary dial telephones.

Related phone trivia: Until not too long ago, the occupation that was most concentrated in Pittsburgh was not steel workers or related, but phone operators (remember those). Pittsburgh had an inordinate concentration of international operators for decades. I even remember when using AT&T Direct service from overseas would always get you an operator in Pittsburgh. You could chat for a few seconds about the Steelers or the weather back home with them.

Rotary dial phone would beget area codes which would be assigned in order of population. The lower numbers generated less pulses in the system and it made sense to assign the lower numbers to more populated areas... sort of an early bandwidth engineering problem. Thus NYC, LA, Dallas all have area codes starting with 2, Chicago Detroit, St. Louis have area codes starting in 3 and Pittsburgh's started with a 4. If they were just doing this today, I guess we would be a 9.

Others may remember when the "1+" prefix was not needed locally. If you were calling another area code, the switch figured out how many digits you were dialing by looking at the 2nd digit you entered.. If it was a zero or one it figured you were putting in 10 digits (i.e. with an area code) vice 7 (without an area code). That worked until they started running out of area codes and needed all those numbers without a 0 or 1 as the 2nd digit. I swear Pittsburgh must have been one of the last places to put in place the "1+" prefix requirement because I remember visiting elsewhere in the country as a child and people wondered why I had a hard time dialing. Makes sense right? Everything gets implemented here last.

and according to the Carnegie Library, the first commercial Picturephone call was made in Pittsburgh by Mayor Pete Flaherty on June 30, 1970. Whom did he call? The Chairman of the Board of Alcoa of course. It was predicted there would be 100,000 such phones in service by 1975, and a million by 1980, but it was not to be and by 1974 all Pittsburgh subscribers had been disconnected. You can read more in a paper with a great title: On the Persistence of Lackluster Demand: the History of the Video Telephone. Yet, even in failure, the picturephone would beget video teleconferencing that would come...


Friday, July 27, 2007


For those didn't catch it. NYT has yet another travel piece on visiting Pittsburgh today, this one focused on visiting with kids.

Now, if only we could get Zagats to put out a Pittsburgh edition, our work would be done......just a joke Amos.


Dear Tony,

The nexus of the Internet and the media sure must be confusing for some. First off, let me disclose that I am not 'evergrey' nor any associate thereof. Evergrey being a registered commenter on a forum site Skyscraper page. I do live in Bloomfield, and this being Pittsburgh the two degrees of separation rule does apply. I would only guess there is some connection out there. I would not be surprised if I have run into this person in some semi-professional sense, or buying buffalo mozzarella at Donatelli's...

With that said, in his Post Gazette column today Tony Norman was concerned that people will confuse him for Evergrey. Why? Evergrey is (or actually was since I think it has already been changed) using Tony's PG mugshot on his Internet profile. First off,that image is called an avatar. We should probably look at the definition of avatar as icon, which should begin to tell you that it is not meant to be a literal representation of anybody. Maybe we should look at the formal definition of avatar. Evergrey may be saying he (or she for all I know) thinks Tony is some form of minor Hindu Deity.

I am pretty sure no regular reader of internet news/commentary/blogs/forums of any kind thought for a second that Tony Norman is this person. Really. If someone thought that, do they also think the people who regularly use Dick Cheney's picture as avatars are the idle musings of the Vice President? If someone wanted to purport to be Tony Norman, would they not use Tony's name explicitly. Using the public picture of a meta-public figure is a matter of expression that reinforces that the commenter is NOT said person. Maybe we could go about discerning the identity of our virtual colleague the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat by sniffing around the City-County Building to see who smells of a three martini lunch between snarls? I bet not.

In fact, Tony not only acknowledges the obvious by the end of his column, but he comes to that conclusion after the briefest research into what is being said on the Internet. Nonetheless I fear the damage has been done. The problem is the the Internet's reach is expanding and people who pop in do not understand a lot of basic mores which lead to this type of confusion. Not that I believe Tony was even briefly concerned about the alleged identity theft, this is all just useful fodder for a slow summer column. Nonetheless, I bet the average PG reader will only take away from Tony's column the idea that this Internet thing is just fad amongst a bunch of teenage hackers.

