Newcomers arriving in Pittsburgh by air or by land – and especially by way of the Fort Pitt Tunnel – are often shocked by the vibrancy that emerges before them. Now a colorful mix of culture, arts and innovation, the images of the sepia-toned rust-belt town have long since disappeared.
Broad job opportunities, low cost of living and high quality of life make this region a smart choice for everyone from college grads to families.
The shores of the Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers, once lined with mills and warehouses, have been reinvented: Technology hubs, research labs and state-of-the art skyscrapers share space with riverfront trails that meander past two new sports stadiums and through burgeoning entertainment and food scenes. Excitement extends beyond Downtown, with revitalization breathing new life into the city’s 90 neighborhoods, each with its own unique character, shaped by Pittsburgh’s rich history. From hip and trendy to quiet and secluded, this region’s diverse districts accommodate any lifestyle.
On one hand, there are urban neighborhoods like Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. “Lawrenceville, the North Side and the Strip District remain hot neighborhoods,” says Susan Sadowski, President of Relocation Horizons, Inc., a division of Howard Hanna Real Estate Company. “Developers continue to invest in retail, restaurants, office space and entertainment in these areas.”
For those looking for more elbowroom, the region’s expansive suburbs strike a perfect balance between green space and new development. “Outside the city, new construction still remains strong in the northern suburbs of Cranberry Township, Adams Township and Mars,” says Tracy Young, Director of Relocation at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty. In the south, she sites growth in Peters Township, Bridgeville and Upper St. Clair. “Top-tier education systems and ever-growing commercial developments contribute to why these suburbs remain popular,” she suggests.
Each township, borough or municipality has its own distinct personality. “Clients are often surprised to learn about all the different types of neighborhoods here,” Sadowski says. “We have to listen carefully to a client’s priority – be it schools, easy access to work, or close to Downtown and nightlife.”
Young agrees, noting the importance of providing extensive tours so transferees see firsthand the nuances of all these different neighborhoods, “We listen to the clients specific wants and needs and then introduce them to neighborhoods that meet those needs so they can experience them for themselves,” Young says.
No matter which neighborhood newcomers land in, they are bound to feel welcome. “We are a big city with a small-town feel,” Young reflects. “Pittsburgh has everything you could ever need – shopping, restaurants, attractions, incredible sports teams – with an unparalleled sense of community that you typically only find in small towns. But what makes it a great place to live, in my opinion, is the people.”
Long Live Livability
The region certainly has come a long way since 1985 when Pittsburgh was first proclaimed by Rand McNally as America’s “Most Livable City.” Back then, people around the country were bemused by the distinction. But today, it’s a shock if the city doesn’t make it on a list of just about any type of ranking – be it best metro area for STEM professionals, most kid-friendly city, best cities for foodies, or the best city for active lifestyles.
Forbes.com recently listed Pittsburgh among the top cities that give the most bang for your buck. That’s because Pittsburgh is an affordable city that offers the amenities of a megalopolis, but with added stability. With an average home price of $116,400 (the national average is $171,700) and a cost of living that is 12.2 percent below the U.S. average, Pittsburgh is among one of only five U.S. cities where less than $1,000 a month can buy a home, or that the median home price is $140,000 with a required salary of about $32,000. “The affordable cost of living has always been a draw for people moving into the region,” says Sadowski.
Affordability is particularly attractive to graduates moving out of dorm rooms armed with freshly minted college degrees. Despite a strong job market, college grads launching a career find that a good job offer lands them in a pricey housing market. While they might earn more in hubs like New York and San Francisco, fewer people can afford to buy a house or an apartment. “There is such a vast difference between what you can get here and what you can get in Silicon Valley, for example,” suggests Linda Topoleski, VP of Workforce Operations & Programs for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
She says Pittsburgh companies are highlighting cost of living to attract young employees, and that message is being heard loud and clear. According to a study by LendingTree, millennials make up 49 percent of all home mortgage requests in the Pittsburgh region, second only to Boston. These young homebuyers are at the forefront of a growing nationwide trend of young buyers returning to the housing market.
“Beyond housing, cost of living is about what you have left in your wallet after you pay your mortgage or your landlord. Say you want to travel. You can afford to do so,” adds Topoleski, who knows that type of affordability is important not just to millennials but at any stage of life.
