Sunday, September 30, 2007

transportation rundown

Just some transit musings that have been piling up:

From the Transportationist Blog comes a note via the BBC that Germany is now building its own maglev using the Transrapid technology. Why worth noting? Transrapid is the technology the local Pittsburgh Maglev project has been working on for decades. Although there is nothing at all current on their web site. Might be worth asking whether they really expect the federal demonstration money that they were counting on to ever come.

Wired Magazine makes note of Bus Rapid Transit. Again why important here? Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is essentially the use of dedicated busways and Pittsburgh's busways are one of the early adopters in the United States. The use of actual purpose built busways is even more extensive than just the use of dedicated bus lanes some cities call BRT. Of course, "purpose built" may be stretching it since our busways are really the "Plan B" after the plan to build Skybus collapsed.

Also from the transportationist is a note on new research research showing traffic ticket revenues are correlated with the fiscal condition of municipalities. I swear I also thought of trying to work out that research, but never got around to it. But a local connection? I would suggest it would be fun to look at what revenue categories for the City of Pittsburgh had the biggest percentage increase between 2005 and 2006?


Saturday, September 29, 2007

from the National Vacant Properties Conference

If you are interested in what actually happened at first Annual National Vacant Properties Campaign conference held here in Pittsburgh last week, here is the wrapup from the Problem Properties Cooperative. Something related is the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System website. I keep the link on the reference links there on the right, but I am not sure many notice it.


Friday, September 28, 2007

The answer: $102 billion. What's the question?

Here is a question I really get once in a while: How ‘big’ is the Pittsburgh economy? A simple question without the clearest answer. The most common measure of a regional economy is the number of jobs. Personal income also tells you a lot. Though confusing, there are estimates for both the region’s output and it’s regional product, but those are different things. Regional output is a bigger number that measures, in a sense, the value of all products sold in a region. A better measure of the local economy is Gross Regional Product (GRP). GRP is often called Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP), or Gross Domestic Product (GDP), all of which are essentially the same thing. Why is GRP a better measure? GRP is a measure of value-added in the economy. Output is larger and measures the total $$ value of stuff sold by local firms, but local firms also buy a lot of their inputs from elsewhere and that does really add to the size of the local economy. GRP nets out the value of those intermediate goods 'imported' into the region and gives a fairer metric for how much is actually being produced here.

Enough caveats? All that because the Bureau of Economic Analysis just released new estimates of Gross Domestic Product for metropolitan areas in 2005. For Pittsburgh the number is $102 billion (and that is in 2005 dollars for sticklers). So for 2007 in 2007 dollars you are looking at a number around $110 billion.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Крушев посещений Питтсбург

Speaking of history... there is a story to tell about when Soviet Party leader Kruschev visited Pittsburgh in 1959. I don't need to say much because Jason T. over at Tube City Online has done some yeoman work to dig up the details. Really worth a read.

I will just add a snippet or two. Jason talks about the Kruschev visit in relation to the current debates over the visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the US. The debate now centers around the role of the Columbia University President in inviting the fellow to speak. According to the University Times Khrushchev came to Pitt during that visit at the invitation of then-Chancellor Edward Litchfield. That article goes on to point out that a story in The New York Times announced "Pittsburgh Stop Warmest of Tour" for the Kruschev visit to the US. Kruschev himself wrote about his visit in his biography. His first remembrance of the Burgh seems to be colorfully dressed women.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

