By Hillary Richard
Once the gritty hub of the steel industry, Pittsburgh has been experiencing a rebirth. Thanks to a dramatic environmental transformation and a tech boom, Pittsburgh is now widely considered one of the country’s most livable cities.
However, this mostly blue-collar city was almost forgotten after its factories closed in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The local universities and hospitals carried Pittsburgh through its downturn. Around 2008, tech companies started to move in, transforming the city into a forward-thinking tech outpost. It started when Carnegie Melon’s robotics and computer science divisions attracted Google (back when the tech giant first took an interest in autonomous cars). Then came Amazon, Apple, Uber and a number of other tech companies (11 of which are now headquartered in Pittsburgh). A slew of new residents and business travelers descended onto the steel city. The hospitality industry responded accordingly, and properties have been popping up ever since.
According to Visit Pittsburgh, there has been a 33% increase in hotel rooms over the last decade—with the most increases occurring in 2015 (5%), 2016 (8.4%) and 2017 (4%).
“We like to say Pittsburgh is almost becoming a Silicon Valley East because there are so many tech companies near the east end by our hotel,” said Jim Rizzo, who grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Rizzo is now the general manager of Hotel Indigo East Liberty, which opened about three years ago.
“I’m old enough to remember when there were steel mills in the city in the ‘80s. Then it became more of a medical and university community,” said Garry Mintz, the director of sales at Hotel Indigo East Liberty, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods. It seems like a lot of these younger professionals working at tech companies don’t want to commute—they actually want to live in the city. They’re revitalizing each neighborhood that way. It’s a pretty cool thing to see as someone who’s lived here his whole life.”
With more people living downtown than ever before, hotels have to cater to both locals and visitors alike. For example, Hotel Indigo installed bike racks outside of its restaurant because plenty of residents prefer to use the city’s new bike lanes instead of driving cars. The hotel also uses local vendors for its coffees, beer, whiskies and breads so that regulars have an alternative place to enjoy their favorite Pittsburgh items. And of course, hotels have incorporated technology—like working with Ubers for guests instead of traditional taxis.
“I’ve seen a lot of change with the younger demographic moving in. I’ve seen lots of new restaurants, apartment developments, bars, nightlife popping up. It’s a little bit more progressive in general,” said Rizzo.
There has been a lot of hotel piggybacking, according to Rizzo—particularly in the boutique space. Visit Pittsburgh confirmed the trend towards upscale boutique hotels, citing the Ace Hotel, Distrikt Hotel and the new AC Hotel, as well as the soon-to-be-opened Even Hotel and the Oaklander, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
“There is definitely a lot of development in Pittsburgh. A lot of hotels have opened in past two years or will be opening going into next year. There is more demand, more tourism coming into the area,” Rizzo said, noting that younger travelers seeking authentic experiences tend to be most attracted to Pittsburgh as a tourist destination.
This is a trend that will no doubt continue, thanks to Pittsburgh International Airport’s new direct flights and partnerships with airlines like WOW Air, Condor and (as of April 2019) British Airways.
In addition to its new reputation in the tech space, Pittsburgh is also known for its cultural offerings, educational facilities, healthcare services and sustainability initiatives. The city’s knowledge and innovation economy is also a global one, with about 100 multi-billion-dollar companies doing business in the city outside of the tech space. This includes Allegheny Technologies, Alcoa, ANSYS, Black Box, BNY Mellon, Google, The Kraft Heinz Company, Kennametal, Matthews, MSA, PNC, PPG Industries, Respironics, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), U. S. Steel and Westinghouse.