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Strategies for Growing Pittsburgh’s Media Cluster

Aug 06, 2015
Publisher: Milken Institute

For decades, Pittsburgh has thrived as a regional entertainment media center, and as the setting for popular movies and television shows including Silence of the Lambs, Batman and Mr. Rogers’Neighborhood. The metro area has seen a total film industry economic impact of $1 billion since the formation in 1990 of the Pittsburgh Film Office, which markets the southwestern Pennsylvania region to film and TV producers. But competition within the U.S. and from overseas challenges the city’s ability to attract movie and TV productions. Producers look for the right combination of local talent, infrastructure in the form of facilities and service providers, and financial incentives, when determining where to locate a project, be it a movie or a series.

According to this report, Pittsburgh already has a strong technology and media base that gives it a significant foundation to build on. But it needs a coordinated strategy to develop an entertainment and technology cluster that includes the best talent and an up-to-date media infrastructure in order to compete with cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Toronto, and even New York.

In our assessment of the Pittsburgh metro in entertainment media, we engaged producers, business owners and other decision makers, both in Pittsburgh and in Hollywood, to determine not only what Pittsburgh’s key comparative advantages are, but also what steps it must take to become home to a thriving cluster of media and related jobs. A cluster is essential, because it creates a critical mass of employers and skilled workers that provides both job and economic security. Our report calls for the Pittsburgh Film Office to lead the creation of a stakeholder group to develop and advocate for a strategy to accomplish three main objectives:

  • Create and retain a skilled entertainment workforce. Unlike other cities, Pittsburgh does not need to develop new training programs for aspiring filmmakers, but instead must create a coordinated strategy to retain the graduates already produced locally. Pittsburgh’s workforce—both film crews and production service providers—enjoys a strong reputation in Hollywood. However, to attract and retain more skilled workers, a strong investment in the local infrastructure is needed to ensure that the workforce remains fully employed.

  • Invest in entertainment infrastructure. For Pittsburgh to consistently lure movie and television projects, it must have sufficient capacity to house and support a number of productions year-round, and not just when the weather is good. This means multiple soundstages and vendors to provide services throughout the productions. Although Pittsburgh has the core of this capacity, it pales in comparison to rivals. Purpose-built facilities would not only be vital in securing a steady flow of productions, but would also allow longstanding firms and new startups to cluster together and provide a broader economic impact for the entire metro.

  • Ensure political support and long-term commitment to film incentives. Sustained investment in retaining human capital and building infrastructure requires a stable commitment to film production incentives. This issue requires a concerted effort on the part of businesses, educational institutions and organizations, led by the Pittsburgh Film Office, to influence policy and restructure the incentives program so that production companies can anticipate costs in a reliable way.