Why Is the G-20 Being Held in Pittsburgh?

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Jim Young / Reuters

A police boat patrols the Allegheny River in preparation for the G-20 leaders meeting in Pittsburgh

When White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced in May that the Obama Administration had chosen to hold the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pa., the press corps broke out laughing. It's tough to blame them. The meeting, which begins Sept. 24 and includes top financial officials from the world's 20 largest economies, carries with it a hefty security burden. In the past, local officials have had to cope with both terrorist threats and violent protests at the site of the summit, and it's the type of logistical nightmare that would seem to demand a venue accustomed to hosting globally important events. So why Pittsburgh?

The pick was left to Obama's discretion after the governors of the G-20 decided the event would be held in the U.S. Obama said he chose Pittsburgh to showcase the city's reinvention from an aging industrial town into a tech-heavy, eco-friendly metropolis with a burgeoning alternative-energy sector. The success story isn't all hype — Pittsburgh's unemployment and foreclosure rates are lower than the national average, and the sagging steel industry is no longer the sole engine of the city's economy.

Pittsburgh is just the second noncapital city to hold the event, after Montreal in 2000. But it shouldn't be too overjoyed. While the designation is certainly an honor, hosting the G-20 doesn't really have economic benefits. In addition to security concerns, the host pays a premium. To hold March's meeting of the G-20, London shelled out an estimated $131 million — a big number for any city to absorb, and more than four times the expected cost. With fewer than 4,000 people expected to attend the Pittsburgh summit, experts say the local economy should see a boost of only about $8 million. And while the U.S. government is covering many of the city's costs, the Pittsburgh city council had to temporarily shift $16 million in funding to cover outlays that they say will be reimbursed eventually.