I grew up in Pittsburgh, during its “Smoky City era”, before the Pittsburgh of today, a hub of technology and R&D. As a child, my favorite pastime was attending Pirates games at Forbes Field. My dream was to be a professional baseball player. I could characterize my career in two words: Who knew? Like many Pittsburghers of my day, I started working in “the mill” a few years after high school. After working several years at the United States Steel’s Homestead Works, I realized that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. As the poet Jack Gilbert, who grew up in Pittsburgh, said, “You can’t work in a steel mill and think small.” So in spite of my lack of academic prerequisites, I decided to quit the mill and go to college. I started at Allegheny County Community College and eventually transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where I majored in philosophy and economics. In 1972 I entered Pitt’s graduate program in economics. Many prominent regional economists passed through the department, such as Ed Hoover, Ben Chinitz, and Charlie Leven. Urban and regional economics was “in the air” at Pitt. Harry Richardson spent a few years at Pitt while I was a graduate student, and his research and mentoring led me to write my Ph.D. thesis on urban agglomeration economies. Unfortunately, Harry left Pitt before my dissertation was completed, but fortunately one of the best economists I have ever known, Jack Ochs, became my thesis advisor. I was privileged to have the guidance of Harry and Jack and I am deeply indebted to them.
After completing my thesis, I took a job at Florida International University, and after one year I joined the University of Missouri. I spent one year at the Kansas City campus and several years at the St. Louis campus. A paper looking at agglomeration economies in manufacturing activity from my thesis was published in the Journal of Regional Science in 1979, and a book followed. Soon after arriving in St. Louis, I paid a visit to Charlie Leven, who was chairing the Economics Department at Washington University. Charlie had just published a book examining the “turnaround phenomenon” in U.S. population dynamics. In the 1970s, a dramatic reversal of the long-standing tendency for people to concentrate in metropolitan places was observed — rural places gained migrants largely as the result of increased outmigration from metropolitan places. This reversal engendered the “clean break” hypothesis — namely, that the U.S. population trend had undergone a major break with the past. This new trend led to a flurry of academic papers during the 1970s and 1980s. I was surprised that no one had looked at whether the employment profile between rural and metro places paralleled that of the population profile. I seized the opportunity, and my research uncovered a turnaround in employment growth that had preceded the reversal in the rates of population growth and was published in the Journal of Urban Economics. We now know that reversals in population growth during the 1970s proved to be temporary and the trend toward greater population concentration reasserted itself.
Charlie was an inspiration for my research, and we formed a fast and lasting friendship. That’s why I was delighted when Marcus Berliant asked me to present a paper at a conference honoring Charlie, who passed in 2011. It was special to spend time with mutual friends and to meet Charlie’s family.
My association with the Regional Science Association began in 1980, when I attended the North American Meeting held in Milwaukee. I presented a paper showing that current estimates of urban agglomeration economies were too large and appeared to be declining over time. The paper was published in Papers, Regional Science Association. What attracted me most about the association was, as David Plane has noted, the “simple style of regional science – it’s all about the scholarship and collegiality without the extraneous trappings of other disciplines and groups.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Don Mullineaux, who was the chair of the research group at the Philadelphia Fed. In 1980, I was trying to model inflation expectations for a project I was working on, and Don had just published a paper using a new series on inflation expectations. I called Don to see if he would share the data with me, which he most graciously did. We got to talking, and when Don found out that I was a regional economist, he told me that the Bank was looking to hire an economist for its regional section and asked if I would be interested. One thing led to another, and in January 1981, I began my 35-year (and counting) career at the Philly Fed. That same year, Ted Crone joined our group, and Dick Voith joined us a few years later. This marked the beginning of a productive and stable period of urban and regional research at the Philly Fed. I am fortunate to have had Ted and Dick as colleagues and friends. Dick and I worked on a number of projects. Our first paper considered the regional impacts of exchange rate movements. In my second paper with Dick, we analyzed the determinants of aggregate productivity at the state level using the new (at the time) gross state product data. I am the only member of the original group who is still at the Philly Fed; my section now includes Leonard Nakamura, Jeff Lin, and Jeff Brinkman. A number of other notable urban economists have passed through the regional section such as Albert Saiz, Ethan Lewis, and Jason Faberman. Although Albert was at the Fed only for one year, we remain close friends and coauthored a paper called “City Beautiful” that provided evidence of the demand for urban amenities that stems from consumer revealed preferences based on the number of leisure tourist visits to metropolitan areas.