amphibious Burgh

PBS's documentary series The War is sparking interest in World War II. I will use that as an excuse to be a broken record and try to spark interest in my idea of bringing the former Navy Ship LST-325 up to Pittsburgh for a visit. LST's (Landing Ship Tanks) were the mainstay of the Navy's amphibious fleet in World War II. The picture here is USS LST 1, the Navy's first WW2 Landing Ship Tank built right here in Pittsburgh at the Dravo Corp. shipyard.
290 of the 1,051 LST's built in WWII were built here in Pittsburgh, along with scores of other ships large and small including some Destroyer escorts. My check of records tells me that none of the Pittsburgh-built LST's are still around, the last one was stricken from the Turkish Navy just a few years ago in 2001. However, LST-325 was built in Philadelphia and has been restored. Following some international cruises she is now berthed in Evansville, Indiana just down the Ohio River. Could LST-325 visit Pittsburgh? It would be quite an event and worth it to many in town I bet. I think there are still a fair number of the generation that built these ships, as well as those who served on them still around. It could be quite an event if she could sail up the Ohio for a short visit. The whole story of Pittsburgh's history as a wartime shipyard is important. How such a large industry was essentially created here in almost no time is worth more attention from industrial and business historians. Who were the workers? A lot of local women in the spirit of Rosie the Riveter were the people who built these ships.

However... it's not something I can do on my own. I have tried to spark some interest in groups capable of sponsoring such a visit, but have not had much traction thus far. There would be a six figure cost most likely as well. But I'll keep plugging away.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ethereal jobs

The Monster Local Employment Index of Online Recruitment Activity is again showing Pittsburgh near the top of the pack. I don't really know enough of their methodology to say much about what it really means.. but it has to be better than ranking near the bottom. Among the 28 regions they track, Pittsburgh is "the Index’s second-fastest growing market on an annual basis ".

and something I forgot to mention Sunday.. but following up on the National Vacant Property Conference currently going on in Pittsburgh... you can keep abreast of national vacant property issues you can monitor the Problem Properties Collaborative Blog. I suspect that if some obsessive person in town had time, you could support a blog focused just on local vacant property issues in the city and region.


on Shade Trees

I am sure there is a lesson in the underprovision of public goods in all of this... but Matt Kahn's Environmental and Urban Economics Blog has a few good pointers on the value of urban dendrology including:

What Is a Tree Worth? Green-city Strategies and Housing Prices” by Grace Wong and Susan Wachter. Feb 2007 (Real Estate Economics, forthcoming)

We have a Shade Tree Commission here in town. I honestly have not looked at where it fits in the projected city budget just released.... but I am sure it's not a big number. Some of the casualties of the city's perpetually on the brink financial miasma are all of these things that don't seem essential in the short run. Yet underinvestment can be costly in the long run. and it's not just a city expenditure issue. Matt Kahn also points out a Los Angeles Times article on similar efforts out west which has an interesting point. A lot of their program is funded by other public agencies such as the Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles.... hmm.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Pittsburgh's neoSteel industry

Here is a question... what would be your initial answer if asked how globalization has affected the local steel industry? Hold that thought for a minute.......

If you didn't catch it, take a look at Sunday's PG coverage of some research here at Pitt looking at the transformation of the local steel industry. Pitt's Center for Industry Studies has been looking not just at steel manufacturers in the region, but the local firms which service the global steel industry. An early version of their research was in our Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly a last year: see page on of this issue. To put this local industry in some perspective, the firms studied account for 12K or so jobs in the region. How many actual steel manufacturing jobs are there in the region these days? The Pittsburgh region's entire primary metals manufacturing industry employs just a tad more, around 14K jobs today... a number which goes beyond just steel firms per se.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vacant Property

I am out of town unfortunately, but Monday and Tuesday Pittsburgh will host the Reclaiming Vacant Properties: Strategies for Rebuilding America’s Neighborhoods Conference. My colleague Sabina is on the local host committee. It makes sense to have this conference here. In many ways the region is a poster child for vacant properties. Many local municipalities and certain city neighborhoods have some of the highest property vacancy rates in the nation.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

OT: удивительный плакат, товарищ

Off topic... adfreak point out this amazing blog of old Soviet Posters.


