By Audrey Russo, Council President and CEO
The legacy of Pittsburgh is well-documented, and I am certainly not the first to profess the immense importance of diversity in any community. But oddly, Pittsburgh’s transformation as a powerhouse economy by 1940 was launched by a city that attracted thousands of European immigrants, as well as national migration from bustling East Coast cities. In less than 50 years, between 1870 and 1920, the population of Pittsburgh quadrupled to 588,500, which is almost 30 percent greater than what the city is today!
This region became a replica of European village life, some of which is revitalized today and much of which remains tattered by the depletion of business vitality. Amidst all of this are incredibly smart people who are working on changing the world through design and experimentation of potentially disruptive technologies. Yes, right here. Emerging technology is wide and deep in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Local companies are impacting quality of life for people with neurological impairments. Our innovators are developing early disease diagnosis, designing robotics for those without limbs and providing mobility for those who face the confines of dialysis. People who represent the smartest minds in the world are behind these technologies. But we still struggle to attract and retain global talent. It is through diversity that we will reinvent this region and once again create the greatest impact to the world.
So why does all this matter? The arrival and attraction of immigrants, who possess a spectrum of skills and competencies, help cities to thrive. Those that aren’t magnets for immigrants shrivel, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in its review, “Caught in the Middle,” by Richard C. Longworth. The nation’s most successful regions are vibrant with people coming from all over the world.
Look at Silicon Valley. Anna Lee Saxenian, Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley, who published “Brain Circulation: How High-Skill Immigration Makes Everyone Better Off.” According to Saxenian, by the end of the 1990s, Chinese and Indian engineers were running 29 percent of Silicon Valley’s technology businesses. By 2000, these companies collectively accounted for more than $19.5 billion in sales and 72,839 jobs.
Our region has negligibly grown its foreign-born population. According to U.S. Census 2000 data, the foreign-born population in the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area numbered 62,286, or 2.6 percent of the total population. Compared to 2.4 percent of the regional population in 1990, the percentage of foreign-born population increased for the first time in at least 50 years, according to a 2002 Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly article.
It is necessary to create a diverse climate and begin diminishing, if not eradicating, old, closed-minded habits. We will not thrive if we do not approach commerce through the global window. What is required is a major change in mindset and the manner in which we welcome international immigrants into our communities.
There are a number of actions we can take immediately.
Join me in achieving a target of bringing 5,000 people a year, over the next five years to live and work in this region.
Take more risks on ideas; create more of a hotbed of investment activity here.
Recruit from our universities that already attract top-tiered international students, and retain these well-trained foreign-born grads (such as CMU’s Project Olympus).
Create a sense of community/security for highly skilled talent already in the region, and use existing partners (e.g., TiE, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Global Pittsburgh and the PRA) as leverage.
Attract international commerce to and from this region for our technology companies.
This is an issue that can only be solved by those committed to leading and helping to eradicate the obstacles. The Pittsburgh Technology Council can and will play a dramatic role. The Council already is working to attract more job seekers to our career site
(http://careers.pghtech.org), and the number of open positions is steadily increasing. We already see an increase in traffic thanks to partners who understand that part of our message is collaborating and articulating the opportunities.
The success of our tech industry, which will fuel this economy, is directly hinged to accessing the world’s most talented people. I want your thoughts, and more importantly, your leadership in this crucial matter. Make this your priority.
To show my passion and commitment to this important matter, TEQ has reprinted this article in Mandarin, Spanish and Hindi. I’d like to thank Council member OnePlanet Corporation for its help in expertly translating this article.
I always welcome your thoughts, so do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.