WHEN the world came to Pittsburgh a decade ago, the Steel City didn't like what it saw. Foreign competition closed steel mills, bankrupted companies, eliminated jobs, and decimated the close-knit communities that depended on the mills. Other local manufacturers suffered too. But the loss of steel jobs hurt the most, because this is where the United States steel industry grew up.
Today, local suspicions about foreign competition are slowly giving way. ``The problem is that people became very aware of the challenge and the threats'' 10 years ago, says Sandra Williamson, a Pittsburgh business consultant. ``Now, people have to become aware of the opportunities'' of the global economy.
Like many mid-sized US cities, Pittsburgh has its elite and its middle class. Unlike most of its counterparts, this is a city where some people still live in the house they grew up in - practically unheard of in modern, mobile America.
``I always come back to Pittsburgh,'' says Burkart Holzner, director of the international studies center at the University of Pittsburgh. Mr. Holzner, who has worked in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Western Europe, moved here in 1960 and stayed.
``There is also this feeling of place and knowing your way around,'' says Rick Stafford, a native of nearby Waynesburg, Pa.
Mr. Stafford turned down the chance to work at the World Bank to stay in Pittsburgh. He now directs the city's Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
Despite this parochialism, Pittsburgh's elite saw the need to internationalize early on and is pushing to make the city an international business hub. Last year, Pittsburgh County won acceptance as a World Trade Center. More than 150 business, government, academic, and civic organizations have come together to form the Pittsburgh International Initiative. The new group aims to study how the city fits into the global economy.
There are other signs of internationalization among Pittsburgh institutions. USX Corporation, which convinced the US government to slow imports of foreign steel a decade ago, is now thinking about selling its steel operations to concentrate on its oil business. Leaders of the United Steelworkers of America, who supported the trade barriers in the 1980s, are now backing the Pittsburgh International Initiative.
The company currently causing the most local excitement is Japanese. Sony is building an ultramodern television plant in the area. Area residents have packed community meetings to learn about the new plant. The overwhelming attitude has been quite positive, says Michael Koff, a spokesman for Sony.
What transformed Pittsburgh's suspicions into acceptance? Jobs. By 1995, Sony plans to employ 1,800 people to assemble 1 million television sets each year. The Japanese head of the company is already talking about exporting TVs to Japan.
And Sony is not alone in its embrace of Pittsburgh.
A KPMG Peat Marwick study late last year found 101 foreign companies operating in western Pennsylvania, creating 11,000 area jobs, and nearly $2.5 billion in capital investment. About 40 percent of those companies moved here within the last five years.
``We believe Pittsburgh is a lot more international than most people think,'' says Kelly O'Toole of the Greater Pittsburgh Office of Promotion. When she tallied the city's international links recently, she found 13 consulates and chambers of commerce, three direct international flights, and four international banks.
With more foreign firms coming, and a new airport terminal under construction, Steel City could indeed become an international hub.