- Pittsburgh was named a finalist to land Amazon's HQ2.
- Many larger cities were named finalists.
- But Pittsburgh offers a package the others can't match.
About the only thing that could break through what has been a days-long period of sports-induced depression in the Steel City after the Steelers shocked the world and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars around the same time the Pirates sold off their two greatest stars was news that broke early Thursday morning.
Pittsburgh was named a finalist for Amazon's much-desired second headquarters.
Sure, the city is up against 19 other finalists, including places like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto that offer big-city benefits. But none can offer the total package that Pittsburgh has at its disposal.
Trust me, I'm from there. But others have come to similar conclusions. The New York Times columnist James Stewart named Pittsburgh his top choice in October, while a Moody's study from the same month found it to be the second-best choice based on six broad categories.
The city has come a long way from its roots as the nation's steel capital with the eventual demise of the industry. Once a smog-filled mill town, Pittsburgh has reinvented itself in recent decades as a medical, educational, and, more recently, growing tech hub in the Rust Belt region.
As Geekwire noted last year, Pittsburgh's tech sector grew by 24% from 2011 to 2016, while major tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Uber already have large presences in the city. Amazon itself maintains a corporate office in the city, and some of the company's top executives have close ties to the city and its universities (and at least one is apparently a huge Steelers fan).
The city provides the company with one of its most coveted needs: a major university system to help fill some of the 50,000 jobs it plans on creating. Carnegie Mellon University is at the forefront of that discussion.
CMU is already working closely with Uber and has helped turn Pittsburgh into a hub for the advancement of self-driving-car technology. Last year, US News and World Report rated the university as the fifth-best graduate school in the US for tech talent. And the much larger University of Pittsburgh provides some top-tier talent in its own right. Census figures show that Pittsburgh's college-educated workforce is growing at a faster rate than that of the rest of the nation, as Mayor Bill Peduto has highlighted in his pitch to the company.
Then there is the affordability aspect. While megacities such as New York and Boston are among the most expensive cities in the country, Pittsburgh finds itself as one of the least expensive options Amazon is considering, in terms of both costs to the company and costs to employees in search of housing and entertainment. The Times called it "a bargain."
This has allowed for Pittsburgh to crush it in viral city rankings. WalletHub has ranked the city as its third-best city in America to live, Money Magazine rated it the top city in the Northeast, Glassdoor rated it the top city for job-seekers, SmartAsset labeled it the second-best city for college graduates, and CNBC rated it the second-best city for millennials.
And the city is also able to provide Amazon with another one of its biggest needs — plenty of locations to choose from. Local developers have provided Amazon roughly 20 options, with several of the sites being substantial in size.
You might have to get used to hearing 'Amazahn'
Amazon would quickly become part of the city's DNA in a way it wouldn't be able to in places like Washington, DC, or Miami. Creating 50,000 jobs would make it a preeminent figure in a city that is uncharacteristically loyal to the entities that represent it. It would become part of Pittsburgh's urban fabric, much as it is in Seattle.
As Stewart wrote in The Times, Pittsburgh is "rich in underutilized historic buildings and neighborhoods that could be imaginatively repurposed, offering Amazon the opportunity to be a transformative force, something that seems to be part of the company's DNA."
Pittsburgh's main drawback is that, unlike other contenders, it is not a major transportation hub. But as Stewart noted, that could change. Pittsburgh used to be a huge hub for US Air, and the infrastructure is in place for the city's airport to add major flights. If Amazon were to come to the city, it would be all the more incentive to offer those flights.
City executives, who have made a lengthy, concentrated push to land HQ2, held a news conference almost immediately after word that the city was a finalist broke. Hey, it's been a tough few days in Pittsburgh, and people were looking for some good news. The city appears to have a clear shot at landing the titan.
It may not be long before Amazon — or Amazahn, as it will certainly be called in a thick, Pittsburghese accent — becomes as Pittsburgh as the "Stillers," french fries on a sandwich, or Heinz (and never Hunt's) ketchup.
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