About Jim Futrell

Jim Futrell Jim Futrell is vice president of market research and analysis for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development that markets the 10-county region for business relocation and expansion. Futrell conducts in-depth research on targeted businesses and industries -- work that attracted such companies as Google, which now employs more than 150 people at its East Liberty engineering center. An avid amusement park enthusiast, he has authored four books on the subject, and serves as historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
Jim Futrell
Photo by by Mark Peterson / Redux
Photo by by Mark Peterson / Redux

I love the great press we’re getting this week from POLITCO magazine. The Robots That Saved Pittsburgh highlights a region “that has developed into one of the country’s most vibrant tech centers, a hotbed of innovation that can no longer be ignored by the industry’s titans.” The piece is accompanied by a terrific photo essay of several key robotic spinoffs from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a second gallery that captures the Pittsburgh region in all its gritty winter beauty.

I have to point out, however, that robotics is a relatively small part of our economy – probably employing no more than 5,000 people. Yet this recognition by a serious journalistic outfit reflects a deeper truth: the Pittsburgh region has capitalized on the unique way that advanced manufacturing, technology and innovation can elevate a place.

There are other such convergences of our key sectors that are allowing Pittsburgh to have a big impact. A lot of it can be seen in energy — think Aquatech, Holtec, Hammill and the number of IT companies that support financial services and healthcare applications. With a company like Aesynt (formerly McKesson Automated Healthcare) or Aethon, you hit the trifecta for converging sectors: IT, advanced manufacturing and healthcare.

It’s innovation that’s driving the 10-county economy, as well as R&D that goes back decades. The boost in energy-sector jobs that we’ve seen in the past five years (35 percent growth — or 12,000 jobs — compared to an overall employment increase of just 1.5 percent) can be traced back to investment starting in 1970s. The National Energy Technology Laboratory, a federal entity based in South Park for more than a century, did the research into deep, horizontal drilling techniques that have made today’s shale gas boom possible.

So while robots are cool, the real wow is in the way that technological innovation plus the region’s historic industrial strengths have created advances that would no doubt turn the head of the Jetson’s Rosie.Rosie the Robot / Copyright Hanna-Barbera


 Find a job, advance your career in the Pittsburgh region at ImaginePittsburgh.com.


Jim Futrell
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post The 1978 photo of Fred Rogers and an  unnamed boy at Pittsburgh's Children's Institute
Jim Judkis/Courtesy Washington Post
Fred Rogers and an unnamed boy at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Institute, 1978

In honor of what would have been the 85th birthday of Fred Rogers — that quintessential Pittsburgher, educator, songwriter, author and creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – we revisit a previously published post by Jim Futrell, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s vice president of market research. A sometimes-gruff repository of facts and figures about the 10-county region, Futrell slowed down and waxed philosophical about growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico with ImaginePittsburghNow’s Phil Cynar.

Mr. Rogers was one of my favorite shows. My mom used to joke that I would never miss the two Freds: Rogers and Flintstone.

Why did I like the show so much?  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that Fred Rogers was an adult talking to me at my level. He always came across to me as a man who respected his audience and who wanted to share cool things about the world. He also had a lot of pretty amazing things in his ‘house’ – Trolley, the stop light, Picture-Picture and the miniatures of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I loved the model of the neighborhood at the beginning and end of the show and could not wait until Mr. Rogers changed his jacket and shoes so we could get on with the show.

There are snippets about the Neighborhood of Make-Believe that I’ll never forget:  King Friday XIII’s marriage (he loved Queen Sara Saturday’s cupped custard), the birth of Prince Tuesday, X the Owl changing the supports on his door so they made an ‘X’ rather than a ‘Z,’ the Platypus family moving into the neighborhood, Daniel the Stripèd Tiger getting a wristwatch because ‘when you live in a clock you really should know what time it is,’ and Donkey Hodie who lived in the windmill in Someplace Else.  Of course, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, the cranky, outspoken curator of Museum-Go-Round, was certainly unforgettable.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers! Thanks for being our neighbor — and helping to put Pittsburgh on everyone’s map.

Jim Futrell
The Alamo / Photo by Billy Calzada Copyright San Antonio Express-News
The Alamo / Photo by Billy Calzada Copyright San Antonio Express-News

By Jim Futrell, vice president of market research and analysis for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance

A recent article published on Texas CEO Magazine’s website talked about the “brain gain” in San Antonio, citing a rise in the number of talented young people with college educations choosing to move to that medium-sized city – particularly to its more urban neighborhoods — to live and build their careers.

Sound familiar? It should, as we’re seeing those same trends in the Pittsburgh region, as I’ve noted here before. Similarly, the Alamo City is also seeing strong “return migration” of native sons and daughters who went away for college or to launch their careers. (We call them boomerangers, or as a colleague prefers, gumbanders.)

As a model for this new “talent economy,” the article cites Pittsburgh and specifically Carnegie Mellon University. It notes that instead of trying to lure graduates away in competition with other firms and locales, companies like Google and Disney are relocating right on campus. (Google has since moved to Bakery Square.)

It’s an interesting take, and of course it’s always nice to see Pittsburgh held up as an example to follow.  But I don’t think you can give sole credit to the activity generated by CMU. Overall it’s a relatively small (albeit very important) part of the economy. Our talent economy (and the talent spun out of Pitt, Duquesne and our many other regional colleges and universities) also manifests itself in all our other key sectors each of which has contributed to our growth.

