View From Lodi, CA Pittsburgh, PA: Ex-Steel City Feels More Like Home Everyday!
March 13, 2009, 04:00 AM
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Even though I moved from Lodi to Pittsburgh, PA nine months ago, I'm still torn between the East and West coast worlds.

I follow California's mounting bad news daily. And I cross my fingers that all my friends and former Lodi Unified School District colleagues will keep their jobs even though the state's budget crisis makes that unlikely.

But as I approach my one-year anniversary in Pittsburgh, the town feels more like home. And California, where I was born and raised, is fading into a memory.

One thing that makes my transition easier is my sense that California is unmanageable and its final, total collapse is inevitable.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has proven recession-proof. As long as that economic pattern continues, I pride myself on having made the right decision to get out of California while the getting was good.

In October 2008, Business Week named the U.S. cities where residents have the best chance to comfortably survive the recession. Pittsburgh ranked seventh.

What Business Week discovered is that states such as California, Florida, and Nevada that are buried under a growing mass of foreclosures will be the most devastated by the prolonged financial crisis. Cities like New York and Chicago that had large numbers of now vanished financial sector jobs, as well as manufacturing towns like Detroit that suffer from weak sales of cars and other durable goods, will feel the most pain.

Notice that neither Pennsylvania nor Pittsburgh fits into any of those categories.

Once a steel town, Pittsburgh, now employs people in varied fields such as biomedical, health, and education. None of those suffered serious downturns. Two of Pittsburgh's major employers are the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Another similar study, this one by MSN Money, also recommended Pittsburgh as one of the seven most recession-proof cities for retirees.

Following the flock of snowbirds to warmer climes may seem like the best way to spend one's golden years. But it may not be the smartest, especially during a weak economy.

Warren R. Bland, the author of Retire in Style: 60 Outstanding Places Across the USA and Canada warns that "A retiree always needs to be careful about where he chooses to spend retirement, but with economic conditions changing so quickly it's even more important to make a good choice."

Accordingly, Bland observes that not all places are created equal when it comes to weathering economic woes like the current real-estate slump, credit crunch and shrinking job market. Retirees who move to the wrong city could suffer serious consequences.

Without a strong local economy, there's less money for social services, police patrols and infrastructure repair. Witness, for example, Lodi's recent municipal budget strains. [With a Shrinking Budget, Lodi Animal Shelter Struggles During Peak Hours, by Maggie Creamer, Lodi News-Sentinel, March 10, 2008]

Although the weather may not be as good as California's, states like Pennsylvania with a track record of slow, steady economic growth and home price appreciation are ones that offer the safest haven. These same places are also likely to rebound more quickly when nationwide economic conditions improve.

Pittsburgh's cost of living is 5 percent lower than lower than the national average. And although the median sales price of existing homes fell in the northeast, the drop was significantly less precipitous than it was on the west coast.

What it all adds up to is that in the eyes of professionals who study metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh ranks as one of the nation's best places to live.

In fact, in 2007 David Savageau, who has been compiling the Places Rated Almanac since 1981, named Pittsburgh "America's Most Livable City". [Pittsburgh Rated 'Most Livable' Once Again, by Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 26, 2007]

Using the guidelines established by Rand-McNally (which previously authored the study) Savageau applies the same formula to rate the 379 metropolitan areas he surveys. He analyzes nine categories: housing affordability (cost of living), transportation, jobs, education, climate, crime, health care, recreation, and ambience (museums, performing arts, restaurants and historical districts).

Pittsburgh is the only city to finish in the top twenty in each of the seven previous editors of the "Places Rated Almanac".

To fully understand how a grand a city Pittsburgh is, consider that it overcame its horrible 135th place weather ranking to finish on the top of Savageau's list.

Sure, Pittsburgh's climate is awful. But everything else about it is great.

As I remind doubters, weather is only one determinate in life's quality.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.