Best Cities for Latinos: Pittsburgh Offers Affordability, Opportunities, and Community
From the Andy Warhol Museum and Phipps Conservatory to Botanical Gardens and several professional sports teams, there is something for everyone in "The Steel City" of Pittsburgh.
Affordability, entrepreneurial interests, and the budding tech industry truly lures countless transplants to Pittsburgh, including members of the Latino population.
Unlike other major metropolitan areas, the Latino/Hispanic presence in Pittsburgh is modest. There are only tens of thousands of Latinos, and their representation is a mere single digit. However, numbers suggest decisive and ongoing Latino growth. New community members arrive to Pittsburgh each day due to booming opportunities, economics, and a demand for pioneering personalities.
Melanie Harrington, President and CEO at Vibrant Pittsburgh, spoke with Latin Post about the Latino presence in Pittsburgh and the city's incredible economic transformation story. According to Harrington, Pittsburgh is an incredible place for startups, early stage businesses, and people with a pioneering spirit.
"Pittsburgh is a lavatory for experimenting with new ideas and new things," said Harrington. "We have one of the lower unemployment rates and recovered from the recession faster than others. We have a growing job industry and we're succeeding in a number of growth sectors, including IT, energy, finance, healthcare and higher education. We're a region with growing employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. For decades, we've had a shrinking population, so there's significant push in the region to grow the population. That leaves open opportunities for people to come in and fill that gap -- the people gap, the talent gap that we have here in the region."
Vibrant Pittsburgh was developed to bring diversity to the region and act as a device for attraction, retention and elevation. The organization strategizes with employers, community groups, politicians, officials, foundations and universities. They're a coordinating union that seeks to amplify and support diverse communities.
Vibrant Pittsburgh regularly reports on diversity in the workforce, publishing the Pittsburgh Regional Workforce Diversity Indicators report. According to the report, Asian, African American and Hispanic workers hold 11 percent of jobs in Pittsburgh, and they account for only 5 percent of the jobs in the oil, gas and mining industries. Diverse workers report that they have varied experiences in the local workforce, but Hispanic workers earn less than whites in most job sectors. However, incomes of Latinos surpass their white counterparts in the mining, gas and oil, education, health care, and hotel and food service sectors. Additionally, in the Pittsburgh area, the Hispanic community has some of highest education attainment rates.
Café Con Leche, founded in 2014, is another organization in Pittsburgh designed in support the Latino population, tasked with connecting Latinos and building communities. The young organization hosts panels and popup galleries, holds conversations about immigration, and produces plays written by Latino playwrights. They've used food and art to build community, and helped to push the conversation around Latinos and the city's changing demographic. Additionally, they offer consulting services, diversity training and marketing for non-profit, community groups and small businesses. Café Con Leche occupies the space between community, small businesses and development, and works with other people of color to make equity in urban areas and the art.
"In order for Pittsburgh to be economically successful, two things need to happen... the first thing is that the communities of color here in the city definitely need to be invested in and cared for, and uplifted and elevated," Tara Sherry Torres, Chief Creative Officer at Café Con Leche, told Latin Post. "That's important because the people of color that come to Pittsburgh have to feel comfortable and to want to put down roots. They must be able to benefit from the current economic investments that are occurring. We need to make it a city that's going to be open, friendly and welcoming to all people of color as well, and that includes Latinos.
"I think Pittsburgh is a city that's laughing, and creating and craving diversity in a very authentic and real way. It really connects to the traditional parts of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh recognizes that it really needs to create a space to allow people to come and build, and build with people who are already here. I think the Latinos who do that find that there's a lot of opportunity to share our culture, our talent, our work ethic, our languages, our people. We are every single race and every single ethnicity in one, really. There's a real opportunity that we bring to the city of Pittsburgh that could build a lot of bridges."
Torres explained that young people come to Pittsburgh because it is "a maker economy." There are a number of jobs in the manufacturing sector and multiple tech accelerators based in Pittsburgh. There's a huge push to "really show that they're purposefully, thoughtfully and mindful to diversify these fields." Additionally, Pittsburgh's Latinos are frequently employed in eds and meds industries, concentrated in the hospitals, in the universities, and financial services fields.
Ron Alvarado, the President and founder of Novus Group and Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PMAHCC) chairperson, echoed Torres' sentiments about Pittsburgh's small but growing population. Since the 2010 census period, Pittsburgh has witnessed a 77 percent increase within the Latino population. Between 2010 and 2013, the Latino population jumped from 29,000 to 36,000. Beechview, located outside of Pittsburgh's downtown area, has become a long awaited enclave or barrio, revealing Latinos' mounting impression on the region. Likely, Latinos have flocked to the area due to the affordability, job market and improved quality of life it can offer.
"We have growth, but growing from a small number," Alvarado told Latin Post. "The attractive aspect of Pittsburgh, number 1, is cost of living. It's extremely affordable relative to other metro areas with similar population sizes, such as Philadelphia. It's certainly a lot less expensive than Chicago or New York. The crime rate is another reason. We have a very low crime rate; one of the lowest crime rates in the country, so quality of life is good here. We also have excellent health care and some of the best hospitals in the world are located in Pittsburgh.
"Additionally, we have a program in Pittsburgh called the Pittsburgh Promise. If you're a Pittsburgh city resident, and you have high school kids who meet certain attainable criteria, those children will receive $40,000 to go to college. Also, people say the commute here in Pittsburgh is great... it takes about half an hour to get into the downtown metro area during the height of rush hour. There's a lot of pluses to the region, in terms of cost of living and quality of life, and access to education. Also, we have jobs."
According to Alvarado, Latinos have historically gravitated to professional ranks in Pittsburgh, earning more than the national average for Latinos. Thus, Pittsburgh's Latinos are better positioned to purchase affordable real estate and support Latino-owned businesses. Pittsburgh's Hispanic chamber connects Latino businesses with the consumer population, as well as with corporate buyers of service. Also, the Novus Group is tasked with benefiting Latinos. The staffing outsourcing facility places individuals into temporary and full-time jobs across multiple industries, primarily focused on administrative professional investment support positions.
The Nuyorican Alvarado relocated to Pittsburgh from Orlando 21 years ago. Since arriving, he's witnessed young Latinos come to Pittsburgh and become actively involved in the community. Not only with the chamber, but organizations like the Latin American Cultural Union, AlphaLab and Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA). Young Latinos are looking to make a difference in the community, using their professional resources to develop a more inclusive and welcoming community for Latinos.
Harrington added that opportunity and community engagement are some of the city's greatest attractions, but certainly not the only ones. The converging rivers, the riverside development, the Steelers, the theater culture, the festivals, the universities, the vibrant growing downtown area, the museums, and "the potential of the leadership" truly makes Pittsburgh a remarkable place.
Torres, who relocated from Brooklyn, agreed, stating, "Pittsburgh is so beautiful. You can go downtown and see the point where three rivers meet. There are mountains. You're in this urban area, but so quickly, when driving, you're in the forests, the woodlands and the country. There are so many bridges here. Also, the community here is really important. I found a great family of friends. It's a great city. There aren't a lot Latinos, but that shouldn't be a deterrent. There's a lot of opportunity here. The arts and entrepreneurs, and tech companies. ... it's really the place to be."