You could take a graduate course on the market forces that washed away any number of industries from Philadelphia, a place that knows a thing about loss. But Andrew Nusca happens to know more about one than all the others.
The newly minted Fortune magazine technology editor @editorialiste, boasted as part of a bulking up at the storied Time Inc. property, moved to Brooklyn last month for another stint in New York after splitting his time there and living in West Philly. He was part of a class of surprisingly noted tech writers living here. But, like others, the national publishers and media properties didn’t survive the economic development vortex that was the second half of Philadelphia’s 20th century. So now he won’t either.
Curious, affable and humble, Nusca, 28, took to Philadelphia, a city he came to know deeply after his wife started a doctoral program at Penn, though he grew up in the region.
“The city is much different than the one I grew up in, so it was three years of discovery: of neighborhoods, of people, of transit systems, of prix fixe menus, of speakeasies,” he said. “I arrived with cultural, but not urban, familiarity.”
Nusca never had to be in the Philadelphia tech community. His work, last with a CBS Interactive web property, has always been national in focus, rarely intersecting with the work being done in the nascent, enterprise-laden environs of this region.
But he was drawn to it, he said, “because the thriving tech communities in cities tend to — at least right now — be comprised foremost of the greatest innovators, and only second, technologists. You want to be where the movers and shakers are.”
"Philly must scale its ambition beyond the Delaware Valley."
In that way, Nusca is an ideal model for the kind of New York knowledge worker that more flexible work environments make accessible for Philadelphia. In his last role with ZDNet, managing writers around the country and needing to report to Manhattan only a handful of days a month, living in Philadelphia was an easy choice.
“I’m perplexed why more people don’t do it,” he said. But the national stage is a powerful draw.
At a Starbucks in the basement of the landmark Time-Life building in Midtown Manhattan this month, Nusca said “there’s an army” of media and other knowledge workers like him squandering plump New York salaries on cramped apartments “who would love to live in a place like Philadelphia.”
While the Sixth Borough phenomenon has been great for attracting young talent, the question of retaining often comes down to where the jobs are. In many cases, most certainly in national tech press, they aren’t here, and affordable high-speed train lines are still a generation away. That’s kept the famous divide between the two near-physically but competitive culturally cities a real one.
“It’s a huge problem that New Yorkers know less about Philly than they do, say, Portland or Austin or San Francisco,” he said. “But it’s also a huge opportunity.”
That means balancing the need to self-medicate by championing what is so strong here but also continuing to be self-confident enough to welcome what is new.
“Philly will always need its own, but it can’t grow unless it scales its ambition beyond the Delaware Valley,” he said.
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