But to be fair Tony is not alone, although he does have a more public forum than most to express his confoundedness. So while we are at it... lets deal with other Internet misunderstandings. Something for the occasional, and disconcerting, letter I actually do get: No, I am also not the persona otherwise known as The Admiral, whose avatar is the esoteric choice of the the late Admiral Richmond K. Turner. I ruled out the Admiral actually being Richmond Turner because... well... Admiral Turner has long since passed away. The Admiral has his (again assuming it's a him) own blog over at The People's Republic of Pittsburgh. As with Tony and Evergrey, I am pretty sure no regular reader of the Burghospehere would conflate us given the diametric content of our writings...... but again the two degrees of separation rule can't be ignored. The probability of two people in Pittsburgh with an interest in American naval history being active bloggers in the Burgh is a fairly low probability event. But after checking with my alter ego, and also ruling out Don Goldstein (who does not blog as far as I know), I concluded it was not a zero probability event.

and speaking of the Navy a bit. Recently I commented on the possible investment of a Kazakhstan company in our local Westinghouse. I joked in that post that I would consider being the honorary Kazakh counsel in town here. That was a joke somewhat lost on this blogger/commenter on the nuclear industry who described me as "looking for a business deal". So to my good friends in the NCIS: NO, I am not seeking to become an agent of a foreign potentate. It was a joke, a phrase, a figure of speech, a sentiment expressed for effect if you will. Please do not add me to those lists of people you screen 18 times at the airport.

And with that, I am now guilty of what I was really going to critique Tony for, ignoring a whole lot more important fodder that needs commentary instead of this brief foray into the virtual world.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wither lottery revenue?

The AP has a story on how state lottery revenues may be plateauing. Harrisburg's Patriot-News has more on the story. The stories at least acknowledge the question some have asked about the possibility that slots will hit state lottery revenue. I have also wondered in the past what is going to happen to things like bingo revenues across the state once slots really ramp up. Lots of local churches and non-profits rely on those bingo revenues. It could be a big story in the future.

Does the state care if slots revenue displaces lottery or bingo revenue? I do not know the laws, but I bet bingo is minimally taxed even when fully reported which I bet it rarely is. Thus gaining market share, so to speak, at the expense of bingo revenues is a gain for the state. But what about the lottery? That's a different question. Even with the state's hefty tax on casino profits, the profit margin for the state lottery is pretty large, and all of it goes to the state for the most part. Without working it out formally, I bet a dollar of lottery revenue displaced by casino revenue would take a big bite out of the state's take in the end.

but for now maybe other factors are at play. Here was an earlier post pointing out a newsoid from North Dakota where they say that their lottery revenues are being hit by the cross-elasticity with gasoline prices. Could be true here as well.

What is going on here? Not enough data just yet... but we will see. I really don't think we will know what the long run impacts will be for some time.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Duquesne: connecting the dots

How did the Duquesne School District wind up in this situation? Some may be surprised to learn that Duquesne is the single poorest school district in Pennsylvania. By my calculation, the poverty rate in the Duquesne School district was 34.5% in 1999 which makes it the absolute poorest school district among all 50o+ school districts in Pennsylvania by far. Here are the 10 poorest across the entire state:

Percentage of population in poverty in 1999 (Census 2000) by School District

   District        Poverty
Compiled from data in the National Center for Education Statistics
School District Demographic System. Table P087

even the 2nd highest poverty rate for the State College School District is misleading in that it is distorted by college students who can be counted as living below the poverty level. If you look more closely at poverty rates for children (under age 18), the poverty rate in the Duquesne School District is 53% compared to just 8% for State College. Let's repeat that: FIFTY THREE PERCENT. I have to wonder if that places Duquesne up there as one of the poorest school districts in the nation. It certainly makes if one of the poorest districts in the Northeast or Midatlantic.

But again, how did this happen? I read on Tube City Online that a local elected official said this is all happening because "If those people in Duquesne would have paid their taxes, we wouldn't be here today,". Wow. Here is something to think about: When the mass reassessment happened back in 2000/1 there was a serious discussion that a lot of areas in the Mon Valley should have property values set at ZERO, which was actually a compromise because the fairest market value for many parcels was probably a negative number. The problem is that most markets don't handle negative prices very well, neither do most tax systems. Can you imagine? It would mean you buy a property in (pick your depressed community of choice) and you get a check every year. Begs the question of where the money would come from of course. So no, this isn't about delinquent taxes.

As an aside, there have been some big social experiments with negative income taxes, but it may not work for municipal property taxes except in individual cases.... like certain TIF's or incentives that are effectively low or negative property tax rates in extreme cases.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

no more punter jokes.....

