What will make a better Innovation & design hub for the region, Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland?

Can There Be Only One?
Within this region Pittsburgh and Cleveland are a short commute away and access many industrial, corporate and manufacturing companies. These two former industrial powerhouses have found new life in technology, but which will prevail as the premier technology center for the region. I believe there are some clear economic indicators at work that are causing economic stimulation within Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

  1. Pittsburgh design firms and Cleveland design firms
  2. their technology and innovation community
  3. medical and hospital research expertise
  4. large and varied stream of university students and research within the universities
  5. An active entrepreneurial and venture capital community
  6. A manufacturing infrastructure to support new products and companies
  7. An international airport to support regional, national and international business dealings
Why can’t there be more than one innovation hub?
Drawing a parallel with another strong regional economy, the bay area has been greatly effected by San Francisco. San Francisco is the cultural center of the bay area. As the cultural center for the area it generally draws talent from the surrounding area towards itself.

By this parallel, which city will emerge between Cleveland and Pittsburgh? While they are both in different states they are geographically close enough to draw in talent and capital in a similar fashion to San Francisco and The Bay Area in Northern California. What are some drivers we might assess to estimate which city might become an innovation or design hub for the surrounding region?

I will now create a side-by-side comparison table of the assets I am able to find for each city. This table is a visual for the assessments I will flesh-out in the corresponding sections below.


1. Design Firms
The presence and economic status of design firms in an area may be viewed as a barometer of a cities innovation health. Pittsburgh design firms and Cleveland design firms possess comparable offerings making this category a draw. Both cities support firms in areas of product design, design research, interaction design, web design, engineering and graphic design.

Most towns and cities support web and graphic design as this work is more local the presence of these specialties do not indicate innovation in a city. Design research, service design and product design are indicators that design driven companies are in the region and outsource a lot of their research and development capabilities.
2. Innovation Community
Pittsburgh innovation takes the lead in this category. Both cities have business support offerings to help support entrepreneurial ventures. Pittsburgh has a wider array of offerings to help start-ups in varied sectors. The Technology Council Is a business network in Pittsburgh that helps technology providers gain exposure, raise capital and save on operational expenses through tools and support. Cose offers small business support tools and resources for the Cleveland business community. The offerings are business-to-business networking support, internet resources and an extensive local network directory.

3. Medical Community
The Cleveland and Pittsburgh medical communities are comparable, making this category a draw. The Cleveland Clinic is known for being one of the premier vascular institutes in the world offering up innovation in this specialty. Pittsburgh’s UPMC is able to collaborate with surrounding research centers in the Pittsburgh area to add skills it lacks and promote regional growth. The hospital has even started to commercialize new products and services through a business development group within UPMC. This collaboration adds a lot of strength to Pittsburgh’s medical research practices that Cleveland lacks comparatively. Not to say Cleveland does not have some of these same research collaboration skills, they simply do not extend through as many large, local entities.

4. Educational Community
While Cleveland has a larger number of universities, Pittsburgh possesses two key universities that are able to attract key experts in fields the city wishes to establish and grow its economy. This last reason makes the Pittsburgh university system the winner in this category. Pittsburgh has University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and Cleveland has Case Western Reserve and John Caroll.

The most important area of differentiation is in Pittsburgh. UPMC and Carnegie Mellon work very well together, as stated above in the medical section. This collaboration adds value to companies wishing to innovate with medical devices and drugs. This University category was very nearly a draw, both cities have great resources. The collaborative nature of innovation and design cannot be stressed enough as the key factor for growth.

5. Entrepreneurial Venture Capital Community
The Cleveland and Pittsburgh entrepreneurial communities are a draw. While Cleveland possesses a Venture Capital community boasting $259 in investments in 2008 across 79 companies. Pittsburgh is the second fastest growing VC market in the US with 513% growth rate over the last decade, According to the NVCA.

Cleveland has a larger venture capital base centered mainly around the medical and service industries. Pittsburgh is a smaller VC market-place however, it is diversified around the rapidly growing markets of life sciences, clean technology and software. These markets help make Pittsburgh one of the fastest growing VC markets in America.

6. Manufacturing Infrastructure
Cleveland manufacturing resources are winners in this category. It has always been a more diversified manufacturing region over Pittsburgh’s large but single track steel industry. These manufacturing skill sets may be adapted to facilitate design and innovation growth.
Cleveland’s manufacturing diversification shielded it from the economic fall Pittsburgh experienced with the collapse of the steel industry. The ensuing economic fall of the steel industry forced Pittsburgh to work creatively to rebuild its economy in new and exciting ways, so we can’t look back on it as all bad.
7. International Airport
Is it harsh if I declare both cities losers in this category? Too bad, It’s done! International business helps design and innovation realize manufacturing of new products in the global marketplace. This is why airports are a necessary component to any innovation and design hub.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland International Airports are little more than glorified regional airports. PIT on average has 437 flights per day compared to CLE’s 314 flights per day. To put these traffic numbers in perspective with another major city in the region, Chicago O’Hare on average has 2,409 flights per day. Neither Pittsburgh nor Cleveland appears to be setup to conduct international business based on their airport offerings, traffic numbers or destination location offerings.

And The Winner Is…
Pittsburgh pulls out the win by a hair, a common theme for the city this year with its monumental Super Bowl and Stanley Cup wins! By these categories as a city it is better structured to service companies with design and innovation needs.

I cited at the onset of the article that there may be only one true hub for innovation in any area. And I asked what might might be done to stabilize areas that surround an innovation hub? In the case of Pittsburgh and Cleveland might mass transit to and from these two great cities promote cross pollination of ideas, technology and assets to promote economic growth? This solution would promote both cities as hubs for the surrounding area. This alternative also gives business fliers an alternative to short puddle-jumping flights. To revisit our Bay Area example, look what BART has done for the Bay Area and San Francisco. BART offers fast, cheap and easy mass-transit throughout the Bay Area. Would Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the regions in between be similarly positively effected if there was access to rapid, mass transit?

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