No Boom, No Bust, No Surprise

"It’s not Pittsburgh’s way to boom or bust"

"Pittsburgh has avoided many of the housing-related problems that plague the larger economy because home values here did not boom or bust during the mortgage bubble"

"Pittsburgh’s many years of ‘slow and steady’ job growth…insulated us from economic cataclysm and a boom-bust housing market cycle"

"Its housing market, which famously went boom-bust elsewhere, has been a portrait of stability"

"The Pittsburgh area did not see a building boom over recent years like that seen in other areas across the country — and it’s also not seeing a strong decline in recent months in new construction"

"Steady, manageable growth is better than a boom waiting for the bust. One need only look at the plummeting housing market in Las Vegas — the fastest growing metro region over the past five years — to understand that"

"The good news about Pittsburgh missing the nation’s recent housing boom is that, so far, it’s missing the bust, too"

The above quotes provide a sampling of opinion from November 2007 to mid-2010 and are predicated on the theme that Pittsburgh weathered recessionary times quite well because it never had the rapid growth experienced by other regions. In sum, Pittsburgh never boomed, so it never busted.

That’s great news when things go south, but not so much when there are signs of growth.

A new study from the Brookings Institution that points out Pittsburgh is lagging behind world economies and stands at 129th in a survey of 150 regions in what the report identifies as the recovery period when measured by gross value added, employment, and population. That’s one place lower than where it stood pre-recession but lower than where it was in the recession (41st out of 150). Given the nearly three years of consensus opinion the ranking, if accurate, should not come as a shock.

One of the study’s authors noted "standing still was a good place to be. Standing still now is not something a city should be doing."

But is the region poised for growth? What was a bad economic and labor climate prior to the recession has been made worse by the City passing new mandates for prevailing and living wages, the resistance to explore privatization and outsourcing as a way to lower the cost of government and the taxes and fees charged to businesses, and the fealty to public sector unions has not waned. Not positive signs that the region will make strides.

And the danger is this: if the region thinks it will always be in the middle of the pack with slow and steady growth then the resistance to bad public policy becomes even lower than it already is. What does that do for the relative standing of the region in comparison with other areas?