USAToday points out the unique abilities of the Steelers new punter Daniel Sepulveda. Which reminds me of something I posted on just after draft day: this video which may show the best form tackle you ever see on tape. Yeah, it's the same guy:


Business Bluescreen in the Burgh

The Pittsburgh Business Times has an interesting new video production of local business news daily . I am not an objective commenter on the subject, but it seems like a good idea to me.... kind of reminds me of staring at a Bloomberg Box. I was looking at the daily edition the other day and realized quickly the news reader was clearly not from Pittsburgh. Not a surprise I guess, but it made me curious.... if they had someone reading the news from elsewhere, where else were they reading the news for?

So here are some of the daily news videos from Pittsburgh, Philly, and St. Louis I think... I stopped there, it would have been a really long list if I showed all of them... talk about economies of scale...


Monday, July 23, 2007

Altoona, the ungateway

From the PAWatercooler blog comes this blog headline: Altoona's Immigrant problem. Think it's a post about all those international immigrants flooding the commonwealth. Actually no. If you read the USAToday Story it references: Pa. officials concerned about migration from N.J. you will see that the story does not mention international immigrants at all. The article's protagonist is one Robin Moore, which sure sounds like a foreign name to me. The article actually describes a phenomenon where families from New Jersey and elsewhere are being attracted to Altoona because of its low cost and quality of life. Isn't that the way a notional Altoona marketing program would be supposed to work? Actually if you read the article, there is a quote talking derisively about new residents in Altoona who came (and this is a verbatim quote from the article) "from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey. They're not Altoona people.".

Is there any correlation between this story and the story I mentioned last year that ran in the New York Times: Altoona, with no immigrant problem, decides to solve it. You bet. So if you rule out foreign immigrants, migrants from New Jersey, and even those from Philly and Pittsburgh... who exactly is going to be living in Altoona?

Seems to me the Altoona Housing Authority is a perfect fit for Border Guard Bob...... sorry, couldn't resist.


Everyone's writing about Pittsburgh

The Chicago Tribune has a story and video even all about the North Side's Randy Gilson.

The New York Times again looks at travel to Pittsburgh with A State of Incline in Pennsylvania. They have even put together a slide show.

and from over the pond.. The UK's Travel Weekly is this piece on visiting Pittsburgh.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Turn left where Isaly's used to be.....

Anyone reading this blog is going to be interested in this post: Ghost Pittsburgh : the conceptual divide between natives and immigrants, a post on the community.livejournals.pittsburgh forum. Given the 237 comments to the post in just a few days, it seems to have struck a nerve.

It's worth reading because it nails the divisions that exist here, not necessarily because it has the full picture. The author claims that the "ghost Pittsburgh" made up of what Pittsburgh natives think is going on here does not exist. It really cuts both ways. I would suggest reading Mike Madison's post on the two, or is it three, Pittsburghs. Pulling together the thoughts of both posts it seems clear that the "Ghost Pittsburgh" may not exist to many new Pittsburghers, but it is equally true that the ideal vision of a new Pittsburgh does not exist for many who have been here a long time. It is my firm belief that the two worlds rarely attempt to talk to the other, or when they do just talk past each other. If blame is the right word for the situation, there is enough on both sides.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Defining Pittsburghs, as in Plural

Mike cuts through the chaff and provides some needed synthesis to the region's equity problems. I will not try to add to that. But from the recent study: Pittsburgh's Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities, put out by Pitt's Center for Race and Social Problems, here are some maps that say enough by themselves. I think I have put these up before:

and I could put up a comparable map of the the region, but it really is... well... just a lot of white space.

Update: I wrote the above before I saw that Sunday PG's Next Page section has a feature on "Memories of growing up in a segregated city". Looking at the maps above, you have to wonder if things are less segregated now than in the past. A lot of city neighborhoods once had racially mixed populations... places like the Hill District, Garfield, East Liberty and elsewhere were not as segregated as they are today. At least residentially.


Friday, July 20, 2007

to borrow a phrase.....

.... is this not the very definition of cognitive dissonance?1:
So clearly I am wrong. I admit it. My fall election prognostication is so completely uninformed about public sentiment as to be meaningless. By large measure the public has spoken and the result will be quite an unprecedented blow-out. Of course Governor Swann might disagree.

and this must be the only political race with almost no undecided voters 4 months out... almost unprecedented in American politics...