Friday, September 21, 2007

State of the Casino and other minutia

Almost too much to touch on today. I note the Trib has come out in favor of state-wide property assessment reform, also referencing the same views of the Allegheny Institute. I really had to make sure I read that right, it actually means that the Trib, the AI and the Community Justice Project (which is pushing the case now pending that could lead directly to that type of statewide reform) are lined up on the same side of an issue. For more on my thoughts on the assessment case see this old post, where I mention the seminal piece on assessment practices in Allegheny County: The Jaffurs Report from the 1970's.


News is that the Penguins have signed a long term lease. Does anyone have a copy? It would be interesting to compare that to the Pirates lease at PNC Park. I also have not been paying attention to be sure, but I don't think the bonds for the facility have been floated yet. Anyone know different? I suspect the lease signing will now allow for the bond to be floated.


It's interesting to contrast the state of the casino here and in Philly. As much as we seemed to be overwhelmed with Casino issues, from parking issues to the disposition of funds for community benefit, none of it rises to Philly's casino miasma these days. All of our debates still presuppose that a casino is coming sometime soon, I am not sure they have given in to that fact yet. Only last month the state supreme court had to rule in order to prevent a Philadelphia referendum that would have likely precluded casino gambling in the city.

I was actually reminded of that from a post on Philly's Next Mayor's web site which highlights the battles going on between the city, community groups and their own ICA (i.e. their own fiscal oversight panel which Pittsburgh's was modeled after... sort of) over what the casino costs and benefits will be. You can read more of that in this post on the Philly News' Next Mayor Blog. Of course, they are debating over various estimates of both the benefit and cost of a casino to their city and region. There is even a scan of the Philly's ICA statement on all of this. It all raises the question of whether anyone has attempted to forecast what detailed benefits and costs will result from a casino here, especially what impacts there will be on the city's budget? A rhetorical question of course. There were some earlier studies looking at the economics of a Pittsburgh based casino solely from the casino's perspective. I have one of those consultant's reports scanned here.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Youth Perspective on the City

Just something you may have missed... We all know about all those youth who are down on the city and fleeing right? In today's Duquesne Duke, a Duquesne freshman had one of the most optimistic perspectives on the state of the city you will read in any local publication. Read it here.

Seriously, I hope the young lady does not get all the vitriolic email I get when I write anything even semi-positive about the region.


Committee of Seventy

Here is a question: Does Pittsburgh need an organization like Philadelphia's Committee of Seventy? I was afraid to dis some group out there so before I posted this, I tried to think if there was an organization in town that was already focused on the same sort of non-partisan political activism here. The Committee of Seventy's mission statement is to be:
.....a non-partisan organization conducting a permanent campaign to improve the Philadelphia region by demanding ethical conduct of public officials, promoting government efficiency, educating citizens and safeguarding elections

Of course, there are a lot of organizations in town that do related things here already. The local League of Women Voters comes to mind first, but in Philly their activities interact with, but are not the same as the Committee's. The Pennsylvania Economy League has done some similar research here, but just does not seem the same and again, Philly has a separate Economy League of its own. The League of Young Voters is active here as well, but still it does not seem to be the same type of organization. Here at Pitt the venerable Institute of Politics** is active in lots of ways, but not in the same way. Once you get into the partisan or semi-partisan world then the group of organizations in town that look at politics and governance gets larger, but they don't really compare to the committee. Some come closer than others: Progress Pittsburgh maybe, and its knowledge base had some potential as a regional resource. I suppose I should mention iBill's Reform Pittsburgh Now website, but for the moment it does seem overly tied to a single candidate to fill the Committee's shoes here. Statewide the Economy League does have its extensive IssuesPA* site which does a lot of stuff, but still does not detract from the committee's Philadelphia focus for the most part. So if there is a sister organization here that has anywhere near the resources or reputation as Philly's Committee of Seventy yet focused on the Pittsburgh region I apologize, but you need some better PR.

