John G. Craig Jr., president of Pittsburgh Regional Indicators, penned a May 16, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about many economic lessons Milwaukee could learn from Pittsburgh. All-in-all this was an admirable and informative piece. But to what ends?
The major misleading perspective of the article is its "regional" usage. Most cities and their suburbs do not have concerted efforts to attract business and maintain services - regional governance. In fact, they are usually in direct competition. [Think about the millions the City of Milwaukee spent to move Manpower from Glendale to within the City limits. Millions for no economic growth whatsoever. Merely to get Manpower on the Milwaukee tax roll. A realignment, not growth.]
So, when recommending responses to certain "regional" economic problems, who are supposed to enact these solutions? These types of comparisons are fine for Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Louisville which have regional governing bodies in place. But comparisons and recommendations beyond cities and suburbs with regional structures can be misleading. Not to mention factors such as a city's age, annexation history, etc. And, to surmise from regional data that all the underlying components of that data (city, suburb) are on the right track could be mistaken.
Pittsburgh's central city has lost 45 percent of its population since the 1970s, compared to Milwaukee losing only 20 percent. The number of employed residents in the City of Pittsburgh has declined by over 30 percent since the 1970s, 23 percent for the City of Milwaukee. And, the City of Pittsburgh population is 311,000; while the City of Milwaukee has 602,000 people. Employment growth over the last decade was -4.5 percent for the City of Pittsburgh, and -9.3 percent for the City of Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee employs about 240,000 compared to Pittsburgh's 140,000.
CityMayors just released a report showing that Pittsburgh is the most (short-term particle) polluted city. According to Men's Health, Milwaukee is the 11th fittest city, Pittsburgh ranks 25th. Milwaukee was also recently named to the Global Compact City program (water technology) of the United Nations. The indicators can go both ways depending on what we’re looking at, and where (city v. suburb).
There are many best practices that any city and suburb could follow and would most likely reap some benefits. But, for the most part, our economic development paradigm today is a zero-sum game. Benefits for one city, suburb, or region are the losses of another. This is the heart of the matter we must address if we want healthy growth for our cities, suburbs, and regions.
For Further Reading:
Doing Development Right
Nudging Away Nonsense