A generation ago, the steel industry that built Pittsburgh and still dominated its economy entered its death throes. In the early 1980s, the city was being talked about the way Detroit is now. Its very survival was in question.
Entrepreneurship bloomed in computer software and biotechnology. Two of the biggest sectors are education and health care, among the most resistant to downturns. Prominent companies are doing well. Westinghouse Electric, a builder of nuclear reactors, expects to hire 350 new employees a year for the foreseeable future. And commercial construction, plunging in most places, is still thriving partly because of big projects like a casino and an arena for the Penguins hockey team.
With the recent debates on whether or not to bailout Detroit’s automakers, who’s industry-much like the old steel industry-is in need of major reform, Pittsburgh should serve as an example. Places like Detroit and other cities once buoyed by old line manufacturing industries must adapt and reform to survive what is inevitable. No one is guaranteed a job for life, but if folks are motivated and encouraged to to adapt to an ever-changing world economy, making themselves employable for life–things would work out a lot better.