Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The unspeakable merger of Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg

It looks like talks are ongoing about a possible merger (annexation?) of Wilkinsburg school district into the Pittsburgh School district.  Actually, the talk is more about whether the Wilkinsburg students will attend schools in Pittsburgh. Actually getting rid of the school district is a more difficult matter. School districts are distinct political entities, but would it make sense for the two districts to continue to exist long into the future if the student transfer lasted for long into the future? It begs other questions about what the future is of any future consolidation of municipal services between the City of Pittsburgh and the Borough of Wilkinsburg?  Remember the city of Pittsburgh already provides garbage collection and fire services to Wilkinsburg.

What if..  yes, what if... Wilkinsburg merges with the City of Pittsburgh?

Unthinkable?  Disruptive? If the city of Pittsburgh (2014 population estimate = 305,705) merges with the Borough of Wilkinsburg (population 15,930) then the 'new' City of Pittsburgh with a population of 321,635 will move from being the 62nd largest city in the United States to become the....  55th largest city.  OMG. Too much change to think about.  Soon who knows? Pittsburgh will merge with Fox Chapel and then who knows what will happen next?

One thing I can almost guarantee if any solid merger were to become possible.. the adjustment to Wilkinsburg's incredibly high property tax rates will be capitalized into real estate values pretty quickly.  In other words...  the potential land speculation in Wilkinsburg will have already started. .


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Veterans in Pittsburgh

With the president in town addressing the VFW convention here, here is the most recent factoid on the population of veterans in the Pittsburgh region:

Period of Military Service of civilian veterans age 18 and older
Pittsburgh MSA, 2013

Gulf War (9/2001 or later), no Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era
Gulf War (9/2001 or later) and Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era 5,106
Gulf War (9/2001 or later), and Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), and Vietnam Era 569
Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era 15,459
Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001) and Vietnam Era 1,198
Vietnam Era, no Korean War, no World War II 60,019
Vietnam Era and Korean War, no World War II 291
Vietnam Era and Korean War and World War II 271
Korean War, no Vietnam Era, no World War II 21,631
Korean War and World War II, no Vietnam Era 1,078
World War II, no Korean War, no Vietnam Era 15,806
Between Gulf War and Vietnam Era only 22,456
Between Vietnam Era and Korean War only 20,695
Between Korean War and World War II only 1,576
Pre-World War II only 67

Compiled from American Community Survey 2013 1-year estimates

Earlier I looked in more detail at the trend in the number of Post 9/11 era veterans in Pittsburgh.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Parsing data on H1B Visa's

If you ever wanted to parse H1B Visa data, there is no need.  It's been done. See: What will America pay for H1-B Jobs? by Nilesh Jethwa... on the Data Science Central blog.  The post looks like it was from a while ago but was tweeted about today and I've never seen that data parsed in detail before. Now I know where to direct questions I get on that.

Note the interactive US Map he has there among other infographics.  You may note that it shows 550 approved H1B Visa's for Allegheny County in 2013, which may seem like a lot, but there are are 2,200 for Oakland County, Michigan and around 11,700 for the combined Dallas and Collin Counties of Texas.  Allegheny County does have more than say Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), with 379 and Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati) with 345.

Also, there is little spillover beyond the urban core here is what my eyeball says.  Beaver County here, for example, is showing one (1) approved H1B Visa.  I guess to be complete, the site lists this for the counties in the MSA:

Allegheny - 550
Armstrong - No data
Beaver - 1
Butler - 25
Fayette - 8
Washington - 160
Westmoreland - 12

Personally I wonder what some of these numbers would have looked like, or similar professional worker immigration stats looked like, before Westinghouse demerged in the 1990s.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Department of Commerce has updated 2014 data on international exports at the MSA level.  They have a concise infographic of most of the summary data for international exports from Pittsburgh here.

But I was looking at some of the detailed data over the last few years and the headline seems to be that Pittsburgh is seeing a rapid drop in its international exports in recent years and 2014 is the third consecutive annual drop in the value of total international exports originating in Pittsburgh. Here is the trend I see:

Not much notice I see of the 30+% drop in value since 2011 and in particular the big drop between 2012 and 2013 which was in last year's data. The two biggest exports we have?  Industries labeled 'Primary metals' and 'mining (except oil and gas)', which translates to steel and coal. Probably more of the specialty steel in the export numbers I bet, but still.  The drop in exports looks like it is all related to mining and thus declining coal exports since 2011/2012... and it had been increasing mining exports that is also singularly responsible for the big run up in exports between 2009 and 2011.  I think mining is actually responsible for most of the volatility in this time series in general.  