To be fair, the daily KQV question is clearly labeled an "opinion question" and not a poll or survey... and if I remember how they describe it on the radio there is some disclaimer to the effect that it is not a scientific poll. Nonetheless, this just has to be the kiss of death for the MD campaign. That isn't meant to be flippant... but anyone with a chance of winning hearts and minds in the city is probably not going to show up that well on a KQV poll question like that. A form of countersignaling?

but more maps:

Here are the comparative results from the Roddey results (just within the city) of the 2003 ACE race and again for side-by-side comparison the Weinroth results for Mayor in 2005. Also Chris S. asked about what the results look liked if you lumped together all the votes that didn't go to O'Connor in the Nov 05 General election. I am not sure what that really tells you since it's not that different from the results for Weinroth... but here it is:

and one more map... this seems to be where all the hope for a potential MD victory comes from. The first race for ACE where Roddey beat Wecht.

Of course, the Roddey victory that year was county-wide and as explained in the City Paper, Roddey still only got 37.5% within the City of Pittsburgh proper. Is that 37.5% a valid benchmark for what MD could get in the fall? It's a double edged argument to hold that race up as an example. If it is a valid datapoint then you also have to believe the trend for Republicans in the city is decidedly down: Roddey in 1999 (37.5%), Roddey in 2003 (28.8%), Weinroth in 2005 (27%). But the circumstances of the first-ever race ever for the post of ACE were pretty out of the ordinary.

Take what the City Paper said about the bad publicity Cyril Wecht had going into that race. Does it really compare to the current situation? I actually think the CP misses a bigger factor. If you think any of the infighting within the local Democratic Party these days is serious, it really pales in comparison to the longstanding fighting between the Caliguiri and Wecht factions of the party. You can get a taste of some of that history in this PG piece. So the higher than average % for Roddey (though still far short of victory) clearly reflected some of those internal defections. That solid east end block of votes in that map has to be that core Caliguiri support... i.e. as much anti-Wecht as it was pro-Roddey. To assume that same support falls on one side of either a Peduto-Ravenstahl or Ravenstahl-Desantis split is unfounded. It was a very personal fight.

If you really want to push the point and say there is a similar cleavage within the Democratic party these days, you need to think about that some. The thing about the Caliguiri and Wecht factions is that both were made up of a significant number of likely voters. If you are thinking there is some similar Peduto-Ravenstahl type of infighting going on today..... emotionally you are correct, but I bet only one side is made up of likely voters in the fall.

1. apologies to (Sir) Ed Heath (the Pittsburgh version that is).


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Biodiesel goes mainstream

I really don't mean to be a commercial for anyone, but this deserves to be noted... I just noticed that the Giant Eagle Getgo on Baum and Morewood in Oakland is now (or will be soon.. I am not sure since it's impossible to get near a pump on most days) selling Biodiesel fuel. It's a important transition for the market be enter mainstream outlets locally.
I wish I could take some credit for the idea, but I doubt there are any Iggle execs following my musings. Nonetheless I will repeat my past suggestion that Giant Eagle offer Double Fuelperks for Biodiesel!! It may not be a money maker, but it would be great advertising. It also could be a way to offset the differential benefit that small tank efficient cars get from fuelperks compared to large tank SUV's.

It's a good thing for the big picture, but I feel bad that this type of mainstreaming really hits the first-move innovators. Just up the street from the Baum and Morewood Iggle was one of the only Biodiesel sales locations in the region. I suspect it will find it hard compete against the GetGo, but we will see. Maybe there will be biodiesel competition?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

things that really matter

Confession #1: it's easy to get a little full of yourself when you do this blog thing.

Confession #2: when you become full of yourself, you lose perspective.

Let's try to correct that a bit. Is there any reason the number one story here and everywhere is not the calamity going on in the Duquesne School District? Others have been quite eloquent on the subject. Do any of the subjects we all obsess on (and I fully admit to being a purveyor of esoteric nonsense) really have any significance in comparison?

I find it odd that given all the various debates over regionalism in one form or another, the one topic that is just never touched is reform of school districts. It is just too sensitive a topic for almost any political entities to address. Yet while all the current talk is about city-county issues, the most concrete government reform going on is happening almost by accident as the Duquesne School district progresses toward disincorporation and everyone else rushes to catch up. It must be some version of the second law of thermodynamics. Has there ever been an example of government behaving in a more reactive way? It's not like this has all come out of the blue. The worst disasters are not the things that come out of nowhere, but the things you see coming but just ignore.

