In mid-September, the Pittsburgh Technology Council will take a delegation of Pittsburghers across the Atlantic to Bilbao, Spain for a five-day trip. The goal of the visit is to take a leaf out of our Spanish sister-city’s book.
Brian Kennedy, senior vice president for government relations and operations at the council, stressed that if Pittsburgh wants to keep bringing in talent to fill high-tech jobs, the city needs to be a place that’s both exciting to live in and easy to get around in.
“When people come here, they want to know that they can get from the East End, to the South Side, to the North Shore and they want to know that there are great cultural amenities that they can take advantage of,” said Kennedy.
Bilbao, like Pittsburgh, has revamped itself after struggling with the loss of blue-collar jobs in the late 20th Century. While Pittsburgh leaned on “meds and eds," Bilbao evolved on the back of public transit, parks and the arts.
Kennedy said he would like to see Pittsburgh emulate Bilbao’s state-of-the-art light rail system, but that he also knows that kind of project is a tough sell.
“Those require very substantial investments and you have to be able to make a great case to the people why those investments make sense. Visiting a place like Bilbao shows you up front-and-center how they work,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said these revitalization projects initially faced resistance from some Bilbao residents, who wanted to see direct replacements for the lost blue-collar jobs, rather than investments in the arts and outdoor spaces. However, Kennedy said the strategy ended up boosting employment considerably. According to a report from the London School of Economics’ Center for Analysis of Social Exclusion, Bilbao gained 113,000 jobs 1995 to 2005.
The Pittsburgh delegation visiting Bilbao includes cultural and business leaders, as well as government officials, such as Jo Ellen Parker, president of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Andrew E. Masich, president and CEO of the Heinz History Center and representatives from the Department of City Planning and the county's Regional Asset District.
Kennedy said they’ll meet the mayor of Bilbao and visit parks and the city’s Guggenheim Museum, and will use public transit to get around.
"We're excited, hoping to learn and hoping to bring back people who are inspired to make Pittsburgh, as a place, the most desirable city in America to live," said Kennedy.
(Photo Credit: Colt Group/Flickr )