What could a group like the Committee of Seventy do here? In Philly they have a a pretty involved web site named:, the purpose of which is pretty self-explanatory. Maybe an organization with resources could have put together a campaign finance database years before the Pittsburgh City Paper's fairly recent project (actually, someone ask Potter if that is going to be maintained?). And if nothing else, such an organization could provide all these maps and reference data that otherwise come from itinerant bloggers. :-)

* just as disclosure I have been part of the IssuesPA advisory structure for the last couple election cycles.
** disclosures there as well. I do different things for the IOP.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The PG is again rehashing the recent low ranking Forbes gave Pittsburgh as a place for singles. I won't rehash this again myself, but if you want to read my thoughts on how Forbes came up with it's ranking.. and how it is mostly driven by some mostly irrelevant statistics for us see the post: Unbearable confusion of two-sided matching... or Forbes Strikes Again from last month.

But no... Forbes said it, so it must be true. actually, I just noticed that the PG adds some analysis of its own when they say:
In the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, there were more than 129,000 men living alone and more than 186,000 women living alone.

Quite true... but does anyone bother to mention that that imbalance is all being caused by elderly Pittsburghers... why? Women outlive men so there are a lot more elderly women out there than elderly men. What does this have to do with the nominal topic of the story, the 30 something dating scene???? In my old post I calculated the age adjusted probabilities of meeting someone who is single in town.

update: Ha. Some quick numbers I pulled from 2000 for the Pittsburgh MSA (as then defined, i.e. 6 counties)... but these things don't change that much in a couple years. Here is a breakdown of the counts for men vs women living alone by age group. Does the quote above mean what you think it means in light of this breakdown?

Population living alone - Pittsburgh MSA, 2000

Men Women Difference
Under age 65 81,794 79,972 -1,822
Age 65+ 30,080 98,145 68,065


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

neighborhood history

Speaking of East Liberty..... here are a few more additions to my abysmally slow (because it's completely unfunded) attempt to build an online library of Pittsburgh's economic development and related history. Two new documents for only the uber-wonkish at heart:

From 1999: A Vision for East Liberty. by East Liberty Development Inc. Assisted by The Community Builders Inc. Perkins Eastman Architects.

and from 1979: The Oakland Plan: A Citizens Planning Process 1977-1979. Coordinated by Oakland Directions Inc. It's a big file so I broke it up. Here is part 2.

These and more are on my Pittsburgh Policy Documents Collection.

Why care about some of these old reports? There is an old joke I heard long long ago that went sort of like this: nothing is tried in Pittsburgh until it has been tried elsewere for X (fill in integer of choice) years. I'm sure there are versions of that joke used in a lot of other places and in a lot of other contexts. The truth is that often it does not apply to Pittsburgh at all. We try things thinking they are new because we forget we tried them decades earlier. It all leads to some vicious cycles.


Monday, September 17, 2007

biscuit-less burgh

My digital camera is broken and indecisiveness has kept me from buying a new one... but a picture I wish I had taken was of the nearly completed demolition of the Nabisco Plant in the East End. Given the long convoluted history of trying to keep the plant open, I am surprised there has been little note anywhere of its final demise. I always thought it had an amenity value in itself from the smells that would emanate from the plant when they were baking something good.

Looking briefly for a concise history of the Nabisco plant I came across the blog-like news feed at the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation... most probably know about it, but worth marking.

Update: A reader let me know that there was recent coverage of the Nabisco Plant building's demolition in the Pittsburgh Business Times. You need a sub to read the whole article, but they do have a picture.

Update 2: I must admit I am confused. There is an awful lot of demolition going on at the site, but they must be intending to stop at some point. As a commenter reminded me, the plan is for some retail/office/hotel conversion. The project even has its own web site.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chocolate burgh

If I were to wake up one morning with an unquenchable desire to invest in the retail industry, this would be it: A snippet from the food section of the Chicago Sun-Times mentions Pittsburgh as a possible future location for a Baladoche dessert shop. I'm there, and we'll give those cupcake shops a run for their money.

mmmmmm...... Zucker waffles.


