One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Q&A: Randy Dearth on How Pittsburgh Did It

If Pittsburgh can do it, so can Detroit.

That is one takeaway I got from when I recently talked to Randy Dearth, one of the very involved business owners and volunteers who are putting new muscle behind this revitalized city.

Just like Detroit, Pittsburgh had massively high unemployment rates (18.8 percent at one time). It had a failing industry (steel). And it had some of the worst media relations out there – even people who were from there wrote nasty articles about the city. One writer called it "hell with the lid off."

These days, Pittsburgh serves as a model for a city in renaissance. It's gone green. It has lotsa new industries. In fact, some say the city is in its third renaissance – a sign that even an old doggie can learn new tricks. Part of the reason I wanted to talk to Dearth is the city's impressive campaign to retain its college graduates as well as draw young, educated workers to the city.

It took Pittsburgh 30 years to get it right. How long will it take in Detroit?

Background: Dearth is CEO of Lanxess Corporation and chair of the Workplace Committee of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The Conference, according to its Web site, “works in collaboration with public and private sector partners to stimulate economic growth and enhance the quality of life in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Conference is a private sector leadership organization with over 300 Regional Investors. Regional Investors – all heads of our region's employers – provide civic leadership to execute a focused agenda for regional improvement.”

Since the G-20 held in Pittsburgh last year, other mid-size cities like Kansas City, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati and Mobile have sent delegates to Pittsburgh to see how it's done. In fact, the Conference's Dennis Yablonsky spoke about the city's success at the Detroit Regional Chamber this year. (Here's a story about it in Crain's Detroit.)

The group launched ImaginePittsburgh, a regional jobs aggregator, to advertise its 22,000 open jobs (more than 10,000 of those positions listing a pay level of more than $60,000 per year). Yes, real jobs. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development estimates that in the first six months of 2010 alone, 109 companies have announced plans to add over 6,000 jobs in the Pittsburgh region.

To educate local students about the reasons to stay in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development partnered with the Penguins hockey team to add another special pre-season hockey game in September as a large networking fair. The Penguins and the Allegheny Conference gave away 8,000 tickets to students from post-secondary schools in three states so they can network with local PA companies who are hiring before the game.

Enough out of me…

Q: Why did you need to advertise your job needs?

A: We're going through this renaissance where we've got a huge burst of hiring in our financial center. We have world class hospital here and they need employees. When you look at our demographic here in Pittsburgh, we do have an aging population. A lot of the company's managers probably will be retired in five years, so that's a concern. There was a perception among young people that you have to leave (to find opportunity). But we as business leaders see a huge opportunity coming up. We want students to know we are there to help them find what careers will be there. We will help you find the tools and the skills you need.

Q: So there is a synergy among the business community? How has that helped?

A: The Conference is made up of CEOs who have come together to make things move forward in a positive way. We have chosen areas where we feel the city needs development. We've carved out three areas that we're focusing on. How do we educate people who need the jobs? We need an accessible workforce. Secondly, we need a diverse workforce. And third, we need to partner with our schools. We need to help them better understand how to develop the talent, educate their students on what opportunities we see growing in our region. … It really requires the support of the business community. There are financial obligations to do this and you need to have the support to make it happen. … When I hold one of my workplace committee meetings, so many people are excited. It's exhilarating. I'm actually from Ohio…I'm a transplant to Pittsburgh. My team is a mix of both, those who grew up here and those who have moved here and are surprised and pleased to be here and raise a family.

Q: Why is there a dearth of young people at the moment?

A: It's perception. Parents might feel there are no opportunities here, and they expect their students to leave. We've got to get to those pockets of people who think there's nothing here. People always poo-poo their own city. (The solution) goes back to the business community getting behind it. We have to get it. We have to be the driving force out there. You have to have a group of CEOs who want to make a difference and do what they can as a collective group.

Q: Do you have support from the local politicians?

A: The politicians have come to us to ask us what our opinion is and what impact their legislation would have on us. We weigh in on taxes, jobs, transportation issues – and that help us create more business here or hinder us in terms of growing. So there's a lot of respect and partnership with the politicians. As we get out there more and more, people are starting to understand who we are. … It really does work. Pittsburgh is a big town, but at its roots is a small town. Many of us serve on the same boards or organizations and you tend to get to know who is the key players in driving this forward.

Q: Any words of advice for Detroit?

A: Be patient. This didn't happen overnight. I've been involved in the Conference for five years, but I can tell you some of these issues have been doing on for decades. We know what we can change and what we cannot. But we're running on all engines now. Truly, look at other models out there; we as Pittsburgh look at models all the time, like Minneapolis/St Paul, which has attracted the diverse workplace pool. Benchmark against what has worked at other cities. Take apart what isn't working for you and find out why not.

  • Print
  • Comment
Comments (4)
Post a Comment »
  • 1

    I'm old enough to remember. My parents and I drove through Pittsburg and I remember being on a bluff and looking down at all that black smoke and the horrible haze.

    No living human being should have to live in and work in such a horrible environment.

    The collapse of the steel mills was a godsend although many did not think so at the time. It was worse that what my namesake saw in England.

