Commentary

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Pittsburgh’s Renaissance


Phil-Laboon  In 1970, foreign competition, an outdated manufacturing base and poor labor relations helped to bring about the collapse of the steel industry in the Pittsburgh region. By January 1983, adjusted unemployment rates throughout the metropolitan Pittsburgh area reached 17.1%, a number that hasn’t been seen since the government began counting rates more than 70 years ago.

A mere 31 years later, Pittsburgh is once again finding itself on the forefront of industry — this time for tech and entrepreneurship. From a place once named the nation’s “Smoky City” to earning the title of “Most Livable City in America” by publications including Forbes and The Economist, Pittsburgh is experiencing a renaissance. And with your own strategic contributions, your community can too.

Build a Foundation for Growth

“As a city that has transformed itself from the city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation — including green technology, education and training and research and development — Pittsburgh will provide a beautiful backdrop and a powerful example of our work,” President Obama said in 2009, reflecting on his decision to host the G20 World Summit in Pittsburgh that year.

Pittsburgh’s emergence from the smoke and ashes wasn’t an overnight phenomenon, but rather one three decades in the making. Recognizing the need for change, the city refused to sit back and wait. Tech industry leaders worked alongside politicians, investors and universities to ignite the spark that lit a fiery passion for change. Building a foundation for the city’s growth was the first step towards rebuilding the city’s economy.

Just as the leaders of Pittsburgh’s metropolitan makeover did, gathering like-minded people in one room is a great way to spark the ignition for change in any city. Even just a simple conversation among some of the leading entrepreneurs and thought leaders in your own community can catalyze new ideas. Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait around for change; rather, they do the heavy lifting themselves, coming up with the ideas and paving the way for others to follow.

Foster an Ecosystem

By building a growing support network to reinforce a community of entrepreneurs, Pittsburgh has been able to provide a growing ecosystem for startups. Young entrepreneurs, startups and tech industry giants alike have flocked to the steel city to reap the benefits of nationally recognized startup assistance and capitalize on the promise of venture capital investment.

State legislation, startup assistance programs and startup accelerators can provide both a network of support and increased funding for young entrepreneurs in any city. And successful startups breed other successful startups. Begin laying the groundwork of your own city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by reaching out to area politicians and universities. With the help of these resources, you can begin to gather not only funding for new startups, but also establish a mentoring service or even networking circle for newly graduated students, convincing promising young minds to stay in your city after graduation. Being able to network and even collaborate with your area innovators and learn from their successes and mistakes can help steer a new business in the right direction.

In addition, by drawing more innovating and promising startups to an area, more venture capital companies will be drawn to the area’s mix of businesses.

Rebrand and Revitalize

By providing lively and budding neighborhoods, the once blue-collar city of Pittsburgh has seen resurgence in its youth culture. Transforming old factory workspaces and vintage housing into cheap small business storefronts and office buildings, living spaces, art galleries and more have helped to attract a new generation to the Pittsburgh area.

As it did in Pittsburgh, change begins with convincing your top talent to stay rather than flock to Silicon Valley or elsewhere. In Pittsburgh, the young, creative minds of top tier universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh — who once left the area for more promising employment — now find themselves courted by companies within the city. The decision to stay local is not only inEyeflow logospired by these top recruiting opportunities, but also by the city’s new youthful essence. By establishing a proper support system for new startups and creating a community where entrepreneurs can learn and grow, any city can find themselves in Pittsburgh’s situation: climbing the ladder to the top of the entrepreneurial world.

Pittsburgh’s changes have provided both promise and opportunity to a budding community rich in history and tradition. Now far removed from its steel industry roots, the economy boasts a “brain hub” status — tech related jobs now outnumber jobs in manufacturing. The once blue-collar town that seemed destined for the scrap pile has transformed itself into a growing tech center and a hotbed of innovation. By attracting young, talented minds to the area with their exciting promise of change and growth, Pittsburgh has become a startup success. If Pittsburgh can do it, why can’t your community?

Phil Laboon started the multi-million dollar company, Eyeflow Internet Marketing, a Pittsburgh based SEO firm, from the ground up when he was 20 years old. This article appeared  first in Forbes.com on Sept 8, 2014.

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