Page last updated at 22:35 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 23:35 UK

Pittsburgh steeled to be host city

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a symbol of the city's transformation

Summit venues are not chosen by accident.

When the Obama administration had to decide which American city should host the G20 gathering, a great deal of thought went into the selection of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

One White House team was on the phone to the Mayor's office making sure the city had the right kind of convention facilities, the right number of hotel rooms and a big enough airport to deal with the 33 national delegations which have somehow ended up being invited to this gathering of the 20 richest nations on earth.

People who think of Pittsburgh as a smoky steel town ... they'll see quite a different thing
Frank Coonelly, Pittsburgh Pirates

Another was ensuring that the Pittsburgh story told a positive story about Obama's America.

And the White House thinks the city passed both tests with flying colours.

The logistical effort required to host such a huge event is well under way, as is the security operation designed to contain the protesters who will inevitably assemble to make sure their concerns are somehow written into the story of the meeting.


And the symbolism?

Well, the population of Pittsburgh seems remarkably on-message. Local politicians, business leaders and folks in cafes and bars will all tell you the same story.

Pittsburgh - the grimy old steel town that was a powerhouse of American heavy industry and made its money under choking clouds of smoke from its mills and mines - is no more.

A pro-American car sticker
Locals have been making their feelings clear about declining industries

In its place is a clean, green example of regeneration. A city where pleasure cruisers carry tourists between the wooded banks of its three rivers and where people make a living in services such as health and education or in hi-tech business.

No-one puts it better than Frank Coonelly, president of the city's baseball team the Pittsburgh Pirates: "It's a remarkable transformation, not just of the economy but of the city itself from an industrial steel town to a city that now really is driven by hi-tech and service sectors.

"People who think of Pittsburgh as a smoky steel town, when they come in here this week they'll see quite a different thing."

It feels like the perfect message for the Obama administration to send out from a city which is about become the backdrop for 1,000 TV reporters from around the world.

Hidden costs?

On paper, Pittsburgh is a text-book example of how a globalised economy works.

Old manufacturing jobs migrate to cheaper labour markets, so your steel is made in India and China.

Jim Economos
Everyone is closing up or moving out
Jim Economos, restaurant owner

Your population educates itself; then moves into the cleaner, more sophisticated service sectors of tourism, healthcare and education.

The problem is that not all Americans agree these policies are working in their interests.

Just a short drive from the city, in the Mahoning Valley of Northern Ohio, plenty of people are troubled by the new world economic order.

While economists may shudder at anything that sounds like the opening shots of a trade war, a meeting of the local United Autoworkers Retired section in Lordstown was delighted by the news that the Obama administration has imposed a tariff on imports of cheap Chinese tyres.

Manufacturing woes

Dave Green, president of the Union Local 1714, argues that businesses in countries like China can only undercut their American rivals because they do not pay the same wages as US companies or operate under the same environmental and safety regulations.

His point: America needs a manufacturing base and cannot afford to allow more manufacturing jobs to migrate to lower wage economies.

Dave Green
Mr Green and his union back steps to protect US jobs

"Made in the USA used to really mean something," Mr Green says.

"It used to mean something to my grandparents and my parents as well and we've kind of lost that. It's decimated our jobs here.

"Akron just 40 miles west of here used to be the rubber capital of the world. Ride through Akron now, they make very few tyres. We want fair trade, not free trade."

In nearby Warren they also see globalisation as a process in which the upside to Americans - cheap consumer goods from Asia - is vastly outweighed by the downside, which is a steady of haemorrhaging of jobs to the very people who make those cheap goods.

In his family's restaurant, the Saratoga, Jim Economos lists the industries that have closed.

"We used to make all the water fountains for the world, we used to make compasses, we made kitchen cabinets, we made all the electrical parts for GM and all different kinds of steel.

"Hopefully they'll be coming back, but everyone is closing up or moving out," he adds.

Pros and cons

So, very close to Pittsburgh with its stirring symbolic story of regeneration and post-industrial prosperity lies this other America of the Mahoning Valley where they see the costs of globalisation in their closed-down factories and derelict buildings on Main Street.

But will the city give a warm welcome to Warren's representative?

What they do not see for the moment is any benefit to balance that cost.

As one local said: "We can't have an economy where we just serve each other meals and dry clean each other's clothes. We have to start making things again."

The hard-working chamber of commerce in Warren is sending a representative down to Pittsburgh for the G20 talks.

It would be nice to think he might get a little face time with one or two of the world leaders gathering there. He has a story worth listening to.

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