    What a hideous life that they must have had and that was in the early 50's.

    So The Auto Execs distributed production away from Detroit and now into other countries.

    Does that hurt us? Absolutely. That is what Michael Moore was talking about in Roger and Me.

    So the comment that the Execs should stand up is right on but it also requires some discernment about character. That Detroit Execs supported Kwame well beyond any reasonable period is disgusting and makes them look complicit if not actually at the party.

    Lots of good things are happening now and what I love seeing is that it involves some bright young Black Women who are well educated. They must be supported in every way and I remain concernted that you have not talked with them enough.

    The incessant stream of lies must stop.

    Detroit Works will succeed and shall succeed tremendously.

    The question is, do we really want to have a wonderful city or not, with it's marvelous older architecture and it's now turquoise river.

    In Shanghai I was told that the Pudong, which looks kahki like the Detroit River in the 50's would be cleaned up in 4 years. I told them no way... it will take 50.

    So it does take time, lots of it. We have a great medical Center as well... Planning under Charles Blessing got us that.

    Toby's notion that young people will solve it all is nonsense. It takes everyone to be involved.

    We need a great Internatonal Architectural Competition to play off of Lafayette Park. And then build the winners.

    We need to tear down the damned incinerator and create a Sanitary Landfill.

    We need a great golfcourse and park for the athletic among us.

    We need to take care of the Brewster Highrises.

    We need another University or Satellite Downtown, right Downtown. U of M should step up for it's founding site.

    We need a great automotive Museum and Archival Center downtown. (too bad the shortsighted tore down Hudsons... I promise you that it would be far more ineresting to more people than the Andy Warhol Museum.)

    We need to charge a dollar entry fee for Belle Isle.

    And we need to stop destroying our wonderful old School Buildings.

    And we need to realize that the population drop has leveled off and quit talking as if we are about to evaporate, and we must eschew stupidity in planning.

    The light rail will not bring jobs and it will cost an awful lot to go nowhere and serve a dollop of people it's operating cost is something that we simply cannot stand.

    And someone should dress up the people mover with some more modern looking cars. 1925 is past.

    And there needs to be some boat docks right off of the front of Rencen. Surely someone from GP would love to cruise to work.

    We're not enjoying that river enough. We need some dragon boats and the Oldest Boat Club in America needs to be Restored and someone has to set up a rowing program for the Black Kids. Some of them have too much wasted energy.



    • 1.1

      All the stuff you mentioned as things we should do are just so much pie-in-the-sky thinking. This is not unusual for architects who always seem to think one can build their way out of a problem and new buildings are somehow the answer to everything.
      The facts is that all this stuff and the new buildings can only come AFTER there are sufficient people living in the city making a decent enough wage to pay for them. And THAT can only come when Detroit finds it's reason to exist.
      Detroit had a reason to exist, the auto industry, but it doesn't exist anymore in the city. No industry, no jobs, no people, no tax revenue, no new stuff. Pittsburgh suffered a similar fate but found other industries to take the place of steel and has managed to survive and even thrive. We need to find a new PURPOSE.

      The first step, in my opinion, is getting rid of all the old debris from that bygone era of auto manufacturing....the Packard Plant and Michigan Central Depot among them....and look to the future. Hanging on to a past that is dead and gone is a sickness that detroiters have suffered from for years. That junk represents a time that will never return and we need to clear our attic of that stuff and make room for new ideas, new industries, and new investment. Jusy having those relics around is enough to scare away anyone with a vision for the future. Thankfully Hudson's was finally put out of our site for good...and something good came out of it.
      When we find our purpose, then we can start building for the future.

  • 2

    All great Ideas, ia! I Like the oldest Boat Club angle. I think Wyandotte had(has) the oldest Rowing club?..Maybe it's the "D"? Also, let's capitalize on the Unmatched history of OUR Skating Club( I think it was on 7-mile and Livernois?...Anyway it split off to , what, B'Ham?..Also, the Polo Club, Curling Club(S) ...I believe THEY are oldest? Also, don't forget The Remnants of Our Promised Olympics(...1932...1956?...1964..longshot?...Avery Brundage's Racism (Supposed Racism, anyway, kept the olympics OUT of Detroit--His Hometown!)...Some events prganizations...Bldgs.--People-Are FAR TOO IMPORTANT FOR THE MANY Feifdoms of Suburban and Detroit to destroy. The overall good must be seen to completion1 Like The Design AND PLanning AND Architecture Competition. Many of US Average Joes' tend to think of these events as for the Elitists! NOT SO!! Great minds DON'T ALWAYS THINK aLike, except for Detroit's Potential for a W. A. M. -type of deal! Hudson's ...?..Sure , but PARKING?/ Cars and Parking? A Little bit Funny..

  • 3

    nothing will ever comeback till the city is safe. Get it safe and keep it clean. Garbage bags are cheap yet inDetroit they just don't keep the place clean.

Add Your Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The Detroit Blog Daily E-mail

Get e-mail updates from TIME's The Detroit Blog in your inbox and never miss a day.

More News from Our Partners

Quotes of the Day »

NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.