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The exceptional tenure of Pittsburghers

While I take note of an interesting article (h/t @BurghDiaspora) from a Tulane geographer explaining that most perceptions of regional exceptionalism are misconstrued.  See: The Seduction of Exceptionalism, which is a great read, especially for Pittsburghers. However, like Freud said: The paranoid is never entirely mistaken, so sometimes there is truth in uniqueness.   So it goes in Pittsburgh at least with this.

I was inspired by this metropolitan benchmarking out of Philadelphia from BillyPenn: Parochial Philly: Is the city too hostile to ‘outsiders’, and does that hold us back?  Also a great read for Pittsburghers.  Their datapoint is a benchmarking of how many local residents live in their current state of residence.  Note their benchmarking shows Pittsburgh a more extreme case than Philly to begin with.   But I threw out there a comment that Pittsburgh is always the worst in this type of metric, and then realized I had not actually calculated that in some time... so maybe it was no longer the case.  I felt obliged to check.  

A more common benchmarking over the years is much more about very local geographic mobility, or lack thereof.  There is typically a question in official surveys (like the ACS) asking how long a householder has lived in their current place of residence.  Literally how long they have resided at their current addresss.  From that answer you can compute the size of the population broken down by tenure of the householder. If you do a breakdown of the size of the population whose householder has lived in their current housing unit in the oldest category it has long worked out that Pittsburgh always comes out on top. i.e.  we have a lot of folks who have lived in their current homes a long time, more so than what is typical elsewhere.

Has that changed? 'New' Pittsburgh and all?  Looks like it has not even budged much for the metro benchmarking. Here is what I get for the most recent data I like to use which is the 5 year ACS data.

How much does that graphic explain everything else here?

Yes, I suspect this is one of those metrics heavily impacted by age, but it is more than that. And note that age demographics impacts Pittsburgh far differently than say 'old' regions of Florida where many residents have moved upon retirement. For Pittsburgh aging is very much an aging in place phenomenon.  So you see not only that we are the extreme region in this calculation and the comparison among large metros, albeit it is a bit of a contrived metric.. but we are a big jump above #2.  Beyond the sheer older age demographic still in the region, there is this issue of housing price trends over recent decades.  The Pittsburgh region, lacking much equity appreciation in real estate, probably trapped more householders in their current residence as compared to so many other places where value was gained as housing prices went up.  Lacking that equity, it probably was harder to move into newer housing, even as household situations changed over a lifetime. That is my hypothesis at least, but I'd be glad to argue its veracity with anyone who thinks otherwise.

Anyone want to do the same benchmarking/calculation for the city?


Monday, July 13, 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and love Downtown retail

As I type there are almost 200 comments on the PG's coverage of Downtown Macy's store to close. Basically, the closings of the Macy's location (née Kaufmann's) is some sort of emotional touchstone for all things Pittsburgh. That scale of commentariat borders on the kvetching you might get on the sports desk. Maybe it is because so many of us stared into those Christmas decorated windows.

Back when poor old Lazarus closed, after a very brief tenure in Downtown Pittsburgh, it was hard to wade through the angst it caused. People talked as if the failure of a failed investment was somehow a sign of doom for all things Downtown. If I had an oped to say on all this today, it would be close to a verbatim repeat of this from some years ago: Is Downtown dead? Hardly.  

If you want something more current, or at least more quantitative, see my post from a couple years ago digging into what is happening in Downtown employment trends.I'll summarize by pointing out that the number of jobs located downtown today is almost identical to what it was 50 years ago, or 20 years ago.. but there is a big change in the composition of those jobs. As time as gone by the retail jobs in downtown has clearly gone down as institutions like Gimbles, Grants, Hornes, Buyers' Mart, briefly Lazarus and Lord and Taylor, Saks, Ralphs, and now Kaufmann's/Macy's have departed or are about to be gone. Most all of those stores were pretty sizable job centers unto themselves.

So if the total number of jobs has remained even roughly the same, then other jobs must be growing. Now realize that retail jobs are not very well paying, and the jobs that have been growing Downtown clearly have been better paying. Thus that big jump in average pay per job located Downtown that I detailed in that post.

