Steel City Or Silicon City?

Jan 23, 2002 (07:01 PM EST)

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The Steel City may have to change its nickname to Silicon City. Pittsburgh was the fastest growing wired city in the United States last year. A new report from Internet research firm Nielsen/NetRatings shows 1.2 million residents plugging into the Net for the first time from their homes, a growth rate of 20.4%.

Salt Lake City came in a close second, showing 20% growth in its number of Web surfers, according to the study. Rounding out the top 10 were Phoenix at 17%; Raleigh, N.C., at 13.4%; Philadelphia at 12.8%; Cleveland at 12.6%; Minneapolis at 11.2%; Los Angeles at 10.5%; Kansas City, Mo., at 9.5%; and Detroit at 8.2%. The country as a whole saw a 6% growth in home Web connections in 2001, from 98.7 million to 104.8 million.

NetRatings senior media analyst Jarvis Mak says the results point to a second wave of midsize cities catching up to their big brothers. "Larger cities have started to reach a saturation point, so their growth is a lot slower," he explains. Some major tech hubs have even showed negative growth, including San Diego, San Francisco, and Houston. "The Bay area is experiencing a sagging job market, and there's a mass exodus of people leaving."

Jarvis says that the high-growth cities in the survey could prove good places for tech firms to do business, with low costs and increasing numbers of computer-savvy citizens. A spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy agrees. "It may come as a surprise to people around the country, but Pittsburgh is a very wired city," he says. "People think smoke and steel, not high tech, but we've got a growing high-tech industry."