Never a Dull Moment
About Pittsburgh president, Dana Fortun concurs that a one-size-fits all report about cost of living doesn’t tell the whole story. “Everyone who relocates here is an individual with a unique lifestyle.” She says her organization’s 90 percent success rate in helping companies attract the talent isn’t just because of her organization’s expertise. “It’s because of the city itself and all it has to offer. There is something for everyone.” Indeed, there is, be it baseball or ballet, singing or skiing, parks or performances.
“I don’t think people expect it to be so ‘cool,’” Young admits. “Despite the national attention Pittsburgh gets, visitors still tend to believe it’s an old, dusty rust-belt city. Once they see the trendy, five-star restaurants, lively arts and culture scene, beautiful parks and an abundance of things to do, they quickly change their minds. Add to that Pittsburgh’s housing affordability and clients never want to leave!”
Pittsburgh has no shortage of culture to explore. Downtown’s 14-block Cultural District features six theaters offering some 1,500 shows a year put on by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Public Theater, among others. And more than ever, culture seekers can peruse downtown art galleries and retail shops, and sample what is fast becoming one of the country’s best food scenes.
Since Zagat named Pittsburgh the best food city in 2015, the city continues to climb the culinary charts, according to the financial data site Smart Asset. It suggests the great thing about Pittsburgh – other than 43 restaurants per 10,000 residents (third-most in the country) and 5.5 community-supported agriculture and farmers’ markets per 100,000 residents (sixth-most in the country) – is the prices. Relative to other large cities, especially those in its top 10, they say diners can get a good deal in Pittsburgh.
With access to affordable, fresh and local ingredients, chef-driven cuisine is flourishing in the region as well. The food scene is even taking a cue from the city’s tech incubators with places like Smallman Galley and Federal Galley – two restaurants where a class of chefs showcase their cooking for 18 months, paying no rent. The hope is that they’ll build a following and create their own restaurants. These cutting-edge restaurants coexist with classics like The Carlton and Tassaro’s, ending the era when Pittsburghers and visitors complained that there are few choices for a great meal.
And thanks to Pittsburgh’s diverse landscape, it’s just as easy to find a great way to work off all those extra calories. With miles of trails to trek, mountains to climb, and rivers to row, WalletHub just ranked Pittsburgh the seventh best city for an active lifestyle. Their analysts looked at 30 key indicators of an active lifestyle ranging from “average monthly fitness-club fee” to “bike score” to “share of physically inactive residents.”
An abundance of green space is found inside the metro-area: The Three Rivers Heritage Trail’s 24-mile riverfront system; 2,000 acres of parkland; and 800 acres of open space for the public to enjoy. Add to that the surrounding regions that are home to countless county and state parks, ski resorts, golf courses, lakes and streams.
And for those who prefer spectator sports, it doesn’t get any better than the City of Champions – so named during the late 1970s for the seven titles won in nine years and again during the late 2000s for three titles in four years. With three major professional sports franchises, the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins, plus the universities competing in the highest level of collegiate athletics in the United States, in both football and basketball – that knick name will likely stick around for a while.
All that and Brains too?
With more than 60 colleges and universities, including research and development leaders Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, the city also earns praise for its smart population. For years, Pittsburgh saw a big outflow of talent, which is typical for a city with a large number of university grads and a small number of job openings, but Pittsburgh’s been countering that trend. “In the past, the vast majority of graduates were going to the west coast,” says Topoleski. “But universities are now retaining 50 percent of students.”
Ask Luis von Ahn, CEO and co-founder of Duolingo, who first came to Pittsburgh from Guatamala in 2000 to begin his PhD in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. “I sold two companies to Google while still in my 20s, and after that, I spent two years working at Google in both Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley. I enjoyed working in both locations, but when it came time to go off on my own and start Duolingo, I felt that Pittsburgh was the best location for our headquarters.”
In his company’s early days, he was able to retain several highly talented graduates from CMU, who had already been in Pittsburgh for a few years and wanted to continue living here,” he recollects. “I’m proud that we’re a Pittsburgh-based company and continue to stick to our roots here.”
In addition to Pittsburgh’s top-tier education institutions, Pittsburgh’s secondary schools – both private and public – are highly regarded and an important factor to those relocating with younger children. “School districts are always a driving factor when helping people decide where to live,” Young says. “Fortunately, Pittsburgh has several top-rated, nationally recognized school districts and a plethora of school guides and resources.”
