Why Pittsburgh is becoming a boomtown

Proximity to new oil and natural gas sites is drawing interest from abroad and fueling the city's economic and population growth.

By Jason Notte May 31, 2013 7:05AM
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (copyright Jack Hollingsworth/Corbis)The Primanti Bros. sandwiches are still stuffed with french fries, the Iron City beer still flows, the Andy Warhol museum is still open, the Pirates are (for now) still above .500 and the Penguins are in hockey's Eastern Conference Finals.

Life is pretty good in Pittsburgh right now, and more folks from abroad want a piece of that good life for themselves.

Cost-of-living data company AIRINC recently put Pittsburgh on its "cities to watch" list after businesses in other countries started asking for data. As CNNMoney notes, oil companies including Conoco Philips (COP), Hess (HES), Devon Energy (DVN), Marathon (MARA), Anadarko Petroleum (APC), Murphy Oil (MUR) and Noble Energy (NBL) have been divesting their foreign holdings and setting up shop in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S.

That puts Pittsburgh in a good position to pull in some of the $5 trillion expected to be invested in U.S. shale oil and other "unconventional" energy developments by 2035, according to consultancy IHS.

While 1.7 million people currently work in or around the new energy-rich areas opened up by hydraulic fracturing and other extraction methods, IHS expects the energy sector to directly or indirectly support 3.5 million American jobs by 2035. CNNMoney adds that energy companies from China, France, Spain and elsewhere are also investing in regions of the U.S. rich in oil and natural gas.

That's good news for a town just getting used to hearing some. From 1950 to 2010, Pittsburgh's population declined steadily, from nearly 677,000 to close to 306,000, as the city's industrial base withered and jobs dried up. In the past few years, however, Census data indicate the city is growing for the first time since the 1940s.

Pittsburgh's gross domestic product has increased by roughly $10 billion in the past five years as it transitions from manufacturing dependence to a more multifaceted economy. Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and its medical center provide much of the job base, despite the industrial presence of U.S. Steel (X) and PPG Industries (PPG).

The city is also bolstered by finance companies such as PNC Financial Services (PNC) and 1,600 tech companies, including Google (GOOG).

After decades of playing the fading, "Flashdance" underdogs, the Yinzers of Pittsburgh are now living in America's newest boomtown. It's been a long wait, but the world's powers are on the city's doorstep if it wants to let them in.

More on moneyNOW

May 31, 2013 11:38AM

Welcome PNC Financial Services? Perhaps the author is not aware that the PNC stands, or stood for Pittsburgh National Bank.......It was the Mellons packed up and left town...


Cheers for a nice article on my old hometown. Great place!

May 31, 2013 2:15PM
Pittsburgh is an absolutely stunning and beautiful city!  This city is surrounded by mountains, and rivers!  The two rivers, The Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, flow into the Ohio River!  this is a city full of bridges and tunnels!  Immigrants built houses on the sides of mountains!  Mt. Washington, which overlooks the city, is just breathtaking! If you ever get a chance to visit, take a ride on the incline to Mt. Washington.  "The Burgh" is one of the best kept secrets in the travel business!
May 31, 2013 12:16PM
The reason Pittsburgh population has declined is because it has moved out to the suburbs to get away from city taxes. Check the census data MSN. If you live in a city run continuously by democrats since the 30's obviously the taxes are going to be a problem. Not surprising MSN ignored that fact.
May 31, 2013 1:00PM
I love Pgh. It was my stomping grounds way back when. The Pirates have the best hat in baseball. I was there for the last game at Forbes Field. I helped build PNC Park. They are over 500,but we'll see what happens. The Steelers have the best helmet in football. They'll get another ring. What can I say about the Penguins? I used to take dates to games. They'll get another Cup. The best hospitals are there. I'm now disabled. If I could afford to live there again I would gladly move back. I love Pittsburgh.
May 31, 2013 12:32PM
I live in the burgh and I can tell you that yes, it is growing very slowly here. New industries want to move in but the democratically run governments will chase them away because of the union bosses putting their hands out for their strong arm tactics. The hell with the members, is the tone for unions in Pittsburgh just keep paying your dues. They have no concept of being a global market player, it's all or none and none is what most companies are saying. They film movies here but no one sees any money from it. Casinos to help you lighten your wallet too. 
May 31, 2013 1:01PM

As a long time resident of Pittsburgh, I love this city.  Pittsburgh has worked hard to change it's industry and has been very successful.  The people of Pittsburgh are ready for growth, but our local government and unions will cause many companies to move to other cities.  It is a shame as the people of Pittsburgh are great and deserve better.

