About Bill Flanagan

Bill Flanagan Bill Flanagan is executive vice-president for corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates. He hosts the weekly program “Our Region’s Business,” produced in partnership with WPXI-TV. It can be seen on Channel 11 in Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. Sundays, and also airs on other regional Cox affiliates and Pittsburgh Cable News Channel (PCNC).
Bill Flanagan

I hauled myself into our region in 1982, the year before Pittsburgh hit rock bottom with its 18 percent metro jobless rate. I’ve joked over the years that I was one of the few 20-somethings moving in when so many people my age were moving out. (The region lost about 50,000 people in 1984 alone.)

One sure sign, I noted: all the U-Haul trailers headed the other way as I headed toward Pittsburgh.

It was an exaggeration, of course. I don’t remember all that many U-Hauls, although in those days it was pretty cheap to rent a trailer if you were headed toward Pittsburgh.

Well, the “U-Haul Index” has reversed itself.

The Pittsburgh Business Times reports that our region topped a national survey of moving trends in 2012, with the highest percentage growth of people moving in to the region.

Pittsburgh ranked Number One on the U-Haul 2012 National Migration Trend Report, using U-Haul data for regions with more than 5,000 people moving in a year. We were up 9.04 percent.

Metro Pittsburgh beat all other parts of the United States, including Austin, Texas (up 7.3 percent), San Francisco (up 6.8 percent) and Dallas (up 3.2 percent).

The top ranking as a “city for growth” is yet another indication of the remarkable run our region had over the past five years, during which Pittsburgh was one of the first three metropolitan areas to fully recover from the Great Recession, according to the Brookings Institution.

Things have slowed down in recent months, as growth in other metros that fell a lot harder during the recession has begun to accelerate. We’ve also felt the effect of government cutbacks — not just in government jobs, which were down 2.8 percent in February, but in sectors like arts, entertainment and recreation, and educational services that depend on government funding.

At the same time, we’re growing where it counts – in the five sectors the region targeted about 20 years ago. They are advanced manufacturing, financial and business services, energy, healthcare and life sciences, and information and communications technology. Employment in these sectors increased by 1.9 percent in February, a bit below the national average but twice the statewide rate of 1 percent.

All of which may help to account for all those U-Hauls with out-of-state plates you may be seeing around town — you know, the ones that are unloading here.

Bill Flanagan

Newspapers2013 is a bit of an anniversary year for the Pittsburgh region and for the Allegheny Conference and its affiliates.

Our organization traces its roots back to 1943, 70 years ago, when civic leaders pulled together a “Committee for Postwar Planning” that assessed the region’s competitive position and what to do about it.

Turned out there was a lot to do, as Pittsburgh was choked with smoke-filled skies and dirty rivers that flooded pretty much every spring. So, the public and private sector leaders set a few priorities, including flood and smoke control, urban redevelopment and regional sanitation and began building the tools they’d need to address them. One of those tools was the Conference itself, which was formed in 1944 as a way to bring together the private sector as an effective partner with government.The rest, as they say, is history.

And, as ImaginePittsburghNow.com has noted previously, 2013 is also the 30th anniversary of another watershed year: 1983, when our economy hit rock bottom. The metro jobless rate was 18 percent thanks to a deep global recession and the collapse of our industrial base. The following year 50,000 people moved out of the region.

In 2013, of course, we’re celebrating a great American comeback, the result of two generations of civic leadership that re-imagined and re-made our region. Pittsburgh’s one of the first U.S. metros to fully recover from the Great Recession, having become one of the top 10 regions in the U.S. for business investment, with the largest workforce in our history.

We focused on all this during a recent membership meeting. While searching through the archives to prepare for the event, we stumbled on a vintage newsreel that tells the story of 250 years of Pittsburgh progress. Amazingly, the newsreel begins in 1763 and runs all the way up to present day.

We thought you might enjoy it.

