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General News    H2'ed 9/22/09

Steel City: Forgotten But Not Gone

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In the lead up to the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, mainstream media are telling half a story.

Everyone seems to agree that heavy industry is a thing of the past. The London Telegraph opens with the "long-gone steel industry" and Business Week with the "rust-stained U.S. Steel tower." Thankfully, Pittsburgh's leaders "didn't spend a lot of energy trying to save troubled steel companies." They focused on "new opportunities [rather] than old standbys."

After the funeral comes the turnaround. "Pittsburgh is an icon of economic transformation," declares the Telegraph. Pittsburgh can be "hailed as a beacon for communities that seem to have been left behind by history," Business Week exults. And "Pittsburgh's journey from a symbol of urban decay to a high-tech and health-services center may offer some lessons," counsels Bloomberg News.

It's all good news and it's all true. I can't quarrel with it. Pittsburgh has indeed turned the corner on some bad times, and new industries like education and medicine are important. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center did in fact replace U.S. Steel as the region's largest employer.

It's true but it's only half the story. The missing half of the story includes the persistent, insistent existence of manufacturing. Yes, manufacturing suffered setbacks, but it hasn't disappeared. As we describe in our recent report, Pittsburgh, the Rest of the Story, "the manufacture of steel grew and transitioned into the manufacture of specialty metals and sophisticated alloys"."

Allegheny Technologies Incorporated manufactures titanium, hafnium, tungsten, and cobalt. With 9,600 full-time employees and $5.3 billion revenues in 2008, the company forges custom fittings for the defense, aerospace, and nuclear energy industries. Over 300 other metals technology service firms provide steel production equipment, engineering services, parts, and supplies.

In different sections of town, Aerotech manufactures motion-control products to nanometer accuracy, Acewire designs spring wires for customized applications, and Dawar Technologies creates transparent membrane sensors for touch-screen technologies. Medrad manufactures medical supplies ranging from MRI surface coils to disposable syringes. More than 30 robotics companies make Pittsburgh one of America's major centers for robotic innovation. Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute hosts the world's only Ph.D. program in robotics.

The missing half matters because neither Pittsburgh nor the United States can thrive without producing goods.

Simply put, a country needs, things. From cars to shoes, computers to refrigerators, a country needs things. If we don't make those things here, then someone else gets our money.

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Eric Lotke has cooked in five-star restaurants and flushed every toilet in the Washington D.C. jail. He has filed headline lawsuits and published headline research on crime, prisons, and sex offenses. His most recent book is Making Manna.

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