As Time helpfully reminds its readers, the Obama administration's decision to hold Thursday's G20 Summit in Pittsburgh was initially met with befuddlement. Why, of all places, would anyone select the 54th most populous city in the United States, and not even a state capital at that? When the announcement was first made in May, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claimed the Steel City was chosen because it was "an area that has seen its share of economic woes in the past, but because of foresight and investment is now renewed, giving birth to renewed industries that are creating the jobs of the future."
But is Pittsburgh really undergoing an economic revival? That depends on who you ask. Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Bill Steigerwald each paint distinct, conflicting portraits of the erstwhile industrial hub for the city's coming visitors.
Gary Shapiro: If world leaders gathering for this week's G20 summit need evidence of the economic importance of trade and global engagement, they need look no further than their host city.
Bill Steigerwald: Don’t think that the chaotic and barricaded and over-policed city you will see is anything like the real Pittsburgh we know and love.
The State of the Economy
Shapiro: Pittsburgh is in the midst of a renaissance, thanks to a shift toward innovation, 21st-century jobs and an economy that embraces, rather than hides from, the global economy.
Steigerwald: That sounds sweet to local boosters’ ears...But it’s not really what Pittsburgh is. In the real world...this city is what urbanologists and economists technically refer to as “a basket case.”
Shapiro: Jobs in the growing fields of bio-science, electronics and nuclear engineering have replaced manufacturing jobs so effectively that Pittsburgh's unemployment rate is nearly two percentage points lower than the national average...Pittsburgh's experience offers a road map for American cities adjusting to manufacturing downturns and the new realities of the modern global economy.
Steigerwald: Its unemployment rate and housing foreclosures are lower than the national average, it’s true. And its famously low-low housing prices are stable to slightly rising. But it’s all relative...Pittsburgh’s 'eds & meds' economy isn’t booming or busting: it’s stuck in the same stagnant-to-slowly-growing mini-recession we’ve been in since we pioneered deindustrialization in the 1970s.
Shapiro: Creating modern innovation centers out of unionized industrial cities won't even be possible if we impose union straitjackets and costs and undercut the ability of innovators to thrive and compete.
Steigerwald: For at least the last 30 years, Pittsburgh’s power brokers have wasted billions of federal and state tax money on a series of destructive urban renewal schemes, redevelopment boondoggles and wasteful mass-transit projects.
The Lesson to Take Home
Shapiro: We can only hope that the leaders gathered in Pittsburgh take a few moments to appreciate the remarkable journey of their host city and make a real commitment to upholding the policy framework that allowed it to take place.
Steigerwald: Mr. President...it’s time to end this note with a simple request. Next time you’re looking to 'honor' a city with a G-20 summit, pick Chicago.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.