PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Pittsburgh is hoping the world’s most powerful leaders will see more than the city’s quaint funicular trains and picturesque rivers when they meet here in September.
City leaders hope their selection for the Group of 20 summit signals recognition that in difficult economic times the city has turned from a suffering steel-making center into a modern hub of education, medicine and technology.
“Our economy is one that’s being looked at worldwide, because of our ability to renew ourselves,” said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “The G20 coming to Pittsburgh makes it official — Pittsburgh is back on top.”
Announcing the selection of Pittsburgh to host the two-day summit, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama wanted to highlight its accomplishments.
“It’s an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past, but because of foresight and investment is now renewed, giving birth to renewed industries that are creating the jobs of the future,” Gibbs said at a May 28 briefing.
When in Pittsburgh, world leaders will continue to coordinate recovery of the global economy. But an emerging issue to be discussed is the need for a post-crisis “exit strategy” for cutting public deficits being run up by developed nations through huge stimulus packages.
Pittsburgh was rated America’s most livable city in 2007 by “Places Rated Almanac,” which had given it the same honor in 1985.
Last month, The Economist also bestowed Pittsburgh with the same “most livable” honor among U.S. cities and, in January, Forbes magazine listed Pittsburgh among the 10 top U.S. cities for job growth in 2009.
With Obama as host of the G20 summit, Pittsburgh will deploy about 4,000 police officers for the thousands of delegates, journalists and protesters expected to converge on the city for the meeting of leaders, finance ministers and central bank governors on September 24-25.
Activists this time plan to demonstrate for a global jobs program. Some previous G20 protests have turned violent.
The G20 members are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The city’s downtown is situated at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet and form the Ohio River. It is framed by hills with sweeping views.
In the early 20th century, Pittsburgh was home to the giant U.S. Steel Corp., created by Andrew Carnegie from several steelmakers, and produced as much as half of the nation’s steel. The skies and streets were dark and gritty from the smoke of mills and factories.
By the 1960s U.S. steelmakers were burdened with outmoded and inefficient operations, high labor costs and legacy costs associated with unionized labor, and they were losing market share to highly competitive steelmakers in Asia.
Layoffs became common and by the 1970s, U.S. Steel and others began shutting their mills.
Thanks to the efforts of businesses, public-private development partnerships and publicly subsidized downtown redevelopment efforts in place to this day, the city’s businesses, neighborhoods and people adapted.
Engineering and manufacturing company American Bridge was sold four times before its fifth and current owner, the Ing Family Trust, with the management of a small cadre of veteran AB workers, began to turn the shrunken company around. AB now works on some of the world’s most impressive bridge and port projects, including the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
U.S. Steel recently made cuts in its work force but is once again one of the nation’s largest and most profitable steelmakers. It employs about 4,000 people locally.
Despite the progress, not everything is rosy. The city government has its finances under supervision of a state board to help it become solvent, and its pension obligations are underfunded.
Today the city of 310,000 people boasts an award-winning “green” convention center and a revitalized downtown. It has the National Aviary, several Carnegie Museums, Andy Warhol Museum, new sports stadiums, a symphony orchestra and two champion sports teams — the National Football League’s Steelers and the National Hockey League’s Penguins.
The city’s early industrial wealth helped its evolution, said Jake Haulk, president of the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
Industrial giants such as Carnegie, inventor George Westinghouse, H.J. Heinz and others helped to create and sustain academic, research and cultural institutions.
“Pittsburgh was fortunate, because of a lot of old money that was here, which gave the city a head start in healthcare and education. Not many cities this size have so many great colleges,” Haulk said.
Some of the strongest economic drivers have been the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, PNC Bank and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, along with several healthcare-related businesses.
The city also has had a vital engineering and design sector, its banking industry is strong and its real estate has not experienced the dramatic price swings of other markets.
Other major U.S. cities that relied heavily on manufacturing jobs and are struggling today — Detroit, Michigan; Akron, Ohio; Gary, Indiana — may not have the same benefits.
Smaller cities near Pittsburgh that also once relied on Big Steel have not been so fortunate either. Places such as McKeesport and Ambridge boomed in the mid-20th century as steel-making jobs lured workers from around the world but have seen serious declines as the steel industry moved elsewhere.
“The folks in Pittsburgh stuck it out and stayed,” said Michael Edwards, head of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “Folks in Detroit shouldn’t abandon it.”
Pittsburgh is constantly reinventing itself, and its ongoing innovation has created a diverse community, said Glenn Greene, a local stained-glass artist.
“There’s a good balance of working-class and sophistication here, so it’s more even-headed than other places,” he said.