Saturday, September 15, 2007


I really couldn't come up with any insight into the news earlier in the week that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the highest percentage of fans among local women. Think it is just a bit of local trivia? It garnered newswire coverage that would run in the USAToday nationally.

Then the news yesterday is that a Pittsburgh Steeler fan crowned superfan by CBS Sports. That's kind of interesting in that the criteria was based on which fan knew his, or her of course, team best. So we are certifiably erudite fans.

Since last week just could not have counted, tomorrow must be the real opening of the Steelers' season. I have to admit I do not read too much sports news. I do find it interesting to read the sports news from the opponents perspective sometimes. The Buffalo Sports Blog Buffalo Ramblings has an interview with Pittsburgh's Behind the Steel Curtain blog. Even the Buffaloans are not predicting victory and seem to be stretching to say they will just cover the spread. (see comment) Where is Bill Johnson when you need some chalkboard material?


Friday, September 14, 2007

anchorize yourself

I hate to play into somebody's advertising gimmick, but this could be fun for a few seconds. For the new Kelsey Grammar sitcom set in Pittsburgh, they have come up with a web site to "anchorize" yourself:


Thursday, September 13, 2007

not Allegheny Airlines any more

So I cancelled my subscription to the USAirways' E-saver program recently. This wasn't meant as a protest of any sort, but I realized after I did it how symbolic it was. For an awfully long time I received the weekly USAirways Esavers email with its lineup of 'cheap' fares for the coming weekend. I never really used them too often, but they were there for a long time as a way to get out of town cheap. Back in the day there were lots of Pittsburgh originating flights listed. but long has been the day since that was true. It was just an attempt to beat back the email deluge that I hit the 'unsubscribe' button... it really had become nothing more than spam to me with few useful Pittsburgh flights to check out.

What does it all mean? USAToday's TodayintheSky Blog has a post and comments on the recent USAirways announcement concerning further possible changes in their Pittsburgh service. USAirways service in Pittsburgh just continues to shrink.

But there is a bigger story here I may need to write something on. For years a common question was something like: What are we going to do with USAirways going away? People would often compare the collapse of USAirways employment here to the collapse of the steel industry. You need to add at least a zero to the job and income losses before that analogy makes any sense. That is not meant to mitigate the loss lots of individual employees felt as they lost their jobs, in some cases their careers. Then there were the myriad stories about how the loss of direct connections were going be our undoing as a business center. Did that happen? Any follow up on those prognostications. The only comment of mine I can find on the record is when I said the connection between hub locations and economic growth was pretty muddled. There is a great non-statement that says nothing... but I stick by it. We may be proving it.

Another way to look at it is that if you took any region and said its largest private employers was essentially going to disappear in very short order, you would predict some serious economic decline. Its a little hard to discern an inordinate USAirways impact on the local economy. For sure, some trends would be a lot better if 10K or so jobs had remained here. It says a lot about the diversification in the local economy I say.

Consider that the USAirways retrenchment has little to do with local conditions or issues. Bankruptcy, merger and changing airline industry organization gave Pittsburgh little hope in the near term to keep its disproportionate hub. Some may disagree, but I really wonder what could have been done to convince USAirways to keep such a concentrated hub here. So if
the factors forcing USAirways out were mostly external its worth asking the question what if that had turned out another way. Given pretty low unemployment numbers and rate right now.... where would we be if those jobs were still here. Its an interesting question that says something about the current state of the local economy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OT: Belichicks Puzzle Palace

Completely off topic.... but I am just fascinated by the news that the New England Patriots are about to be fined for various forms of spying. The big news is that they were filming defensive signals during their game last week. But that may turn out to be the less egregious infraction by far.

