While I was enjoying the cool breezes and rough seas of Ocean City, NJ last week, a major story broke about Amazon looking for a location for its second headquarters in the U.S. Cities competing for this lucrative prize, which includes $5 billion of investment and potentially up to 50,000 jobs, include Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, even Brooklyn, NY.
The New York Times made the case that Denver, Colorado would be the ideal city for Amazon’s second HQ based on Amazon’s criteria, which include a stable business climate, a growing, relevant labor pool, a high quality of life, mass transit, the space for the campus and willingness to provide incentives.
I’d like to throw my support behind Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Significantly, the city and Allegheny County region boast a strong tech community built around Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University and a wealthy group of foundations that provide capital that drives this tech engine. (I’ve long heard about the necessity of private equity managers visiting the ‘Burgh’s tight group of investors while on the fundraising trail).
In 2016, venture firms invested $235.1 million in Pittsburgh-area companies, up from $217.4 million in 2015, according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Venture capital investment has been modest compared to the big Hubs, but significant for an area outside the well-trodden tech corridors.
The city has also welcomed several big tech names over the years, including Apple, Uber, which chose the city as a testing ground for self-driving vehicles, Autodesk and Oculus. Many startups call the city home because of the tech infrastructure, the low cost of living and presumably the unmatchable sports environment.
Pittsburgh has an international airport and quick access to several highways. One weak point is the city’s light rail system, which is limited and should be expanded to provide access to more outlying neighborhoods, which is where much of the city’s youthful resurgence is taking place.
While the region’s population numbers remain relatively flat, a US Census report shows better-educated, higher-income young people are moving into the region. Finally, Pittsburgh is consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the US.
As a bonus, the city has 146-year-old The Original Oyster House, where you can get a massive fish sandwich, huge fried oyster and wash it all down with a cool glass of peppered buttermilk.
The city is experiencing an exciting period of growth and, you could call it, rebirth. It’s emerged from the gritty days of low-to-no employment — back when Carson Street was full of boarded-up storefronts and shady-looking dudes coming out of dive bars in the middle of the day. (While there was a lot of poverty and depression then, I can’t help but look fondly on those days sitting in my grandmother’s stuffy kitchen in the South Side listening to TV evangelists as she pounded pierogi dough with her trucker-like forearms.)
These days neighborhoods like Polish Hill and East Liberty have microbreweries and vegan restaurants. It’s been an amazing transformation. Hopefully Amazon takes a long look at the city and finds it as welcoming and exciting as I always have.
Photo: A view of downtown Pittsburgh from the Duquesne Incline on Mt. Washington September 22, 2009. The G20 Pittsburgh Summit will be held in Pittsburgh on September 24 and 25. REUTERS/David A. DeNoma (UNITED STATES CITYSCAPE BUSINESS)