May 31, 2013 12:47PM
population growth within city limits is a terrible way to determine Pittsburgh's success. many, many people have moved just outside of city limits to avoid the high taxes, and Pittsburgh's city limits are very limited - with some neighborhoods located within the city refusing to by annexed (i.e. Edgewood and I believe Mt. Oliver for 2 examples). Pittsburgh has been 'back' by any measurable means besides population growth for quite a while now with technology, medicine, and academia leading the way. and previous commentors suggest the pittsburgh's 'neighborhoods are getting worse'? virtually no data to prove that and everyone in the city knows pittsburgh is experiencing an 'anti-white flight' movement with many city neighborhoods being revitalized rapidly.  Look at East Liberty - now a center for culture and new business/ residential development. Look at Lawrenceville - teeming with business/ restaurants/ bars (not to mention skyrocketing rent rates for refurbished lofts)
May 31, 2013 12:43PM

I love Pittsburgh - I don't live there but I love to visit it.  There are so many things to do and see.  We go every June for a weekend.  One of my favorite places :)

May 31, 2013 12:19PM
I wish the people of the Burgh the best. As for me when I retired I got out as fast as I could. The city government sucks, the neighborhoods are getting worse and a quarter to park for 71/2 minutes.
May 31, 2013 3:48PM

Pittsburgh has people that live in the city only because the road system is so antiquated and complicated that they can't figure out how to drive out of town.

May 31, 2013 3:58PM
LIved in Pittsburgh most of my life. Took a job in South Florida a few yeas back, but vacation every year in the "Burg. Great place, beautiful city, just didn't like the winters. Otherwise, and great cost of living, relatively safe place to live, and plenty to do.

Surprised it took so long for companies to see this.

Go Stillers!
May 31, 2013 6:06PM
Yup and all the scum will migrate to Pittsburgh and ruin a good thing.  The prices will go up but the wages won't.  The same thing is happening in North Dakota.  The oil boom has ruin what used to be a nice, safe, quiet place to live.
May 31, 2013 3:05PM

Born and raised there, left in 75 for Texas.  The Burg has seen some remarkable change over the years, but it is headed for disaster with the Democratic controlled government and it's archaic unions.

Those two entities destroyed Detroit & Chicago and same will happen to Pittsburgh in time. Democrats just have no vision for good growth and are inherently corrupt....Just keep watching the decay.....All major cities that have democrats in charge for a long time have been spiraling down. Don't believe it, look at the sewer in Washington created by the Dems. It just an undeniable fact of live.

May 31, 2013 1:45PM
May 31, 2013 3:55PM
I find it interesting that so many of the detractors in the comments keep pointing to the 'Democrat' city government as being the source of all the problems the city is facing. First off, the Republicans rarely put up a tenable candidate of their own. They just throw one sacrificial lamb after another into the elections. If the Republican party wants a seat at the table they have to get serious about their candidates. Second, the population seems to like their Democrats but it's worth keeping in mind that the affiliation often seems to be pro forma rather than being a strong indicator of what the policies and positions of the candidate will be. As for the taxes - the great thing about this country is that if you don't like how something is in your neighborhood you are more than free to move somewhere else.  As it is, more people seem to think that living in the city of Pittsburgh is worth the additional taxes in order to reap the benefits of a pretty comfortable urban lifestyle.

Oh, and I don't think the unions, taxes, or anything else are keeping businesses out of Pittsburgh. In fact, it looks like a lot of businesses are moving or starting in Pittsburgh. There has been a steady growth of the number of new businesses within city limits for the past 5 years. That's not bad considering what happened to the global economy 5 years ago. Is Pittsburgh a union town? Yes, in some ways, but not anywhere near to the degree that some people posting here seem to think it is. Union membership in the city has been declining for decades now. Outside of a few industries there just isn't that much presence here anymore.

Jun 5, 2013 3:41PM
The secret is out. Now everyone is gonna know about my hometown and why a Pittsburgher is a Pittsburgher for life.  It's more than just our sports teams... It's a lifestyle. I just hope a "boom" in the population doesn't change the hard-working, blue collar, ethnic diversity of this beautiful American city. There is a strange kinda "pride" that comes when I state I was born in Pittsburgh, PA.  A strong moral fiber of God, Country, and Family that only another native Pittsburgher can understand.  
Jun 4, 2013 9:58AM
Good news!  I can appreciate that because I am a real estate agent.  While the market here didn't crash like many other cities, it is good to see more potential in the "executive" housing market.  Bash the Unions if you want, but its Union members that are the backbone of the city because they at least have the wages necessary to buy a house and enough discretionary income to buy season tickets, attend other cultural events and support the economy.  Minimum wage earners can't afford to do that.
Jun 3, 2013 2:17AM
I am from a small town south of Pittsburgh.  I have lived in many cities and small towns all over the country (employment) and some international.  I come back to Pittsburgh twice a year because I love this city.  My parents marveled at the change of the city since my relatives worked in steel mills there.  It is beautiful. 

I guess some of us just fall in love with what we experienced as children; the mountains, rivers, miles of rolling hills and even the snow. The history in the state is probably the most of any US state  I have ever lived or visited. Yes, there were places that were as beautiful as this area but I guess I take ownership of growing up there and hiking through those hills and seeing those mountain streams. Proud of Pittsburgh.
May 31, 2013 7:11PM
Relatives of mine got jobs there last year, but I do think they miss their home state.  When you come from a southern clime, I guess it's hard to get used to northern weather.
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