Fortun adds that unlike in other regions, families here can find top schools that are close to Downtown. “There isn’t just one good school district. There are a lot of options – many of which are within a 35-minute commute Downtown – versus cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and Atlanta where people move to the suburbs for a good school but have an hour commute to their job.”
Connecting People to Opportunity
Highly ranked schools or low cost of living means little to those relocating to Pittsburgh if job opportunities aren’t here. The good news is, with its diversified economy and consistent demand in healthcare as well as its service sectors, our region shows no signs of slowing in 2019. The nation’s fifth-largest bank, eight Fortune 500 companies, and six of the top 300 U.S. law firms make their global headquarters in the Pittsburgh area, while RAND, BNY Mellon, Nova, FedEx, Bayer and NIOSH have regional bases that helped Pittsburgh become the sixth-best area for U.S. job growth.
Google, Apple, Bosch, Facebook, Nokia, Autodesk, and IBM are among 1,600 technology firms generating $20.7 billion in annual Pittsburgh payrolls. The area has served as the long-time federal agency headquarters for cyber defense, software engineering, robotics, energy research and the nuclear navy. Pittsburgh has also gained momentum as a center for autonomous vehicles, with Uber and Ford both setting up operations there to tap talent at Carnegie Mellon.
“Opportunities abound for new graduates, workers ready to step into leadership roles, and those looking to learn new skills and try something new,” says Topoleski. In fact, over the next ten years, the Pittsburgh Region will require 34,000 new workers each year as older generations retire and new jobs are created.
To help young and mid-career workers take advantage of these regional opportunities today and for years to come, the Allegheny Conference commissioned research that led to the Inflection Point report. It found that within 10 years, the region’s workforce will look dramatically different than it does today as a result of a wave of Baby Boomer retirements, occupational transitions and economic growth.
“The future of work in the region represents an enormous challenge for employers, but it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for existing workers and our up-and-coming workforce found in K-12 and post-secondary education,” said Bill Demchak, Chairman, President and CEO of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. Demchak is also chair of the Allegheny Conference and its Workforce Strategy. “The region’s workforce will be undergoing a dramatic transformation – one that has already begun. Technology is a big driver of this change, and it’s redefining the skills needed to be successful on the job. Every employer and worker must keep pace with this rapid change to remain competitive. We are at a critical moment for the future of our region.”
The report found that agile, energetic workers willing to embrace technology and learn new skills will be well-positioned to command good jobs and salaries in high-demand occupational clusters such as Information Technology, Business and Finance, Engineering, Science and Production and Healthcare.
Topoleski says that this is an opportunity not just for the person relocating, but also the trailing spouses and family members. “There is a thickness of opportunity here now, that makes relocating here much more appealing,” she explains. The Conference is working with companies and universities to connect people to those opportunities. “The universities are very engaged in workforce strategies. Since we put out the Inflection Point report, we have a robust response from the higher education community where they have started to change their majors, some of the curriculum in their majors and their approach based on what they know employers now demand in terms of work skills.” She sites, for example, a psychology major who takes data science courses. “We are brokering relationships between universities and employers so that students are prepared when they get out of school in four years.”
Sadowski credits the Allegheny Conference’s efforts to promote Pittsburgh with keeping Howard Hanna’s relocation division busy. “Add to that, the new startup companies and growth from companies like Google and UPMC, along with banks and other corporations that are investing in new talent and bringing people to Pittsburgh.”
Fortun points out that it’s not just the willingness of companies, universities and organizations to collaborate, but the willingness of individuals to help their friends and neighbors. “If we are working with someone in the banking industry and their spouse happens to be a litigation attorney, then we most likely know someone in that industry and pick up the phone and make a call. Pittsburgh people make time. It’s who we are.”
When people ask Fortun how Pittsburgh has continued to succeed, despite the odds, her response is always the same: “It’s the people. It’s the collaboration between the corporate, private and public sectors who put their heads together in the seventies, and who worked together again during the recession in 2008,” she says. “Everyone did their part and did it proudly. We pull together. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. Even though we are moving forward and changing and progressing, that base will be forever embedded in Pittsburgh.”
Over the years, Pittsburgh has indeed reinvented itself and evolved into what Young calls a modern mecca. “With world-class healthcare, a robust arts and cultural district, award-winning restaurants and top-ranking school districts, it’s no wonder why people want to relocate to Pittsburgh.” NH