woman leaning against a brick wall in a white jacket

A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:

This week, over on Forbes, I wrote about the new boom in cybersecurity services for small business. Insurance rates are way up, even though there’s scant claims data.

Next week, we’ll start publishing stories that grew out of my passion for writing about people who are building up their communities. These are stories about Pittsburgh, produced as part of a sponsorship from Armory Square Ventures to look at the entrepreneurial landscapes in cities in Middle America.

At the City of Asylum (more on it below), I sat next to a doctor from a town north of Pittsburgh. In what used to be the center of American steel, health care Is now the largest industry. “People aren’t any healthier, though,” he said.

In the 1980s and 90s, when American executives were moving jobs overseas, a lot of us believed what the experts said: The free market would work its magic. New jobs would appear for the high school graduates who had crafted a way of life, a really good way of life, for their kids and their communities, around those jobs.

I feel a bit gullible for believing that. And it never happened. What happened instead was a terrible collapse. More than 600,000 Americans, disproportionately white people with high school educations, would be alive today if it weren’t for that collapse, according to authors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, in Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. They’ve died of alcohol abuse, opiod abuse and suicide.

They live in places like Pittsburgh and its surroundings. The deaths will continue if America doesn’t find a way to come together and rebuild.

I learned a lot visiting Pittsburgh, and look forward to sharing it with you over the next couple of weeks: the role of Chinese hackers in the decline of American industry; the story of a tiny neighborhood under threat, and a Black woman out to save it; the foundations that have shored up the city for decades. And some new hopes that re-shoring manufacturing might find a city-in-waiting, in Pittsburgh.

Jim Gibbs, the founder of Meter Feeder, a fast-rising Pittsburgh internet of things company, shared a telling story. A native of Long Island, he took a walk through a rough neighborhood in his adopted hometown. He deliberately wore what he thinks of as a New York face, shoulders hunched, menacing frown. “I do look like I could rip your arms off,” he told me lightly.

He walked like that up one of Pittsburgh’s many hills. A guy shouted from a stoop as he passed.

“Hey brother!”

“What!?” he responded forcefully, gearing up for a confrontation.

“Steelers are up 24-7!”

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.