Bill Flanagan

There’s evidence that employers are beginning to hire again, but there are precious few places in the country that have more jobs now than they did before the recession, and metro Pittsburgh turns out to be one of them. The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers at the Brookings Institution have analyzed local economic conditions among the top 100 metros and discovered that Pittsburgh is one of just 14 that have more jobs now than before the recession. Six of the metros that outpace us on that front are in Texas, with a seventh in nearby Oklahoma City. The other six are Omaha, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Knoxville, Washington, D.C. and Charleston, South Carolina


What do these places have in common? Brookings says they all have a stable employment base, anchored by either universities, government agencies or high-tech hubs. Not bad company to be in.

But there are also warning signs on the horizon.

Pittsburgh has fallen from 13th place to 23rd in the March edition of The Business Journals’ On Numbers Economic Index, a measure of regional economic vitality compiled by the parent company of the Pittsburgh Business Times. Austin ranked number one, followed by Provo, Utah; Houston; Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth.

So, what gives? According to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, regions that got hit harder by the recession are now growing faster than ours, fueled by younger, growing populations.

Our region is still growing, but at what’s become its usual, steady pace. We tend not to boom, so we tend not to bust.

But in relative terms, we seem to be slowing down. It makes it a bit more challenging to spread the word about opportunity here.

So, we can’t afford to be complacent about the progress we’ve made — and we’re going to have work harder than ever to build on our momentum.

Today at the Allegheny Conference’s quarterly meeting of our 300+ Regional Investors – the companies and institutions that make up our membership – we’ll be outlining some of our plans to that end. Check back here at ImaginePittsburghNow.com to learn more, and follow us on our social media channels Facebook and Twitter to let us know what you think.

Bill Flanagan

A big part of the Pittsburgh comeback over the past 30 years has been investing in human capital through our region’s 36 colleges and universities to provide innovation and skilled workers to improve our existing industries and to support entrepreneurs to build new ones. The infrastructure that’s been put into place is getting national recognition.

Kiplinger ranks Pittsburgh among “10 Great Cities for Starting a Business,” based on criteria that include high concentrations of small businesses, low cost of living (specifically for self-employed people), an educated workforce, availability of startup investment dollars and low business costs. (They tossed in a couple of high-cost areas like San Francisco because they have large pools of skilled workers that might make up for the expense.)

About Pittsburgh, Kiplinger reports, “The city built on steel and coal might prove to be a diamond in the rough for entrepreneurs. Pittsburgh is looking to become the “new center of innovation in American energy” and putting up the cash to get there. On top of nearly $143 million the area raised in startup capital during the first nine months of 2012, the area’s research and development funding through Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions amounts to $3 billion annually.

“State-sponsored economic development group Innovation Works provides funding, business guidance and other resources to promising projects. With the Allegheny Conference of Community Development, it formed the Energy Alliance of Greater Pittsburgh to connect local energy entrepreneurs, researchers and investors. It also created tech startup accelerator AlphaLab, which runs a 20-week program twice a year that provides select companies with funding, office space, mentorships and other assistance to get up and running.”

It’s taken 30 years to put all that infrastructure in place:  to nurture individuals, drive innovation and create our diverse, knowledge-intensive economy. And it’s great to be named in the same company as Dallas, Kansas City, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Indianapolis, Orlando, Nashville and San Francisco. What’s easy to overlook is that it’s the result of decades of hard work and investment in the most important resource our region has – our people.

Bill Flanagan

Not only is our region among the most livable, it continues to rank among the “most list-able” as well. And we’re off to a good start in 2013 in racking up Top Five rankings.

NBC’s Today Show started things off by noting Pittsburgh as one of three must-see destinations in the world to visit this year. And now, Forbes reports that Pittsburgh is among the happiest cities in which to work.

This list of the happiest and unhappiest cities to work in, compiled by CareerBliss, is based on an analysis of more than 36,000 independent employee reviews between November 2011 and November 2012. Workers from all over the country were asked to evaluate 10 factors that affect workplace happiness. Those include one’s relationship with the boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks and control over the work one does on a daily basis.

