Profile: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A snapshot of the city's economy and real estate market.

Population: 311,000 (city); 2.4 million (metro area)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6

Major Airport: Pittsburgh International Airport

Companies with a Major Presence: U.S. Steel Corp., Highmark, PPG Industries, PNC Financial Services Group, H.J. Heinz, University of Pittsburgh, Giant Eagle, Mellon Financial, FedEx Ground, Allegheny Technologies

America’s most livable city. Recession-proof. Stable. One of America’s cleanest cities. One of America’s strongest housing markets.

This city of accolades? Pittsburgh, Pa.

Pittsburgh just celebrated its 250th birthday, but the most important celebrations of its vitality may have come from outsiders, including The New York Times, Forbes and Time. This city on three rivers may often get lumped with Rust Belt towns like Detroit and Cleveland, but analysts perceive its economy as evolved with a resilience more similar to New York’s and Chicago’s. Time dubbed it the “One Economic Bright Spot on Main Street.”

The region’s home prices rose in 2008, unemployment is below the national average and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl, so Pittsburghers were buoyant even when temperatures dropped below zero. The region learned decades ago how to tough out economic problems when its leading economic engine, the steel industry, collapsed.

Steel companies are still planning billions of dollars of investment in southwestern Pennsylvania, but the biggest economic fields are now health care, education and banking. A bevy of small tech startups are a new source of pride and hope for a region eager to grow.

Despite all the recent good publicity, Pittsburgh was still one of the fastest shrinking U.S. cities in recent years and its government is saddled with debt. The region’s history of parochialism may be part of the problem, according to some legislators who have been pushing for consolidation.

What outsiders think of as Pittsburgh actually includes an expansive collection of smaller towns. Pittsburgh is the seat of Allegheny County, which alone has 130 municipalities and 43 school districts. Another ring of exurbs sits across the border in the neighboring five counties. Altogether the metropolitan area has about 2.4 million people, one of the 25 largest regions in the country. But the city of Pittsburgh only has about 300,000 residents, about the same as Aurora, Colo., and Bakersfield, Calif., and wasn’t among the country’s top 50 cities, according to 2007 U.S. Census estimates.

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