Obligatory to mention of course the vast Fifth and Forbes imbroglio that was a touchstone far beyond this.  I really wonder if there was not such an emotional pull to save the hat store and the wig store in the demolition footprint, if the history might have turned out differently.  Those shows, or maybe even the new stores that could have replaced them, might have soon found themselves in the footprint of a new skyscraper getting closer to completion right now.  I wonder how many of the 120 or so businesses that everyone fought so hard to save, are around today? The idea was that Fifth and Forbes should be replaced by smaller scale initiatives in the corridor and keep the buildings individually owned. How did that work out?

Still, Downtown retail really is one of those things virtually everyone seems obliged to 'save'. See this from a few years ago: Mayor's roundtable to beef up Downtown retail district. Just one of innumerable commissions we hear about, but rarely see much follow up on.  If the question is jobs.. jobs uber alles right? then remember that there really is no jobs gain from any shift in local retail activity. It is all displacement from an ever declining pie.

And if you really care about figuring out what is happening in Downtown retail.. maybe it is time to repeat a study once completed long ago (or just yesterday in Pittsburgh time) by my friend Jim: Who shops Downtown and why?  Probably won't happen.  Easier to kvetch.

as an addendum or cheat sheet...  You either know about Ralph's or you don't. If you are old enough you know about W T Grant.  But Buyers' Mart is another matter altogether.  Once a major retail establishment just on the edge of Downtown that the URA supported the Buncher company to redevelop in an attempt to revitalize the Strip District.  A strategy repeated in several different decades.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Pittsburgh manufacturing

Pittsburgh manufacturing is in the news today.  See: PBT for example Why Pittsburgh will be getting a boost in its manufacturing efforts

A factoid I missed in the latest jobs report, but if you do the division it turns out that for the Pittsburgh region, the percentage of jobs in manufacturing industries has dropped to a new all-time low in the May data.  Manufacturing industries provide under 7.5% of all non-farm jobs in the Pittsburgh MSA for the first time ever.  Might be relevant when reading about the new efforts today.

Early on, manufacturing jobs had seen some slight rebound locally, and an even bigger and steady rebound nationally, from the lows hit during the most recent recession... but Pittsburgh manufacturing jobs have not followed the national trend since.. pretty flat in recent years and not keeping up with overall regional job growth... thus the percentage of jobs in manufacturing took a jump downward in the most recently monthly data.  As always, don't focus on the monthly change as much as the trend...

Anyways, here is what I get for the time series:


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tech based entrepreneurship

Vanity alert, but given all the interest in technology based economic development of late, some may be interested in this book coming out: Routledge Handbook of Politics and Technology,  Edited by Ulrich Hilpert, Friedrich Schiller Universität, Jena, Germany. September 2015.

See the complete sales flyer here.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Tough times in the T

Here is another look at what is happening to mining jobs in Pennsylvania. One recently under-appreciated headline is about the potential loss of 400+ jobs at a shale services company in Indiana, PA. Trib: Halliburton to close Indiana County office. 400 jobs is a lot for Indiana County which has a total employment of roughly 27K, so about 1.5% of all jobs located in the county and I bet the % loss in payroll income is even higher. According to the state, Halliburton was the 11th largest employer in the county, and by my eyeballing of that list, the 7th largest private sector employer. So a big deal. It would be like a single firm dropping 10K jobs in Allegheny County.

While a lot of those jobs are not being lost outright, most of the jobs are moving to Ohio according to news reports. But the nonfarm payroll jobs data are a count of jobs by place of work, so all the jobs will be a net loss to the job count in Indiana County and most will be lost in Pennsylvania data.

But Indiana County is outside of the Pittsburgh MSA technically. I only point that out because I was thinking more about the job loss in Mining and Logging jobs I mentioned last week. While the statewide loss in mining and logging jobs last month was one of the highest monthly drops ever recorded, it is true that the same sector saw a net gain in jobs in Pittsburgh over the same period. So again I'll put up what I come up with for the mining and logging jobs in Pennsylvania net of Pittsburgh MSA data. That presents an even starker trends of what is happening across most of Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

So here is what I get for the month over month change in employment in Mining and Logging jobs for Pennsylvania net of data for the Pittsburgh MSA.The red is the most recent data for the change between April and May of this year.