Pittsburgh from the river. Photo by Nick Certo

Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh are on their way to regaining their status as manufacturing hubs, according to a new article on Next City. In his piece Cleveland Wants to Make Sure the Next Wright Brothers Come From the Rust Belt, Lee Chilcote explores the boom in hardware startups throughout our region.

“While software’s promised land has long been Silicon Valley, the Rust Belt is fast becoming a land of milk and honey — and plasma — for hardware,” writes Chilcote. “In cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, there is already an infrastructure for affordable manufacturing in place.” Though investments in hardware have long been considered riskier than those in software, companies in Pittsburgh and beyond are proving that conventional wisdom wrong.

The secret to success lies in taking advantage of the Rust Belt’s well-established manufacturing resources, and in supporting promising hardware startups with the time and money needed to execute their vision.

“’Two guys with a computer and 25 grand didn’t run a hardware company 10 years ago,’ says Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear [a Pittsburgh-based hardware accelerator]. The key to success, she says, is allowing hardware companies more time — the typical accelerator gives startups three months to sink or swim — so they can tinker with prototypes.”

Historically, manufacturing was the economic backbone of cities like Pittsburgh, but the amount of space required pushed much of it into exurbia. Now, thanks in part to advancements like 3D printing, hardware startups can occupy a much smaller footprint than the factories of yore, allowing more than just software companies to become part of the city’s fabric.

This return to making things you can hold—rather than those that exist only in cyberspace— will hinge on creating cities that nourish innovation and entrepreneurship across the board. And according to one expert, “the Rust Belt could be the Silicon Valley of hardware, but only if everyone understands that the new companies aren’t all that different than the ‘startups’ that defined the region 100 years ago.”

Read the full story here.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.