Pittsburgh is losing black residents. An entrepreneur tries to bring them back.
PITTSBURGH – After years of population loss, the former steel town has grown into one of America’s most livable cities. But while its white population has stabilized, it continues to lose black residents at a faster rate than other major cities.
David Motley, a black venture capitalist, is trying to change that, including bringing more black professionals to Pittsburgh, now a burgeoning center for technology, business and education. In 2003, he returned to Pittsburgh after earning an MBA from Harvard Business School and living in 10 other cities, including Atlanta. He now hopes to build a strong middle class in a city that has been hemorrhaging black residents for years.
“How to make this new economy accessible to more people?” Mr Motley said. “There will be no solution overnight.”
Over the past decade, Pittsburgh has lost 9% of its black population, and it is losing that population at a much faster annual rate than other cities like Chicago. As the city began to attract more tech companies in the early 2000s and neighborhoods became gentrified, in some cases black residents could no longer afford to stay. Many have moved to outlying suburbs with lower housing costs. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s white population has stabilized after 70 years of decline.
In January, Motley co-founded a $ 50 million Pittsburgh-based venture capital fund to invest in tech startups with black and diverse founding teams. He started a nonprofit in 2017 with his wife, Darlene Motley, who called the African American Directors Forum to attract more black executives to boards. He also recently acquired a former synagogue and former school with a partner and plans to inaugurate an affordable, market-rate housing development of $ 18.5 million in June in an area where black residents have declined significantly in the country. middle of gentrification over the past decade.
He sometimes acts as a recruiter himself. Tagbo Niepa, now an assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, said Mr Motley flew to Philadelphia in 2017 to tell him how welcoming Pittsburgh is to black professionals.
Mr Niepa, who at the time was a scholarship holder at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to move his family, and he is now researching the use of germs to fight disease on campus in Pitt in town. “So Pittsburgh ended up being a great place,” he said.
Mr. Motley grew up on the outskirts of Larimer, in an area that has suffered decades of decline. About a dozen blocks away is one of Pittsburgh’s success stories, Bakery Square, where Google and others opened offices as of 2010. The development spans 1.7 million square feet of offices, retail and residential spaces where nearly 4,000 workers collectively earn approximately $ 345 million. year of remuneration. The residents of Larimer largely missed the new opportunities.
Mr Motley, whose parents still own the house he grew up in, remembers doing his homework at the dining room table, while at the other end his father, then a caretaker, was studying for his university courses. His father eventually retired as director of plant operations for the city after a 42-year career.
The youngest Mr. Motley worked for 20 years at PPG Industries and then for the medical device company Respironics. In 2010 he decided to pursue his own businesses. He is now also Managing Director of MCAPS LLC, a Pittsburgh-based professional services company.
He said Google’s move to a former Nabisco factory in Larimer was a transformation for Pittsburgh and the neighborhood. Yet grassy grounds still lie between the houses on the block where Mr. Motley grew up.
“It looks like there was a war,” he said.
The economic conditions for black residents are among the worst in urban areas in America, despite sustained efforts to improve them. In Pittsburgh, nearly 45% of black children live in poverty. Only Milwaukee, Buffalo and Cleveland have higher rates, according to a University of Wisconsin study last year of the nation’s 50 largest cities.
In the study, Pittsburgh ranked among the worst for a range of economic and social indicators for black residents. It had the fourth lowest annual median income for black households at $ 33,121. The city was fifth worst in homicide death rates among black residents, and it was third worst on a measure of economic mobility.
The city is set to elect its first black mayor, Ed Gainey, who is running on issues of diversity and equity. Mr Gainey won the Democratic primary this month, beating current Mayor Bill Peduto. There are no Republicans in the running, which means Mr Gainey will almost certainly be the city’s next mayor in November.
In an interview, Mr Gainey, who lives a few blocks from where Mr Motley grew up, said he wanted to strengthen affordable housing and workforce development programs, and he lamented that the city did not have a black middle class neighborhood. “If we don’t see growth for everyone in this city, then we don’t see growth,” he said.
To take control of the synagogue-owned site, Motley teamed up with the developer who built the Google offices. The company, Walnut Capital, announced in February that it was providing a $ 2 million grant to Larimer, in part to fund workforce development.
Todd Reidbord, chairman of Walnut Capital, said the company plans to build a pedestrian bridge over a road and rail line to connect the rest of Larimer to Bakery Square. The company has hired a black artist for a public art project, and two black chefs will be working at a new restaurant on the site.
“I think we all have this distinct attitude that we need to dispel,” said Donna Jackson, president of the Larimer Consensus Group, a resident organization. “Cross this bridge. Go buy yourself some food. Go to Starbucks.
Sit down and read.
Mr Motley said Pittsburgh’s relatively small size and pool of talented people allows for potentially powerful connections that might not happen in big cities.
One example was the founding of Black Tech Nation, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower black tech professionals in Pittsburgh and beyond.
Kelauni Jasmyn, who moved to Pittsburgh in 2016 to take a three-month coding course, said the idea arose out of her questioning why there was no black tech community in the city. A year later, she organized a one-day forum on the issue. It only attracted 85 people, but it raised its profile throughout the city.
Sean Sebastian, a white venture capitalist from Pittsburgh, invited her to his office and became a mentor. He put her in touch with Mr. Motley.
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Today, she is the founder and CEO of Black Tech Nation, a networking and support group, which has more than 700 Black software engineers and other members. “Our #DigitalWakanda is coming soon!” says his website.
Separately, in January, Ms. Jasmyn, Mr. Sebastian and Mr. Motley launched a $ 50 million fund called Black Tech Nation Ventures to invest in technology companies.
“I don’t think I could have started this anywhere other than Pittsburgh, especially around the time I was here,” Ms. Jasmyn said. “It’s so small and yet there are a lot of powerful people.”
Write to Kris Maher at [email protected]
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