Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Pittsburgh Just Dodged the Amazon Bullet

We should be relieved that the tech giant opted not to move in.

Embed from Getty Images

Ever since Pittsburgh started popping up on lists of the nation’s most livable cities, locals have taken pride in that designation. Problems with the methodology of such rankings aside, Pittsburgh is a place where you don’t have to break the bank to afford rent. Where you can live in a single-family home with a back yard and still be at work Downtown in 20 minutes. Where most of us have enough money left in our pockets for a night out.

If Amazon had chosen Pittsburgh as the site of its second headquarters, all of that could’ve gone away.

The nationwide civic horse race to attract Amazon’s HQ2 has led to a tie, with both Queens and Arlington, Va., getting a massive influx of the company’s workers and business. Undoubtedly, there will be big changes in those areas — many of them positive. But others will strain the housing market and economic stability of those areas in a way that Pittsburgh will be happy to avoid.

Let’s start with rent. The sudden arrival of workers in the tens of thousands can only drive housing prices up; a New York Times report used Zillow data to estimate that rents in Pittsburgh would’ve increased an average of $96 per month were Amazon to have winded up here. (The same data suggests that, without Amazon, we’re actually due for decreasing rents in the coming years, so the net impact would be higher than $96). That’s not as big of a difference as some markets might’ve seen under Amazon, according to the same data, but more than enough to push lower-income residents into less desirable housing.

Such increases have the potential to snowball, as well. In Seattle, the site of Amazon’s original headquarters — a metro area only nominally more populous than Pittsburgh — a continued tech boom has led to rents similar to those found in Los Angeles and New York.

In San Francisco, where tech giants have driven the cost of living into the stratosphere, the differences are even more dramatic. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,460 per month, according to Business Insider. The median cost of buying a home is more than $800,000. In other words, a place that would cost you $1,000 a month in Pittsburgh will cost three times that in San Francisco.

Rent isn’t the only expense that goes up in such cases, Business Insider adds — gas prices in San Francisco are more than 30 percent higher than the national average, the cost of a mid-range meal is double what you’d expect in most cities and even groceries are more expensive.

To be fair, wages have increased in Seattle and San Francisco, as well. But such increases in take-home pay can come at the expense of some civic control.

Noting the increased housing costs — and their inevitable byproduct, a rise in homelessness — Seattle earlier this year pushed for a per-employee tax levied on large corporations to fund housing initiatives and hopefully get people off the streets.

Amazon — a company notorious for paying nearly nothing in tax revenue — fought tooth and nail against the proposed tax, threatening to halt development in the city were it passed.

Despite the support of city council, the measure was not enacted.

That’s the kind of influence a gargantuan employer can have on a market. There’s no reason to believe that the climate would’ve been much different for Amazon in Pittsburgh, particularly after local leaders repeatedly refused to reveal the concessions they promised Amazon, despite court orders that they do so. (A statement released after Amazon’s HQ2 announcement promised that the pitches would finally be revealed in the coming days.)

Pittsburgh was willing to make sacrifices to woo Amazon before it got here; were we likely to get tough on the company down the line?

And yes — let’s talk traffic. Either Amazon would’ve moved into the booming tech area on the East End, which is virtually inaccessible by highway (leading to endless snarls throughout those dense neighborhoods), or it would’ve picked a more suburban campus.

You know what a suburban campus means?

Somebody’s going to have to go through a tunnel. And we’re ... not good at that.

There certainly would’ve been benefits to an Amazon headquarters in Pittsburgh. But it’s tough to imagine that it would be a net positive for all Pittsburghers; the data does not bear that theory out. We are already fortunate to have a growing tech community, expanding at a manageable rate for a market of our size.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The Summer Movies in the Park Are Awesome This Year

The City of Pittsburgh's annual Cinema in the Park series returns with another summer of free outdoor movies for all.

7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

An unfamiliar underdog status may help the Steelers get back to the playoffs and beyond.

Can't Miss Concerts in Pittsburgh in June

This month's lineup includes Ariana Grande, Hiss Golden Messenger and a full slate at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

June 2019: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Joe Morrison Takes the Director's Chair at Pittsburgh Filmmakers

After years of uncertainty, the cinemas of Pittsburgh Filmmakers now have a leader with experience building and engaging audiences.

Unlock Special View of Pittsburgh for a Limited Time

Attention all boaters! The locks on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will open most summer weekends, allowing you to visit sights you couldn’t get to before.

Get To Liberty Magic to See the Excellent Billy Kidd

The British magician's new show, "Bridging the Gap," brings theatricality and surprising performance to the parlour-magic stage.

The 400-Word Review: The Perfection

Netflix's troubling new thriller stars Allison Williams and Logan Browning.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of “I”: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte and Regular Hauntings: New and Previous Poems by Gerald Costanzo.

What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

Pennsylvania names May 23 as 1-4-3 Day to celebrate its favorite neighbor.

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

This New App Will Help You Track Upcoming Cicada Swarm

Follow Brood VIII, which is expected to have three species of periodical cicadas emerging from the soil as early as this month, on the Cicada Safari App.

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2019

Our annual roundup of Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants covers a lot of ground. The list of 30 includes everything from fine dining at a resort hotel to a scrappy, farm-to-table breakfast and lunch counter in Bloomfield.