Personally, I am not sure the comparison between the two cities is as strong as the article makes it seem. San Antonio’s economy was largely built around its several military bases, and government is their largest employment sector, accounting for 19 percent of employment (one-quarter of those with the federal government). In Pittsburgh, 11 percent of regional employment is in government. Tourism is also a critical economic generator for San Antonio.

And while I am sure University of Texas in Austin has some powerful spinoff benefits, San Antonio does not have a CMU or a Pitt. Their major research university is one of the University of Texas Health Science campuses, which does about $200 million in R&D. In fiscal year 2010, that figure in the Pittsburgh region was just over $1 billion.

But it does sound like the city itself is a talent magnet which I can certainly understand. I love San Antonio; it‘s my favorite city in Texas.

Jim Futrell

The Census Bureau recently released city population estimates for 2011, which indicate that the population in the city of Pittsburgh increased by 528 people between July 1, 2010 and July 1, 2011.

This continues the broader story of the renewed growth of the regional population since 2009 after decades of losses. As seen in the following table, the population in the 10-county region increased by 930 people between 2010 and 2011.

Interestingly, while Butler and Washington counties have continued to grow, Allegheny County is also registering population growth. But again, that pesky “natural loss” (when deaths outnumber births) has offset much of the positive migration in the region.  I also think it’s interesting that Pennsylvania experienced net domestic out-migration, while the region experienced positive domestic in-migration.

Geographic Area

Pop. Estimates (as of July 1)

Total Population Change1

Natural Increase

Vital Events

Net Migration





















.Allegheny County











.Armstrong County











.Beaver County











.Butler County











.Fayette County











.Greene County











.Indiana County











.Lawrence County











.Washington County











.Westmoreland County











Ten County Region











City of Pittsburgh











1 Total population change includes a residual. This residual represents the change in population that cannot be attributed to any specific demographic component. See Population Estimates Terms and Definitions at http://www.census.gov/popest/about/terms.html.
2 Net international migration includes the international migration of both native and foreign-born populations.  Specifically, it includes: (a) the net international migration of the foreign born, (b) the net migration between the United States and Puerto Rico, (c) the net migration of natives to and from the United States, and (d) the net movement of the Armed Forces population between the United States and overseas.
Jim Futrell

For the past five years, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance have celebrated “Wins” day, a Wednesday in March when we tote up all the announced investment and development projects, or “wins,” of the previous year.

In 2011, the 10-county Pittsburgh region landed 286 economic development wins – 242 as corporate expansions or new facilities, 44 as real estate deals. That translates to 11,440 new and 5,620 retained jobs, as well as capital investment of $1.5 billion. You can read more about this in my column in this week’s Pittsburgh Business Times. Download a copy of it here, read it online (with subscription) at Pittsburgh Business Times, or pick up the March 16-22 edition on a newsstand.

Underscoring our emerging role as the new center of American energy, there were 79 energy-related wins, including new business or expansions by extracting companies and those in the natural gas supply chain of turbines, pumps and electrical components, as well as wind-energy developers. The growth of financial and business services contributed to these gains, too.

Advanced manufacturing also did well in 2011, as the national trade journal Industry Week recently noted.

You can read my column here, our blog post about our “Wins” day here, our detailed news release with links to growth in individual sectors here, and catch comments about it from our CEO, Dennis Yablonsky, here.

Jim Futrell

Dispelling the long-held lament that Pittsburgh’s population is declining, Forbes included Pittsburgh (Allegheny County, more specifically) in a list of regions on the rise in its March 12 issue. While many recent rankings spotlighted Pittsburgh’s livability – due in part to its economic and quality-of-life transformation – Forbes’  inclusion of Pittsburgh as a “Comeback City” was based primarily on a single, telling data point.

Citing IRS figures, Forbes points out that Allegheny County completely reversed population decline between 2005 and 2009. In 2005 Allegheny County was down nearly 10,000 taxpayers, yet by 2009 more taxpayers move into than out of the county. This remarkable reversal has been a long time coming for the region that struggled for decades with out-migration and overall population decline.

In understanding this upward population growth trend, it is worthwhile to note a shift over the past decade in regional population shrinkage. While out-migration (people leaving Pittsburgh to find jobs in other regions) was a leading factor throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, that trend slowed during the first decade of the 21st century, while natural decline (deaths outnumbering births) continued. Yet both of these types of shrinkage – according to the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau – slowed dramatically by the end of the decade, setting the stage for the net-population gains now on the horizon.

As “natural shrinkage” slows, the region will, in turn, get younger. This point is most clearly indicated by the fact that between 2000 and 2010, the city of Pittsburgh saw its median age decline from 35.5 to 33.2. Couple this with Pittsburgh’s hosting the international One Young World Summit this fall, and you’ll see – as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted – that the face of Pittsburgh is growing younger.

Another misperception buster:  “brain drain” is no more in Pittsburgh. Between 2000 and 2010 college educated segments of the region’s population grew, with population loss concentrated among the less educated. The Wall Street Journal took note of this trend when citing Pittsburgh as a Top 10 Metro Area for “Brain Gain.” You can read more on that here.

And to read more on the region’s changing demographics, click here for a report (with graphs!) recently published by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.