When Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl took office about five years ago, he was tasked with turning the tide on the city’s 15-year recession.
The youngest person to ever hold his seat at 32, he quickly looked to diversify the economy through housing improvements, capital reinvestment and riverside development.
A city once thought of as old and dirty now offers 1.1 million jobs for its labor force more than at the height of the steel industry, Ravenstahl said.
The mayor told a auditorium at Manatee Memorial Hospital packed with area business leaders and government officials Friday morning that he expects similar changes for Bradenton.
Although 1,058 miles apart, the two cities share many of the same business characteristics. Led by the Pirates, which make their spring training home in Bradenton, Ravenstahl said they could both benefit from bolstered synergy in the future.
“We’ve all experience difficult times, and that’s something we’ve had to deal with,” Ravenstahl said. “We’re a cleaner town now, we’re a greener town now, but we still make products in Pittsburgh, and we’re proud of that.”
Because Pittsburgh went through an economy downtown years before many other parts of the country, the Pennsylvania city has been forced to quickly diversify its economy.
Developers turned old steel mills and factories into trendy condos, with retail and mixed use on the ground floor.
The city redeveloped its rivers, once used solely for steel shipping, into a recreational asset.
Even the sports franchises reinvested in their stadiums to improve the tourism draw.
Manatee County now is looking at many of the same challenges.
Like Pittsburgh’s struggle with steel, Southwest Florida is scrambling to diversify its economy from a heavy emphasis on construction during the historic boom-bust a sector that once employed nearly half of the county’s 139,867 workers, according to the labor department.
Bradenton also has underway a $6.2 million Riverwalk project and $7.5 million in improvements at McKechnie Park.
To further improve their ties, the Pirates also have increased the team’s in-kind donations from $150,000 to $400,000, including more advertising for Anna Maria Island vacations at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the two cities,” said David Gustafson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. “Pittsburgh has faced a lot of challenges over the years, and we have many of the same challenges of our own. All of us are just pushing.”
Last August, Bradenton and Pittsburgh created the “Two Cities Alliance” aimed to enhance the cultural, sports and economic development opportunities between the two markets. Several Bradenton officials visited Pittsburgh for the official presentation.
While in town today, Ravenstahl plans to take a tour of Pirate City, downtown Bradenton, Village of the Arts, and catch a Pirates inter-squad game at McKechnie Park.
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@JoshSalman