What can I add to any of this? Not much. But here are some factoids of note:

Duquesne School District: Per capita Income (2000) = $12,067. Median value of all owner occupied housing units (Census 2000) = $33,600.

For comparison: Per capita income in the Fox Chapel School District = $37,599 (312% of Duquesne) and the median value of owner occupied housing units: $149,300 (or 444% of Duquesne).

And yes, to anticipate a counterpoint... state and federal aide offset some of that revenue disparity, but does it even come close to addressing the different needs and conditions that exist in the two communities?

If it makes sense to let the Duquesne High School close its doors, why does it not make sense to just disincorporate the entire school district... that has been a rumor for years. Let's not stop there, the logic could be extended to disincorporate the municipality of Duquesne. In a de facto sense, there are more than a few municipalities in the region that have scaled back their public services to the point they might as well not exist.

As important as this is for the students themselves, it isn't just about just them in the end. What sane person will want to move to Duquesne if it means they are forced into some proverbial crap shoot with the state deciding which neighboring school districts their children will be 'assigned' to. Is this a death sentence for the municipality as well? There have to be ramifications that have not even been thought of yet. Take the situation of neighboring West Mifflin which is slated to get some or most of the displaced Duquesne students. Those parents are angry and upset which could seem uncharitable. Yet they are placed in a very unenviable situation of having to deal with an unanticipated flood of new students on short no notice and an unknown number of other problems. In a region that admits to an almost paralyzing level of parochialism, this type of policy vacuum only feeds division and antagonism between communities..making cooperation that much more difficult in the long run. The state is effectively pitting one community's parents against the other. Why?

I will admit great chagrin that someone else has found the most telling data relevant to the situation. From the inimitable Tube City Almanac there is this table of projected enrollment in the Duquesne and nearby school districts:

Projected School Enrollments,
Selected Mon-Yough Area Districts

District ’04-’05 ’14-’15 % change
Clairton City 927 530 -42.8
Duquesne City 904 687 -24.0
East Allegheny 1,920 1,868 -2.7
Elizabeth-Forward 2,901 2,178 -24.9
McKeesport Area 4,560 3,340 -26.8
Norwin 5,194 4,755 -8.5
South Allegheny 1,743 1,753 +0.01
Steel Valley 2,396 1,977 -17.5
W. Jefferson Hls 2,902 3,103 +6.9
West Mifflin Area 3,263 3,035 -7.0
Woodland Hills 5,559 4,843 -12.9
Yough 2,545 1,792 -29.6

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education / Tube City Almanac

To which I will add one last sobering thought. I have not looked into the methodology of these projections, but I speculate they reflect a straightforward forecast of the school districts' demographics and past migration patterns. If there is some abnormal event that makes a particular district more unattractive (like the schools shutting down completely for example) the additional migration impact would not be incorporated into these numbers. So yes, that 24% projected decline in Duquesne SD enrollment is a rosy picture of the future given current events.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

is young Pittsburgh an oxymoron? Maybe.......

.... maybe not.

Money Magazine is reporting that Indiana, PA is the 15th youngest place in the US. Their list sure looks like nothing more than a compilation of college towns. Isn't this self-evident?

Of course, it's like an island of young people. Some time ago I made the map below of young people (arbitrarily those between 21-29) in SW Pennsylvania. That little red speck in the middle of Indiana County is what is showing up in the Money Magazine list. A tabular list of the same for communities in Allegheny county is available as this list.


Crowdsourcing the library

Speaking of crowdsourcing, give a hand to these two:


Monday, July 16, 2007

file under famous ex Pittsburghers

I am sure many in town know this already, but for those who do not : the Colbert Report will have as a guest tonight (Monday 11:30pm on the Comedy Channel) ex-Pittsburgher and nouveau Canadienne Richard Florida.

I will also use this as a foil to try an experiment in crowdsourcing. I really could use some help from any digital video geeks out there. Here is a funny picture of Richard Florida and myself on KDKA's Evening Magazine, er.. I mean WQED's OnQ some years ago.

