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From Steel City to STEM City: Why Smart Millennials Are Making Pittsburgh Home

Pittsburgh has become an unlikely hotspot for young professionals. Here's why millennials are flocking to the city — and more importantly, why they're staying.

By Dana Colecchia Getz on October 2, 2017

Pittsburgh PA
Pittsburgh / Courtesy of daveynin under a CC 2.0 license.

In the 1980s, as today’s millennials were being born, Pittsburgh was being reborn.

Wiping away the dust that had settled from the crash of its once booming industrial past, the scrappy city developed a vision to optimize its resources. While the young generation grew into themselves, the “Steel City†grew as well, working to attract young talent to its world-renowned universities, stunning natural landscape, and friendly communities.

Today, after years of local universities losing graduates to larger cities, many bright, young professionals are deciding to stay and make Pittsburgh home.

Bridget Deely, a 23-year-old marketing professional at a Pittsburgh technology and design firm, says that while some bigger cities may have a “prove why you’re here†culture, Pittsburgh is extremely welcoming to career-oriented millennials, “from techie hipsters to corporate wonks” – and has a thriving job market to match. 

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At a time when many millennials are struggling with an unemployment rate higher than the national average, Pittsburgh is offering them opportunities. STEM careers are in particularly high demand as tech giants like Google, Facebook and Uber have opened offices here. In fact, Livability.com recently included Pittsburgh on our list of the best places to put an engineering degree to work. Tech startups continue to develop in the incubators of local universities such as Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh –places that Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto referred to as “factories churning out†the talent needed in the city’s “new economy.†Jobs in information, education/healthcare, and leisure/hospitality have all outpaced national averages as the city grows in popularity.

And while many young people may have come to Pittsburgh for school and work, the lifestyle here is what gets them to stay.

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“I like Pittsburgh’s small and diverse neighborhoods, and the relative compactness of the city,†says Brett Leber, a 34-year-old New York native who now lives in Pittsburgh. He believes that the city is still defining itself as “industries and culture are shifting,†noting that although not all changes are positive – particularly gentrification – many benefits remain, including “a growing food culture, changes in infrastructure [like public transit and bike lanes], and continued growth of the arts.â€

Like a diverse but close-knit family, Pittsburgh has always maintained many small communities with distinct personalities. Young people are drawn to the walkable neighborhoods with unique eateries and markets, intimate music venues, and grassroots events like the annual community art exhibit, Art All Night.

Pittsburgh PA
Pittsburgh / Courtesy of daveynin under a CC 2.0 license.

The Steel City Becomes an Art City

For creative young residents interested in the arts, this community has much to offer. Although the city has long had beautiful downtown theaters and classic museums, what sets it apart these days are its smaller, more niche artistic outlets. From contemporary installation pieces at The Mattress Factory to the City of Asylum’s writer community, the art and literature scene is fresh and forward-thinking.

Fueled by the determined Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, a downtown that only a decade ago lay dormant after work hours is now alive with gallery crawls and boutique hotels. With its current restaurant boom, it’s not surprising that it ranked third on Livability.com’s most recent list of “10 Best Foodie Cities†in America. 

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Pittsburgh’s Beauty Might Surprise You

Part of the youthful vibe of modern Pittsburgh is the result of its healthy, active culture. Built at the confluence of three rivers, the city has wisely maximized its natural resources for outdoor recreation.

Like many people new to Pittsburgh, Leber was taken aback by its unique beauty, particularly its “hilly geography, bridges, rivers, neighborhoods, and architecture.†Residents regularly take advantage of this landscape by running and biking along the 24 miles of riverfront trails as well as kayaking or boating on the river. In the summer, yoga classes are offered in the center of downtown’s Market Square. With 18 hiking trails per one hundred thousand residents, opportunities to enjoy nature abound.

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An environmental movement that began decades ago out of necessity to clean the city’s once polluted landscape has turned Pittsburgh into a beacon of sustainability. Driven by years of “green†government initiatives and significant support for LEED-certified buildings and renovations, this city has demonstrated its dedication to cleaning and protecting the environment. Millennials are famous for being sustainability-minded, and Pittsburgh provides countless ways for them to make a real impact through backyard composting programs, neighborhood gardens and non-profits like 412 Food Rescue.

Although millennials enjoy the vibrant foodie scene and green landscape, one of the city’s most attractive features continues to be its affordability. With its low cost of living, even graduates grappling with college debt can afford to thrive and put down roots. In fact, Pittsburgh now ranks as the #1 place in the country where young people are buying their first home

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The ability to live well while paying off student debt impacted Deely’s decision to stay in Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh offers every young professional the opportunity to afford an active, social lifestyle at their own pace,” she says.

With growing job opportunities and a vibrant cultural scene wrapped up in an affordable package, why wouldn’t the best and brightest choose to live there?

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