Duolingo will join a long list of companies doubling down on Pittsburgh as a tech hub.
The language learning company, which launched a hugely successful IPO earlier this year, announced today that it signed a 13-year lease for a 38,000-square-foot office space at the still-under-construction Liberty East building near Bakery Square.
As the company continues to grow its workforce and product offerings, a spokesperson told the Pittsburgh Business Journal that Duolingo “will soon outgrow the available space in (its) current office building” on Penn Avenue in East Liberty. The new space will nearly double Duolingo’s footprint in Pittsburgh, and will serve as a supplemental office to its current headquarters.
Rent for the new office space — which the company will starting moving into in May — will start at $148,000 per month, with a 2% increase each year, PBJ reported. That price point is higher than the average asking rent reported by CBRE earlier this year for the Oakland and East End neighborhoods, which was only $36.09 per square foot per year. And even that price had already seen a massive increase, going up by 34.6% from the second quarter in 2019 to the second one in 2021 — more than any other tech submarket in US and Canada.
While Pittsburgh remains far more affordable than the Bay Area, Boston, New York City or other large tech hubs, the increased rent prices could start to go beyond comparably sized markets. Though the business growth is certainly helpful in driving the success of the local economy, there is a chance the city might need to rebrand itself from being the most affordable emerging tech hub, should these trends continue.
And news this year suggests they will.
Duolingo isn’t the only company to announce new or expanded office space in Pittsburgh this year. Even as global business leaders questioned the future of in-person offices amid the remote work trends of the pandemic, 3M, Sheetz and DoorDash all shared plans for a tech presence in Pittsburgh. And real estate companies seem to be meeting that demand, combining this continued growth in East Liberty with more in upcoming tech hub Hazelwood Green and the new Rockwell Park office park in Point Breeze.
All of this points to a return to in-person work, at least for Pittsburgh. While many companies, Duolingo included, haven’t mandated returns to the office, they’ve given employees the option to, and it seems to be popular. The new offices at Liberty East and other recently constructed spaces also feature the kinds of amenities that make the decision to come back to work much more enticing to employees who remain on the fence.
But regardless of higher rent prices, news of all these companies setting up shop in Pittsburgh is good for the local economy. In-person jobs will attract new permanent residents who can contribute to taxes, retail and other forms of financial support to the community. That’s important for city government, in particular, whose latest budget proposal showed signs that the public sector is still reeling from damages throughout the pandemic.
Only time (and the continued emergence of new COVID-19 variants) will tell how this broad return to work trend will go. But until then, Pittsburgh can look forward to seeing Duolingo’s big green owl mascot at even more places around East Liberty.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.