It's funny for lots of reasons, but mostly because I look so hip in my old wall street grey suit. If you click on the image you theoretically would call up the avi file video. But here is the problem. (if you are not a digital video geek, you can stop reading now, I exhaust my own knowledge just by describing the problem). I lost the original tape some years ago and don't ask me how I did this, the actual video is encoded with a codec that is aparently non-standard. Something called VDOW or VDOLive which when I look it up is something made for live streaming for a Mac. But I can't find a video player that can view this .avi file anymore...let alone convert it to something else. I'd like to save this in a more useful format. Anyway, if anyone has any suggestions can you let me know. (cbriem@pitt.edu). Thanks.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

the 10,000 club

What's in a number? The Philadelphia Phillies are going down fighting, but seem intent on becoming the first professional sports franchise to lose 10,000 games this weekend, possibly today. A conversation I was having was about how the Pirates can't be that far behind. Is that true? or just another manifestation of that famous Pittsburgh pessimism?

Turns out to be true, but not the way you may think. With an overall franchise record of 9596-9339 the pirates will most likely enter the 10,000 club in the 2011 season.... 10,000 wins that is and several years before they will follow the Phillies lead on the loss side. The Pirates are in fact the 7th winningest team in baseball:

Team W L
San Francisco Giants 10,151 8,681
Chicago Cubs 9,944 9,425
Los Angeles Dodgers 9,843 8,932
St. Louis Cardinals 9,805 9,156
Atlanta Braves 9,659 9,681
Cincinnati Reds 9,636 9,339
Pittsburgh Pirates 9,596 9,339

Source: http://www.baseball-reference.com/

What does it all mean? Not much. The Phillies have the bad luck of being one of the oldest professional baseball franchises. The sequence of teams entering either the 10K W, or 10K L column correlates pretty closely with the order of teams' creation. If there is anything really damning about the records of the Phillies, or Pirates for that matter, over the long haul is that they didn't have to play the Yankees year in and year out through the decades. But in the end, sometimes a number is just a number.


Friday, July 13, 2007

How did Weinroth do in the end?

(UPDATE: I notice people googling into just this one blog posting... you may be interested in this followup post)

Seems relevant to the question of how the fall election may go. Here is a map of the election results from the November 2005 General Election which was won by the late Bob O'Connor. This map shows the percentage won by Republican Joe Weinroth across city voting districts.

It deserves some analysis I suppose, but for the moment I will let the image speak for itself. Note that I do not imply that there are any similarities between the two candidates (DeSantis and Weinroth) in themselves..far from it actually. But given the fact that both Weinroth and Roddey (two very dissimilar candidates for sure) wound up with a nearly identical result within the city of Pittsburgh, you can't really ignore this as a baseline.

Note also I am having some technical glitch getting a PDF created of this for those who occasionally for a larger file. I will link a PDF file to the map when I get a chance.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

inconvenient elasticities: casino competition

The Deal has a post about how New Jersey casinos are faring of late. In particular the differential trends for casinos that have more table games, and thus are less impacted by new Pennsylvania slots-only competition, and casino that rely more heavily on slots. To simplify: table games up, slots down. It's the type of data that portends where all this inter-state casino competition is heading. Couple that with other news from yesterday that West Virginia is progressing toward the legalization of table games. No correlation between those two stories now is there? You can see the report from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission (pdf)

and it is July 12th... Happy Birthday to the L'Ecran Magique, known to most of us as the Etch-a-Sketch. and yes, they even put Etch-a-Sketch artists at work on youtube.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

for Thursday

again from the other end of Cleveburgh comes word that tomorrow (Thursday) morning there will be a segment on NPR's Morning Edition about Youngstown and its newfound fame as the nexus of "managed decline".

also again for those who are interested, I will be part of a panel that is part of "Entrepreneurial Thursday" tomorrow evening in the Strip District. For more info click here.


more misc.

More of the same after we came out on top in the PlacesRated Almanac. But Expansion Management Magazine has Pittsburgh ranked #2 overall in their compilation of metro quality of life benchmarks. See the full article.

Speaking of the custard/cupcake/whatever class. I have said this in the past. Maybe we ought to focus more on attracting the lumpia class. Pitt seems to agree. See the news, from the Philippines actually, that there will be a Philippine room in the Cathedral of Learning.

Site Selection magazine has a cover story on the growth in the nuclear power industry expected in the US. Who is going to build those new plants? hmm.

Local railroad magnate Henry Posner is in the news in Guatemala. We thought restarting local commuter rail was difficult in the US.

