Is Pittsburgh a Globally Fluent City?

The Brookings Institution has developed a framework to determine cities’ global fluency. “The 10 Traits of Globally Fluent Metro Areas” defines global fluency as “the level of global understanding, competence, practice and reach that a metro area exhibits in an increasingly interconnected global economy.” The traits can be used to evaluate metro areas’ global position as constructed by their strengths and weaknesses.

Although the measures of global fluency are a call to action to cities in the United States, Brookings published a blog series expanding on the traits that included examples from foreign cities such as Barcelona, Toronto, Helsinki, and Brisbane. Barcelona cultivated a “compelling global identity” by integrating its assets, opportunities, and values to create a unified image. Helsinki’s “innovative capacity” expanded through investment in education, particularly science and engineering schools. The Finnish city now boasts the world’s most international patent applications per resident. A few cities in the United States including Minneapolis and Seattle were featured for their attributes of global fluency but how does Pittsburgh fit into this trend toward global awareness and participation?

When Pittsburgh hosted the G-20 summit in September 2009, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution stated in an article about Pittsburgh’s developing economy that cities such as ours need to “become more globally fluent and for national leaders to connect their big-picture policies to the fortunes of the urban areas that drive their economies.” With a variety of organizations promoting international understanding, involvement in growing industries such as health care and technology and a job market that attracts skilled immigrants, Pittsburgh certainly exhibits strengths as well as room to grow in its global fluency.

  • Leadership with a worldview

Local leaders with global awareness and networks have the ability to enhance a metro area’s global fluency. For years Pennsylvania State Governors have initiated trips around the world to countries such as Japan, Spain, and Australia to explore new markets and economic opportunities. Global partnerships brought important international events to Pittsburgh including the G-20 summit in 2009 and the One Young World Conference in 2012. Vibrant Pittsburgh, founded in 2010, is one of many organizations in the metro area that promotes diversity and fosters Pittsburgh’s global connections.

  • Legacy of Global Orientation

History and geographic location of certain cities make them more naturally involved in global affairs. In the past, Pittsburgh was known as an important inland port and world leader in glass manufacturing. An abundant supply of coal led to mass-production of iron and steel by the mid-1800s. Today, U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works still provides coke and steel for buyers all over the world.

  • Specializations with Global Reach

Economic specialization also results in more globally oriented metro areas. This means making products that the global market needs. The Pittsburgh metro area is a supplier to the world’s steel industry and has also become known for developing computer-generated language software. Products originating in Pittsburgh, such as clothing from American Eagle Outfitters or Heinz Ketchup, can be bought all over the world from Tokyo and Tel Aviv to Poland and China.

  • Adaptability to Global Dynamics

Cities that adapt well to global change while maintaining their market position are considered to be more globally fluent. Pittsburgh is active in the emerging clean-energy, education, and health care sectors. In 2011, the Economist Intelligence Unit named Pittsburgh the most livable city in the United States; it was ranked 29th globally, a determination made based on stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

  • Culture of Knowledge and Innovation

Encouraging knowledge and innovation is an important component to establishing a globally fluent city. Pittsburgh is home to major research universities, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the burgeoning science and technology industries which thrive in the region.

  • Opportunity and Appeal to the World

Open metro areas that are attractive to people and companies worldwide bolster global fluency. In Pittsburgh, 300 international firms hailing from 26 different countries operate in the metro region. Bayer’s U.S. headquarters are in Pittsburgh and, similarly, the Spanish wind-energy company Gamesa opened its first North American plant in the eastern metropolitan area. Nine up-and-coming language-related technology firms are also based in or near the city. In terms of its attractiveness to individuals, the city is appealing highly skilled immigrants, which make up a disproportionate amount of Pittsburgh’s foreign-born population. While only about 3 percent (73,443 people) of the regional population are foreign born citizens, 53 percent of those some 73,000 people hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

  • International Connectivity

Connections for people and goods to international markets result in greater global relevance. More than 14 percent of the Pittsburgh metro area’s gross metropolitan product is composed of goods and services exports, and most of these are delivered to Canada, China, Japan, and major economies in Europe. However, Pittsburgh is lacking in physical connections to the metro area, evidenced by the InternationalAirport’s single direct flight to Europe.

  • Ability to Secure Investment for Strategic Priorities

Integral to enabling global growth is having the ability to secure diverse foreign and domestic investments. New energy opportunities and construction projects have increased direct foreign investment in the Pittsburgh region over the last few years. Tailsman Energy from Calgary as well as Europe’s largest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, are both involved in Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and exploration in the area. Individual investors provided foreign money for the UPMC East hospital construction project and Bakery Square retail and office complex.

  • Government as Global Enabler

Globally fluent metro areas have all levels of government supporting initiatives to “go global.” President Barack Obama chose Pittsburgh as the host city for the 2009 G-20 summit to emphasize its economic comeback after the city’s manufacturing industry disintegrated during the second half of the 20th century. From the state level, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett conducted trade missions to France and Germany in 2012 and Brazil and Chile in 2013 in an effort to explore new markets and investments that could lead to local economic growth.

  • Compelling Global Identity

Possessing a compelling global identity makes globally fluent cities relevant in international markets. Many components including exports, local innovation, and immigrants construct Pittsburgh’s global identity. Bruce Katz calls the city “a global metropolis, with deep and growing ties to many of the G-20 countries.” Michael Elchik, founder of teleconferencing platform WeSpeke, expresses, in a piece by Pittsburgh Magazine, the city’s potential “as the crossroads for language and culture.” Christine O’Toole’s article about Pittsburgh’s new immigrants explains that “immigrant families are finding Pittsburgh to be affordable, safe and welcoming.”

Changing global dynamics including increased output from trade, a growing middle class, and metro areas’ ability to drive global growth make the ten traits of global fluency important for U.S. metro areas. Furthermore, Brookings found that the measures of global fluency are indicators of metro areas’ abilities to thrive in global markets, control negative effects of globalization, and work toward their chosen economic future. How would you rate Pittsburgh’s global fluency? Are there particular organizations or institutions that contribute to our metro area’s global relevance?

By Ciara O’Conner, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern