Six years ago, when the Rand Corp. opened an office in Pittsburgh, a lot of people wondered why — and some questioned our judgment. But Rand, a nonprofit research organization with a strong reputation for predicting future trends, saw clearly and correctly that Pittsburgh was a city of many strengths and great promise.
Tomorrow, after six years of expansion that saw Rand outgrow our original offices in Pittsburgh, we will celebrate the opening of our new offices in the Rand Building at Fifth Avenue and Craig Street in Oakland. Our Pittsburgh staff has grown to 130, and will expand to about 200 in the next few years.
Pittsburgh offers Rand everything we had hoped for and more for our third U.S. office. Great universities and a medical school we can work with to conduct landmark research. A good quality of life, moderate cost of living, relatively easy commutes to work, and housing at reasonable prices. A strong business community that today includes headquarters of nine corporations on the Fortune 1000 list. A tradition of philanthropy and public-private partnerships that benefit the city and region. Close proximity and easy access to Washington and our U.S. government clients.
And Pittsburgh also has provided Rand with an important talent pool from which we've drawn new staff and new members of the Rand Board of Trustees and our advisory boards.
While our Pittsburgh staff carries out research and analysis on projects that span the globe, a significant amount of our work has had a direct and positive impact in the Pittsburgh region.
A few examples:
Rand has assessed the capacity of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County emergency services to respond to terrorist events.
With support from the Heinz Endowments, the Rand-University of Pittsburgh Health Institute and county agencies have launched a project aimed at learning how to improve maternal and child health-care delivery in Allegheny County.
Rand has explored the degree and nature of economic interdependence within Allegheny County and provided evidence on how the county's 130 municipalities are interconnected, as people commute across municipal borders to work and create interregional economic flows.
We have conducted a study of the challenges associated with implementing a high-quality system of early childhood education for the region.
And in the project with perhaps the greatest local impact so far, we've developed a new method of measuring the performance of individual schools within the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This method has helped school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt identify schools to close in light of declining enrollments, given credit to schools that are raising the achievement of the students they serve, and pointed out the academic promise of K-8 schools for Pittsburgh's African-American students.
Rand continues to work with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, with the ultimate aim of identifying ways to improve school performance and student achievement across the city.
Why is the school study so important? One reason is its contribution to turning around Pittsburgh's schools so that more businesses and organizations follow Rand's example and set up offices in Pittsburgh — and so that those already here stay and expand.
Good schools are vital to Pittsburgh. As has been shown around the nation, without good schools many families with children won't live in the urban core of metropolitan areas.
Pittsburgh needs more families to stay in the city and to move to the city from elsewhere if the exodus of jobs and people is to be reversed. A growing population would bring Pittsburgh more tax revenue, create more jobs, raise property values and help attract even more businesses and people to the city.
Much of Rand's work is important to Pittsburgh. While most people think of Rand as a military think tank, about half of our work is on nonmilitary issues — health, education, early childhood development, infrastructure, public safety, the environment, energy, labor, welfare, population and more.
Our pioneering work in Pittsburgh on these critical issues is benefiting not just the people of the region, but people around the world. And our research around the world is helping uncover lessons that can be useful to Pittsburgh and other American cities in their quest to build better futures for their residents.
We realize that Rand alone cannot stimulate an economic resurgence in Pittsburgh — and in many other cities around the United States. But Rand can be — and aspires to be — an important catalyst that can help lead to better days ahead throughout urban America.
Sixty years ago, Rand's first study looked at the possibility of creating an Earth-orbiting satellite — an idea that was science fiction at the time. Later, Rand did research that helped lay the groundwork for the Internet — something even more impossible to imagine not so long ago.
Our hope is that 60 years from now, Pittsburgh and other American cities will be more prosperous thanks in part to the work Rand has done and will do in Pittsburgh. A tough goal to meet? Sure. But we're in the business of setting and meeting tough goals, and we're glad to be doing our work in Pittsburgh.
James A. Thomson is president and CEO of the Rand Corp. Barry Balmat is director of the Pittsburgh office of Rand.
This commentary originally appeared in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 20, 2006. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.