The news accounts only mention this in passing, but it sounds like the Patriots could also be hit for using unapproved frequencies with their communications equipment. What's up with that? I see nothing specified in the news accounts, but I am guessing someone thinks the Patriots were getting around the limitations in place for the coach to quarterback radio link. The NFL has allowed coaches to pass plays to a quarterback via a small radio in the helmet since 1994. But you can't communicate all the time and the link should only be active from the time that the playclock starts until it winds down to 15 seconds. There should be an official whose job is to turn off the link at exactly 15 seconds. Why is that important? Imagine a coach in the booth with an eagle eye view being able to point out defensive formations and weaknesses to the quarterback right up to the point the ball is snapped. It would be even more insidious if communications continued even after the play started. Could some of Tom Brady's more miraculous games have been helped by a few timely comments about which receiver was open? If there was an alternate channel in place then the potential exists for the coach to continue talking to the quarterback even after the official channel is turned off. I should emphasize that I am just speculating on no information.... but you never know.

How serious is all of this? The Society of Broadcast Engineers has a web page for coordinating frequencies at NFL games. They have extensive frequency coordination instructions. There is even an NFL (frequency) coordination accreditation and a gameday (frequency) coordination handbook. I might have been tempted to stay an electrical engineer if I thought I could have this much fun. I bet we could have some fun on game day wth a Slick 32 mounted on a truck.

It's not like you need technology to be a football spy. It's pretty clear that technology will intrude into sports more and more. Forget steroids, there is even an argument out there that Barry Bonds has been helped by more mechanical technology enhancements. Long in the future I bet quarterbacks have their own heads-up-display in their helmet that feeds them all sorts of information as they plan and execute plays. But for today, Belichick's busted.


Which Pittsburgh is that?

I am pretty sure that in most newsrooms across the country, journalists do not write the headlines that go with their stories. I point that out because I know that over at the Trib Brian B. did an awful amount of good work crunching some recent data just put out by the census. But here is the thing. His work was all focused on data for the City of Pittsburgh. Yet the headline for his work says: "Jobs, pay drive women away from the region" (emphasis added). Implying that city specific numbers tell the tale for the region as a whole rarely makes much sense and in this case confounds many issues.

But Brian B. did accurately relay my own incredulity over some of the findings that pop from the data, even if you overlook the confusing geography. No coverage of the local numbers really gets into the more curious factoid from the census data released. By one census estimate, the population of the city of Pittsburgh has dropped from 334K people in 2000 to 312K in 2006. This new data out says the city population in 2006 is closer to 297K. I just don't have time to type out the explanation for why different departments at the census get two pretty different numbers for what should be the same statistic. Either way, it's a big drop in population that has a lot of implications for the future of the city, but if the drop really is closer to 2% a year vice ~1% a year... well, draw your own conclusions. Again, this is all talking about the CITY, not the region. If I were to guess, some of the odd gender specific trends that pop from the Trib's analysis is somehow tied to the discrepancy in the city population stats and the disproportionate college population in the city. It would take a lot of work to parse that out though.
To balance this out, it is interesting to look at the PG's version of the same data: Pittsburgh's Favorite Color Should Be Gray. Of course, from that headline who knows if someone expects a fashion article. Since the PG didn't parse the data as much as the Trib did, there is less to comment on.. although I will point out again the confusing nature of the region's education statistics. In the PG version it says:
"The share of local residents who have completed higher education, 27.1 percent with bachelor's degrees and 10.0 percent with a master's or higher, is slightly above national averages. " (again emphasis added).
The thing with that is just the big impact our age demographic has on educational attainment stats for the region. Because we have more of an older generation that did not typically go to graduate school, college, or even finish high school at rates comparable to today... our education stats appear lower than they ought to. If you look at the educational attainment just of younger working age people, or almost any specific age cohort, we rank much higher in any benchmarking exercise. Most educational attainment stats are looking at the population age 25 and older, thus lumping together young and old age cohorts. Our comparison to the nation, or a ranking with other regions really reflects our concentration of elderly as much as anything else.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007






Monday, September 10, 2007


The Pittsburgh Business times is reporting that the free downtown wi-fi network may have its days numbered.

