What does it mean for any city or region to transform from a “post-industrial city into an innovation powerhouse”? That phrase is the tagline on a series of stories being developed and posted this month (end of January through February 2018) by Geekwire, which has parachuted from Seattle into Pittsburgh, piggybacking on the media circus surrounding the Amazon competition for its second headquarters, the so-called HQ2. Pittsburgh has submitted a bid; it’s made Amazon’s first cut; the nominal buzz is that Pittsburgh’s post-industrial, CMU-led robotics-and-tech credibility makes it both a plausible Amazon player and a fair stand-in for post-industrial renewal generally. After steel, le déluge, so to speak. In this case, that’s a good thing. Take that, Madame de Pompadeur!
So far, Geekwire hasn’t impressed; the Pittsburgh exotic rather than the Pittsburgh ordinaire has dominated its coverage (“What is this Pittsburgh-ese that they seem to speak?“). But these are early signs. Let us hope that there is better reporting – deeper, more engaged critically – to come. Pittsburgh is no “innovation powerhouse” today – not yet at any rate. The top-down tone of both public and private sectors is too pronounced and too assertive when it comes to Pittsburgh’s hits and misses; C-suites and their agents try to lead the news and are doing their best, I know, to guide what Geekwire sees. The innovation-and-entrepreneurship culture doesn’t yet have the organic inertia of, say, Denver, or Austin, or even Nashville. (Did I hear someone say a thriving city has a vibrant, public, bottom-up arts culture to complement a vibrant, public, bottom-up business culture? Hmmm.) Some readers here may remember that this theme – “what does it take to re-establish a region’s confidence in itself?” – was my topic at an earlier blog, Pittsblog, for nearly 10 years (2003-2011). In the spirit of helping along both Geekwire and observers of a similar cast of mind (“what’s strong and weak about the state of Pittsburgh today?”), both local and national, I’m going to re-post a few of Pittsblog’s proverbial greatest hits. Right or wrong, I’m mostly sticking by my guns.
The following, for example, is from an April 2011 post titled “Removing Barriers: Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Pittsburgh.” I’ve edited it here and there to remove out-of-date references. In spirit and substance, however, I’m confident that it’s just as true today as it was in 2011. Is that a good thing? Continue reading