Pittsburgh: Last Great Undiscovered American City
By Shlomo Maital
On Wednesday I was in Pittsburgh, Pa., and gave a talk at Carnegie-Mellon Univ. Pittsburgh is perhaps the last great undiscovered American city. Once a grimy steel town, with steel mills spewing pollution on the three rivers that merge in downtown Pittsburgh (Allegheny, Monongahela, Susquehana), Pittsburgh once saw the mighty United States Steel building tower over its skyline. (Its NFL football team, Pittsburgh Steelers, gets its name from that era). In the 1950’s, I visited the steel mills that employed thousands of Pittsburgh workers.
No longer. The steel mills are long gone. Grimy Pittsburgh is now squeaky clean. And the steel jobs have been replaced by health care jobs. In place of the US Steel sign, UPCM (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) towers over the skyline. Pittsburgh has become a health care center, with two great universities at its core, University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Carnegie Mellon. Pitt is unusual; it is one of the only universities in the world whose core building is a skyscraper, the 40 story Cathedral of Learning.
Nearby cities, like Detroit, and Cleveland, are in desperate trouble. Detroit has declared bankruptcy. Detroit lost its auto jobs, Cleveland lost its heavy industry. Somehow, Pittsburgh fought back and found something to replace the steel jobs. What we learn from this is simple: Every individual, organization, city and country needs to ask, what is it that I can do, to create value for others, that is done better, faster, cheaper, than others? What is my ‘differentiator’? Every company, every city, every country needs one. Some cities never bother asking that question, and they sink. Of course, you need to do more than ask the question – you need to answer it wisely and then implement the answer. Pittsburgh has done that. It is a thriving vibrant city, with a vigorous cultural life, many young people who flock to the high-quality universities and stay after they graduate, and strong political leadership.