To be fair, its a lot tougher to create and maintain these municipal wi-fi networks than people presume. It was impressive that the Pittsburgh version got off the ground and I have found the Downtown service to be functional. But the troubles have been clearly telegraphed. Here are a few recent articles discussing the current state of the ether:

US municipal Wi-Fi loses its shine, September 10, 2007

Free Wi-Fi is up for grabs, September 10, 2007

Municipal Wi-Fi faces financial hurdles, Associated Press, August 31, 2007

What's Behind the Epidemic of Municipal Wi-Fi Failures?, Wired News, September 4, 2007

Municipal Wi-fi - Reality Bites, The Economist, August 30, 2007

Chicago Cancels Municipal Wi-Fi plan, Slashdot, August 29, 2007

Nonetheless, its worth taking a look again at the convoluted path Pittsburgh's version has taken. Pittsburgh's vendor US Wireless Online (USWO) was amazingly awarded the Pittsburgh contract even though its president and board had resigned days before, all but predicting bankruptcy. Makes you wonder who was checking references a bit. It was not a big secret, they had to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission the details of their turmoil.

Actually if you read their resignation email, several said they were resigning at the time because they themselves wanted to participate in debtor-in-possession lending to the firm or were resigning on the advice of counsel. There is a real vote of confidence in the future. In a sense it is that much more surprising the system made it into operation and I am surprised it has lasted as long as it has.

If the system does power down, it will remain to be seen if the finances of the service are mostly sunk costs that could be picked up on the cheap by some other provider or if it just does not work as an operating model even with subsidies.


Monday Morning Reading List

Otto Graham must be rolling in his grave this morning. I really have nothing to say... let's just go down the reading list:

From Area Development Magazine two articles worth a scan: Downtown on the Upswing and Economic Growth — Looking Behind the Numbers and one commentary: Brownfield Redevelopment Helps Communities and Businesses Prosper

I mentioned this one earlier, but it was not available online at the time. The Next American City has a story: The Steel City Goes Green with a quirkier companion piece about a green nunnery in Pittsburgh.

Not online, but some may want to go look up: The Research University and the Development of High-Technology Centers in the United States, by Raymond Smilor, Niall O'Donnell, Gregory Stein, and Robert S. Welborn, III in the Economic Development Quarterly 2007 21: 203-222. also in the same issue: The Impact of the Reputation of Bio-Life Science and Engineering Doctoral Programs on Regional Economic Development by Edward W. (Ned) Hill and Iryna Lendel

From the Government Innovations Network: a new paper: State and Federal E-Government in the United States, 2007. How does Pennsylvania do?

and if you didn't see it, worth a read from the Trib over the weekend: The fall and rise of the Mon Valley


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Heard on the street....

I do feel awfully disconnected some days. I missed completely this story last week which unfortunately is not available publicly online. I suspect a few people may be interested in this:

Trends in the Region: Despite Expecting Budget Surplus, Pittsburgh Eyes an Uncertain Future By Jonna Stark in The Bond Buyer August 27, 2007.

I will note without further comment other than a bit of emphasis (in italics) added to these excerpts:
The city sold about $250 million of general obligation bonds in 2006, $200 million of which went to refinancing debt. This lowered the city’s debt service by $12 million annually, Shields said. The remaining $50 million was new money used for infrastructure improvements. Pittsburgh has $888 million of outstanding GO debt, Shields said


Pittsburgh must submit its 2008 budget and five-year budget to the ICA in mid-September. The authority will either then approve or reject the budgets, and if the budget is approved, it will go before the city council in November for approval.
“We know that in 2009, 2010, and 2011 we’ll probably — without adjustment to the plan — see some structural deficits,” Shields said. By 2010, the city projects a structural deficit of $6 million and a $16 million to $18 million deficit by 2011.
and if the actuarial reports didn't scare you away... Try reading the official statement of the 2006 bond refinancing which was referenced.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

political numerology

Since I have forsworn local political comments until November, I will not say anything new about the debate du jour over how to fund the city's pension plans. You are free to look up some of the past posts I have addressing the issue. Also already on the record, a few years ago I wrote slightly more coherently in The Race for Mayor: The City's Stealth Crisis. And better than Ambien, here are the three most current actuarial reports for the city's 1) Police, 2) Fire and 3) General Municipal pension funds. enjoy.


