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How could Pittsburgh attract more tech workers and companies? Investment in infrastructure and racial equity, these founders say

The founders of Dashcam for your Bike, Meerkat Village, Meter Feeder, Koop Technologies and Parcel Health agree the city has a lot to offer. But tackling these issues would go a long way.

Pittsburgh. (Photo by Willie Fineberg on Unsplash)

According to a handful of congratulatory lists, Pittsburgh is one of the most livable cities in the continental US. That honor is based on factors such as affordability, the growing tech industry, and diverse landscapes that include rivers and valleys. Yet researchers are concerned that the tech industry’s continued growth might be hindered by the region’s aging and declining population, lack of young adults moving to the area, and reports of difficulty hiring and retaining workers of color.

With that in mind, when Technical.ly gathered a group of Pittsburgh founders whose companies made the 2023 RealLIST Startups this month to discuss the state of local entrepreneurship, we asked attendees to tell us what kept them in the Steel City and what could be done to convince more people to come here.

For people like Dashcam for your Bike founder and CEO Armin Samii, a part of Pittsburgh’s draw is the low cost of living. According to the 2022 Demographia International Housing Affordability study presented by the Urban Reform Institute, Pittsburgh is the most affordable city if you’re looking to buy a home. In comparison to the Bay Area where he moved from, Samii added that he appreciates that Pittsburgh’s culture doesn’t revolve around startups.

I think the fact that Pittsburgh isn’t centered on tech is actually a great thing. We should not see that as a detriment. We should not be trying to only attract that type of talent.Armin Samii Dashcam for your Bike

“I think the fact that Pittsburgh isn’t centered on tech is actually a great thing,” Samii said. “We should not see that as a detriment. We should not be trying to only attract that type of talent.”

He added that he felt that Pittsburgh should be less shy about what it had to offer. Pittsburgh transplant and Parcel Health cofounder and CEO Melinda Su-En Lee also pointed to the city’s low cost of living and entertainment as reasons she enjoys the city. She’s met others who came to the city based on the city’s reputation alone.

“They literally found Pittsburgh on a list on Reddit as one of the top cities to move to,” said Lee, who relocated here from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “They both picked up their lives and they moved to Pittsburgh, not because of a job offer in Pittsburgh — they both work remotely — and they bought a house. So I think people are moving here” based on its reputation.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Koop Technologies cofounder and Chief Commercial Officer Kamron Khodjaev made the case that the city would be an easier sell if it was easier to drive in.

“If you tried driving between Downtown and Oakland, it’s not that great,” Khodjaev said. “[It’s not] really directly related to startups, but it would definitely make the city more attractive if the infrastructure projects were undertaken and improved.”

Be it the Liberty Bridge fire, the Sinkhole Bus that provided endless memes, or the Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse that made national headlines for all the wrong reasons (including during President Joe Biden’s January 2022 visit to talk about … infrastructure funding), Pittsburgh offers endless examples of crumbling infrastructure. Whether it’s an inconvenience or downright scary if you drive, or bike in some cases, founders felt that remedying this would go a long way.

“I want to see my children stay here and continue to thrive and have opportunities, and sometimes I wonder about that because my son is Black and my daughter is Black.”Crystal Morrison Meerkat Village

But that’s not the city’s biggest blemish. For Meerkat Village founder and CEO Crystal Morrison, a major cause for concern was the ongoing issue of who, exactly, Pittsburgh is livable for.

“I want to see my children stay here and continue to thrive and have opportunities, and sometimes I wonder about that because my son is Black and my daughter is Black,” Morrison said.

In 2019, a University of Pittsburgh study found that Pittsburgh had a higher rate of maternal mortality for Black women, and the mortality rate for Black babies was six times higher than for their white counterparts. Black women and children also see higher rates of poverty. By virtue of moving anywhere else in the US, the report found, Black Pittsburghers’ life expectancy and educational opportunities would improve.

Jim Gibbs, CEO and cofounder of Meter Feeder, said that was one of the reasons it was important for Black entrepreneurs to create their own businesses as opposed to relying purely on large tech companies to hire them.

“Instead of dragging Twitter and Google and everybody across the coals for having bad hiring records,” Gibbs said, “let’s start our business[es] and hire these people because we know that they’re talented and they’re amazing folks.”

What keeps you in Pittsburgh? And what would need to change to make this a city you recommend to your friends? Let us know at pittsburgh@technical.ly.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 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.
Companies: Meerkat Village / Dashcam for your Bike / Koop Technologies / Parcel Health / Meter Feeder

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