A recurring topic of late. The Strange Maps blog (a great blog btw) has a scan of a map that shows gender imbalances across the US. I do think you can attribute a lot of the variation in that map to 1) age differences and 2) patterns related to international immigration. but it's still a neat map. I am tempted to try and make a similar larger-scale map of the same for just SW PA. Of course, it will show Downtown as being the place to be if your goal is to find young unmarried men.

and I will leave with this video sent by a friend. I suspect many readers here got the same email:


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

completely incongruous news-oids

Just some news items that are at least interesting to me...


Monday, July 09, 2007

Borat's revenge: Kazakh-Burgh

I read this on the plane and thought it worth noting.. but I see the local news has picked up on the AP blurb that a small stake in Westinghouse may be sold to Kazatomprom, the Kazakh state-owned resource company. One snippet buried in the printed version of the Financial Times version is how the recent deals announced by Westinghouse have reduced the length of time required for Toshiba to recoup its investment in the purchase of Westinghouse from 17 to 14 years. That clearly has a corollary with how big an impact the Westinghouse expansion will have on the region.

but it makes me wonder.... would this investment make Pittsburgh the US region with the biggest footprint of Kazakh investment in the US? There has to be a way to play that up. A friend from college long ago spent some time teaching English in Kazakhstan and it wound up leading to a highly lucrative career as an investment banker in Wall Street because of his knowledge of the region. It certainly is a place with a lot going on.

Kazakhstan clearly is in a different circumstance than most of the oil producers reaping the petrodollar tsunami, but the fact that even Kazakhstan is looking for places to park that cash is a big deal. It leads to the question of where the bulk of petrodollars being amassed will wind up. In recent years, there was a clear impact on US treasuries, but that can only go so far. The Economist magazine this weeks throws out a number that the petrodollars amassed by the worlds oil producers amounts to 1,500 billion euros. alas I digress....

How about this question: Is there an honorary Kazakh counsel in town? I may have to nominate my colleague Stu who was invited there last year to speak on the emergence of E-Government. I'd volunteer myself.. I remember a few workds of my college Russian, but I suspect it wouldn't work. but maybe we ought to be seeking out another sister city over there?


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Entrepreneurial Thursday

A lot of the the things I am asked to speak at around town are not open events... but this one is. For those who are interested, I am part of a panel that will lead a discussion for:

Entrepreneurial Thursday

Location: Altar Bar [ venue info ]
This Thursday: 7/12/2007 5:30pm

Entrepreneurial Thursday is a casual, weekly event featuring live jazz, soul and blues performance (by vocalist/host Jessica Lee and special musical guests) to enhance networking of the entrepreneurial and innovation communities. This particular Thursday the topic is Diversity in the Workplace with co-host Kannu Sahni.

This is a 21+ event. The $10 cover includes hors d'oeuvres.


Friday, July 06, 2007


Down in Richmond Virginia they are asking: What is the Richmond 'region'? Do we have an answer for ourselves? Just recently, Sam at Antirust points to a recent editorial from Cleveland on the general topic of regionalism. While I may be in agreement with Sam that there are some difficult issues, he boils it all down to a zero-sum redistribution question. I don't really think that is is the point. But the Cleveland editorial does something that we do here a lot, i.e. talk about regionalism in some vague ethereal way. We can learn a lot by what regionalism means by at least asking the question: What is the Pittsburgh Region?

A news blurb last week from the Wheeling News Register highlights how hard the question is here. The story mentions the impact of people moving towards them from Pittsburgh. They have a quote mentioning how it's actually a shorter commute from Wheeling into Pittsburgh than from many communities in the Pittsburgh region. That is true, yet we rarely talk about Weirton or Weirton as being part of the Pittsburgh Region. It is not part of the seven county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area(MSA), nor is it part of the 10 county Southwestern Pennsylvania region that is often used as a benchmark.

I am by far not the first person to ask what defines the Pittsburgh region? The Bureau of Economic Analysis has for some time defined the Pittsburgh Economic area as 19 counties. Some know that John Craig, former editor of the Post-Gazette, focuses on this question. His vision is a Pittsburgh region defined as 22 counties and stretching into both Ohio and West Virginia. (that requires an obligatory plug for the PittsburghToday project that is attempting to operationalize that definition.)