but for those who will soon be obsessing on national political issues, here is a blog that out does them all in terms of collecting the national poll numbers. See


and occasional blogger Job Delano has new extended comments on the propects for the fall mayoral race anyway. Not what you may expect him to say and he admits to a dialectic between what he actually thinks will happen and how the media will be reporting the race.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

books of the moment

editorial note: I had taken down the past books of the moment previously put up because of feedback I received. Some readers thought the links were causing problems with their browsers. It's a little hard to believe the Amazon links were causing problems, Jeff Bezos has made a few $billion off these services... so I'll try one more time. But if these amazon links are causing people issues, let me know and I will pull them again.

Here are a couple new books that look like they are worth a read:


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor Day answers

Well, not much interest in my Labor Day quiz. The answers fyi: Most just don't believe this, but private sector unionization is below 10% of all workers in the Pittsburgh region, around 9.5% actually and generally declining. And what people really can't get their heads around is that relatively speaking, unionization rates are low here. Of the 4 cities listed: Seattle, New York, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh, it is indeed Pittsburgh that today has the lowest overall unionization rate for workers.

What does it mean? Depends on your perspective. People who say Pittsburgh is not attractive to new investment or new firms because of union issues they would have to deal with seem to be talking about some long past Pittsburgh. That 9.5% private sector unionization rate is itself concentrated among just a few industries and types of workers. Take out heavy manufacturing and a few others and the unionization rates for workers in most local industries/occupations are some very small percentages.

The unionization rate here is really no more than average compared to large metropolitan regions in the US. I admit to a little self selection in the 4 regions I compared Pittsburgh to. The point is that some of the faster growing regions we strive to be are actually more unionized than here. I think many in town would like to have the economic growth rates of Las Vegas, Seattle or New York. The simple correlation some like to draw between unionization rates and growth is just a tad bit more complicated in the real world.

But just in honor of Labor Day, Batman does equal pay:


Monday, September 03, 2007

you think I'm cheap, you really think I'm cheap

Ok... nothing new here, but yet another benchmarking exercise showing Pittsburgh one of the most affordable places to live in the US. This one from Forbes/MSN. View the slide show to see we are number 4 overall. Though it is interesting in that it goes beyond just comparing housing prices, it's mostly generated from a ratio of median home price to median household salary. So even adjusting for low incomes here, housing prices are relatively cheap.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Youngstown musings

Several intersting points in this piece today from Youngstown's Tribune Chronicle:HELP WANTED: Finding workers can be hard work for area companies . One is the headline story about finding workers. Also there are some stories mentioned in passing. They mention how there were state and local incentives offered to attracts some jobs from Leeds Corp, a Pittsburgh area company. If you define the regional economy big enough, it's hard to see how that type of economic fratricide makes sense. But most significantly it highlights a factoid from some recent census numbers that came out showing that Youngstown's median wage dropping significantly from $26,516 in 2005 to $21,850 in 2006, a 17.6 percent decline which I don't think even takes into account inflation. That is troubling if true, but it is something they are checking to see if the measurement itself is correct.

A little farther away, but still just up the road in a sense.. the NYT has a piece today on the foreclosure crisis impact on Maple Heights, OH just outside Cleveland.

Youngstown and the larger Ohio economy was looked at the other day as well by this Forbes article.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Infrastructure Uber Alles

From the MN bridge collapse to the new Oakland canal system... worth re-reading is one of the best overviews of the region's infrastructure deficit: See Infrastructural Deficit: The road to the future is paved with creative ideas – and thorny issues. By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Magazine, August 2002.