During the early to late 1980s, Ed Mills visited the Bank on a regular basis. My exposure to Ed proved to be especially fruitful, as we went on to work on a number of projects. This collaboration produced my most frequently cited paper, which is on the determinants of county growth. Bob Inman was also a regular visitor in the 1980s, as he is today. I learned a lot about local public finance from Bob, and recently we coauthored a couple of papers. One paper published in the Journal of Monetary Economics looks at the extent to which states have the ability to stabilize their own economies. A second paper, forthcoming in Tax Policy and the Economy, considers the extent to which states can be used as fiscal agents for federal macroeconomic policy, such as what was done during the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
I don’t have to tell anyone reading this article how great a place Philadelphia is for people with interest in regional science. The Regional Science Department at Penn was considered the academic leader in the field. I benefited almost immediately from interactions with Dan Vining, whose research demonstrated that the 1970s trend reversal observed for the U.S. was happening in many industrialized nations. It was great spending time at the department and having many of the people there spend time at the Fed, such as Tony Smith, Masa Fujita, and Janice Madden. In addition, Wharton’s Finance Department housed a number of people with urban interests, such as Pete Linneman, Bob Inman, and Joe Gyourko. In 1981, I became an adjunct —first in Wharton’s Finance Department and until around mid-2000s in the school’s Real Estate Department. My colleagues and I are fortunate to have some of the leading scholars in urban economics as neighbors. Gilles Duranton, Fernando Ferreira, Jessie Handbury, Todd Sinai, Tony Smith, and Maisy Wong are regular visiting scholars at the Bank.
I have benefited immensely from fruitful interactions with a number colleagues and friends. Bob DeFina and I produced a number of papers looking at the differential regional effects of monetary policy. Ed Coulson and I wrote a paper examining the social benefits to cities from hosting a National Football League team. Len Mills and I looked at regional income convergence in the postwar period. My continuing interest in postwar urban evolution of population and employment led to two papers on employment deconcentration with my colleague Satyajit Chatterjee. Later, Chatterjee and I teamed up with Bob Hunt on an article on urban density’s role in innovation. More recently, I have an exciting project looking at the spatial clustering of R&D labs with Kristy Buzard, Jake Carr, Bob Hunt, and Tony Smith.
All of these collaborations played a big role in my selection as a Fellow in 2010, which is a highlight of my career. This award was presented to me by Roberta Capello at the Denver meeting. Another highlight was becoming a Senior Fellow in the Rimini Center for Economic Analysis in Rimini Italy. Given my Italian heritage, I was especially proud of this honor. Another highlight was coestablishing the Conference on Urban and Regional Economics (CURE) with Diego Puga. The CURE is differentiated from other conferences in that fewer papers are on the program and each presenter is given ample time to fully present the paper. Diego organized the inaugural meeting of the CURE held in Milan in 2009, and it was an instant success. It is gratifying that the conference continues to be successful, drawing remarkable papers and participation from many of the world’s leading scholars of urban economics and economic geography. The conference alternates each year between Europe and the United States. I am especially grateful to Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, who helped launch the CURE in the US. Esteban and I organized the first two U.S. conferences, held at Princeton University in 2010 and 2012. Another highlight of my career was being asked by Gilles Duranton, Vernon Henderson, and Will Strange to write a chapter with Bill Kerr on “Agglomeration and Innovation” for the Handbook of Urban and Regional Economics that was published last year.
Over the years, I have witnessed a growing interest in regional science. The numbers of sessions at the annual North American meetings have grown not only in quantity but in quality, too. The discipline continues to attract highly talented people, both junior and senior scholars. The support I received from the many people involved with the Association makes me glad I chose to work on urban and regional topics. Most of the industrial mills are gone from Pittsburgh. But like baseball in Pittsburgh, the future continues to look bright for regional science.
(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2016 May)