Are their further connection even further afield? I will not even begin to address the Pittsburgh Manifesto/Diaspora concept that thinks of a virtual Pittsburgh everywhere. How about Pittsburgh's connection to Washington, DC? That may be far away, but I am pretty sure there are already at least some impacts of Washington, DC regional growth beginning to push up against the southwestern edges of the Pittsburgh region. The Pittsburgh-DC connection may sound far fetched but I actually thought of this post by noticing in the logs for this site that someone actually found this recent post via a google search "commuting between Pittsburgh and DC". Less talked about, but the interconnections with Cleveland (aka Cleveburgh) are already real enough.

Likewise, connections into West Virgina, including the Weirton/Wheeling/Steubenville areas, but also into Morgantown, which is one of the faster growing areas near Pittsburgh. If you take an even bigger view, it has come into vogue again to talk about the broad Great Lakes region, although some have realized it's importance for some time.

Other definitions of the region: Nature does not feel obliged to respect artificial political boundaries, and the Pittsburgh region's watershed has its own ideas of what defines the region. Finally, something that has always puzzled me. Why do we never mention Canada, in particular our immediate neighbor Ontario to the north, when discussing these types of broad regional issues? A different country for sure, but it is only a few hours north of here. If there is no other connection, I know more than a few Pittsburghers who have gone to college in Canada. But Canada is also one of the largest trading partners with Pennsylvania. It seems like we should pay attention a little more to the Great White North. We once did. Not long ago Pittsburgher Adolph Schmidt was actually the ambassador to Canada.

Even if we come up with a definition, it will not be a static definition. Even the most commonly used Pittsburgh MSA definition is not static. Currently the MSA is made up of seven counties, but has been fewer counties in the past and will likely soon be refined to include Indiana County as number 8.

So my answer is of course a non-answer. There is no one definition that meets all needs, but we need to talk more about what the different versions of the region could be if we ever want to move from vague generalities to practical decisionmaking.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July

Random Independence Day thoughts:

The historian in me wonders when Independence Day was declared in Western Pennsylvania, then on the edge of the world. It must have taken some time to get news from Philadelphia to the other end of the Commonwealth.

Wired news points out that not only is it the nation´s birthday, but it is also the anniversary of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act.

and I hate to be irreverent, but I am still quite amazed that Sacha Baron Cohen didn't get hurt when filiming this scene:


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

WTAE's sense of humor

There is nothing to add to this other than to say that whoever is pulling video from the WTAE archives must have a sense of humor. If they could only find me as a guest on Bowling for Dollars. They also ought to find the clip of the PA lottery on April 24, 1980, the day the fix was in.


Monday, July 02, 2007

sports: ownership vs. performance

I caught a segment of a local sports talk show last week that was ranting on the state of the Pirates. The specific topic was a comparison of Penguins ownership to that of the Pirates, both small market franchises with similar challenges. The theme was pretty much that the Penguins ownership was far superior to Pirates management. This would be consistent with the disparate news blurbs of late: while the Penguins season tickets are selling at record rates, the Pirates fans tried to stage a fairly unique grassroots protest on Saturday. My question is, does this ranting against the Pirates and raving for the Penguins fairly reflect the difference in their performances over the last decade or something else.

I didn't need to think about that much myself. John and Jay's Sports Blog, had already compiled the numbers. Here is their summary of the records of the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers over the last 15 years. It seems to me that it would be hard to argue that the Penguins have vastly outperformed the Pirates in some time. Yet, you don't see the same visceral anti-ownership diatribe against the Penguins. A Mario effect?

One difference in the rhetoric seems to be the role of the the stadium. The public component of funding for PNC Park is the premise for some of the arguments I hear. Since there was public funding, the owners owe the public a better team. I am not sure there is any evidence that new venues actually produce better teams. Should the Pirates spend more on payroll is a question for others. I would point out that if local fans are unhappy, check out the current Ben Fry performance vs. salary graphic. Cincinnati spends almost twice what we do on payroll and is actually doing far worse.

Something I will comment on speaking of the Penguins. The latest budget wrangle in Harrisburg raised the spectre of a new delay in the construction of a new arena. I have no idea if that is true, but for both the arena and the casino it is clearly important to get construction started before the winter sets in. Could a delay push the early construction work into 2008 for either or both? The problem is not just the legal quagmires each project is facing. I posed this question earlier, but even if they both wanted to start immediately, can the local construction industry really ramp up both projects simultaneously? When does that boring machine get started?