Workers in Dayton, Ohio ranked happiest, with Knoxville, Honolulu and Memphis coming in second, third and fourth, respectively. Pittsburgh ranks as fifth happiest.

The unhappiest place in America? Boulder, Colorado. Followed by Reno, Wichita, Fresno and Little Rock.

Cleveland ranks sixth unhappiest, not that we’re counting.

So, given our relative happiness, maybe it’s no surprise that our region’s workforce, at 1,265,110, is the largest it’s been in history – even compared to our industrial heyday, according to PittsburghTODAY.com.

Yes, our jobless rate is higher than we’d like it to be, but that’s in part because fewer people are leaving and more are coming; more people are joining the labor force. There’s a perception that there’s greater opportunity here than in other places, and the perception is a reality.

No wonder folks around here are happier.

Also, be sure to check out the special section on Pittsburgh in fDi magazine, a unit of the Financial Times. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance sponsored the overview of our region’s economy. The issue will be distributed at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland on Jan. 23-27, in keeping with this year’s forum theme of resilient dynamism.

Bill Flanagan
Emily Padgett as Alex Owens in “Flashdance – The Musical”
Photo Copyright Broadway.com

Flashdance – The Musical more than echoes the movie set in Pittsburgh in 1983, it brings it back to life on the stage. I caught the premiere.

I’ll leave theater criticism to the pros like Christopher Rawson at the Post-Gazette, although I think his assessment is right on target. It’s a feel-good musical with great dancing, especially by Emily Padgett, who plays Alex. (You can watch our video featuring the show’s three leads — two of them from the Pittsburgh region — here or below.)

It’s been years since I watched the movie, but I remember Flashdance well. I had just moved to Pittsburgh in 1982 and they were shooting the movie around town. It was exciting to be here in the midst of Renaissance Two, with new skyscrapers going up and a genuine subway under construction.

Little did anyone know that a year later, Pittsburgh would hit rock bottom. When Flashdance premiered in theaters in 1983, the metro unemployment rate topped 18 percent and tens of thousands of people were moving away, many of them young.

Just as the young steelworker in the movie (and the show) was trying to reinvent herself as a dancer, Pittsburgh was challenged with reinventing itself, forced to compete as a post-industrial city. (Not to say we don’t still make stuff here. We do – but most manufacturers will tell you they’ve transformed themselves to compete in a technology-intensive world, another exercise in creativity and hard work.)  Thirty years later, Pittsburgh’s been re-imagined and re-made, with a diverse economy driven by manufacturing, finance, energy, health care and IT, and a high quality of life provided by decades of investment in the arts. That includes the Benedum Center and Heinz Hall — where Flashdance – The Musical made its world premiere – and in outdoor recreation, especially our growing network of riverfront trails.

Art and industry have been integral to Pittsburgh’s comeback, but they’ve provided the region’s character for more than a century – ever since Andrew Carnegie built his music hall in Oakland, if not before. The parts of the play that I enjoyed most were those that juxtaposed the creative and hard work of both industry and the arts – the pride in creating, working and excelling that’s also part of Pittsburgh’s character. If I had a word of advice for director Sergio Trujillo as he takes his show on the road to Broadway – admittedly knowing nothing about what it takes to create a theatrical hit – it would be to make a little more of these themes. I’d love to see a scene where the dancers and the steelworkers somehow share the joys – and challenges – of their professions.

Some folks may criticize the indeterminate time period of the play. The movie was set in the ‘80s, the show includes many more modern elements. But I kind of liked the fact that a number of the backdrops featured golden bridges and blue water, the revitalized riverfronts of today in addition to the classic industrial steel mill settings. Pittsburgh’s authenticity and beauty came through.

So, here we are, 30 years after Alex and Pittsburgh began their transformations. Our region’s back in the global game – and Flashdance is back home on stage. Quite a feeling.