Monday, August 28, 2006

Reinventing Yinzerville

Pittsburgh is frozen in time. I'm not sure what time period is preserved. Perhaps the cultural dynamism left with all the people during the 1980s. Really, I'm not that cynical, but I do wonder how Pittsburgh (and the Pittsburgher) is changing. The local politics are mired in mistrust and there isn't much fresh blood to influence a novel outlook.

The New Yinzer thinks otherwise:

The New Yinzer is a literary organization whose mission is to question, develop, and embody the newly emergent identity of Pittsburgh by way of literary discourse while also providing regional writers with a working classroom in which to cultivate their writing from a fresh idea to a finished product.

What has Pittsburgh become? Pittsburgh needs an image makeover, but I don't think the folks at The New Yinzer are talking about the industrial image that settles as a thick layer of soot between the rest of the world and the region's "newly emergent identity."

Some saviors might want to market the essence of Pittsburgh, but I suggest joining those who would reinvent Yinzerville. I can see a time in the near future when locals remember nostalgically the good ole days of the late 1990s and early on in the new millennium, when the true Pittsburgh remained undisturbed.

Artist Diaspora

An upcoming show at Digging Pitt gallery provides proof of concept about the potential power of the Burgh Diaspora network. Pittsburgh Alumni: Twenty Artists from Beyond the Rivers runs from September 14 - November 4, 2006. Digging Pitt curator John Morris started looking in the Fall of 2005 for notable artists who left Pittsburgh. The result of his efforts is the Pittsburgh Alumni show, which displays the talent that once resided in the Burgh.

I won't speak for Mr. Morris, but I can envision artists spreading the good news about Pittsburgh as an ideal spot for relocation. At the very least, these artists demonstrate that living in Pittsburgh is not a sentence of creative isolation, other scenes just a click away.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion

On August 18th, Public Radio Capitol News contacted this blog in order to do a story on Pennsylvania's "in-migration" problem. Of course I was happy to talk with reporter Damon Boughamer about this issue and I was thrilled when family in Pittsburgh heard me speaking on WDUQ.

The transcript of the broadcast can be found here:

PA and peer states see little in-migration

The quote Mr. Boughamer used concerns some thinking I've done on regional investment in education. Why spend a lot of money on educating children who will likely leave the area? I recommend designing a school system that attracts people new to the area. I think a globalization focus could generate plenty of publicity and announce that Pittsburgh welcomes outsiders. I'm personally interested in developing a curriculum for global civics, which would imagine Pittsburgh's identity on a global scale.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Knowledge Worker Mobility III

The Carnegie Mellon Center for Economic Development is a great resource for exploring issues of migration. Their research demonstrates that inmigration is the problem facing Pittsburgh, not outmigration. The Pittsburgh region is remarkably inert. Between 1995 and 2000, no other large metropolitan area had a greater percentage of residents still living in the same house than Pittsburgh.

Higher educational attainment does correlate with inter-county relocations, at least if a job opportunity is the pull factor. The report cited above recommends that Pittsburgh target populations with postsecondary degrees. This bit of wisdom stems from a U.S. Census report titled, Why People Move. If people with graduate or professional degrees are going to move long distances, they tend to do so for a job.

In other words, the higher the educational attainment, the greater the labor mobility. As a result, knowledge workers tend to be economic opportunists. The irony is that Pittsburgh would have a better chance of attracting workers with advanced degrees than those without high school diplomas, but the region would also be more likely to lose knowledge workers once they get here. If you want to invest in attracting workers, target the less educated.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Knowledge Worker Mobility II

Pittsburgh need not look west towards Silicon Valley. The engine driving the Knowledge Economy in this part of the world surrounds Washington, DC. Despite the mobility of the knowledge labor market, this geography is unlikely to change.

Knowledge workers tend to bounce between a small numbers of places. For the most part, these locations are already determined. In terms of the Burgh Diaspora, where the top-end talent will go is predictable. A significant number of them will travel no further than the DC region. Furthermore, Pittsburgh itself is already locked in as a nexus for scientists and engineers.

The key variable in the study linked above is federal funding. Follow the pork and find the counties with the most scientists and engineers per capita. Venture capital can chase ideas wherever they go, but subsidies mitigate risk. Tapping into this treasure trove of public investment is worth the effort. However, government labs are unlikely to move. Instead, the best and brightest will relocate to where these jobs are currently located. This is true for every region, not just Pittsburgh.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Knowledge Worker Mobility I

My hypothesis is that as the Knowledge Economy grows, labor mobility will increase. In fact, I suspect that the ability and inclination of knowledge workers to move in order to improve will be a defining feature of the emerging economy. I think my idea makes sense, but I need some proof of concept.

Once again, content connectors come to my rescue. Mike Madison, of Pittsblog fame, posted about an article that describes Pittsburgh's chances of creating the next Silicon Valley about as likely as building another New York Yankees baseball team from scratch. The point is that there is only so much talent to go around. At first, I reacted only to the baseball analogy. A look at the article in question revealed a few useful nuggets for my own cause.

The controversy concerns the return on investment from pumping money into local universities. The rub is that "smart people" and "research ideas" tend to leave the region of origin. State, regional, or local educational subsidies likely produce benefits for other states or regions. Georgia spends a great deal of money trying to keep high school graduates instate. Studies suggest that this is a poor strategy.

There are benefits from investing in higher education, but the returns are not likely to be seen regionally.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Expanding the Pittsburgh Region

Net outmigration is a policy problem, and not just for Pittsburgh. Brain drain is a serious issue facing many developing countries. Remittances are one of the benefits of international emigration, but they hardly makes up for the lost human capital. However, the backward flow of money does suggest one way that the departed can help their homeland and serve as a regional or national asset. Might there be other ways to tap into the success of a diaspora?

A recent World Bank report, Diaspora Networks and the International Migration of Skills: How Countries Can Draw on Their Talent Abroad, suggests working with the migration flows, instead of trying to stem the tide. Part of the report is available online. Pittsburgh might learn a useful thing or two from international migration scholars:

Expatriates do not need to be investors or make financial contributions to have an impact on their home countries. They can serve as "bridges" by providing access to markets, sources of investment, and expertise. Influential members of diasporas can shape public debate, articulate reform plans, and help implement reforms and new projects. Policy expertise and managerial and marketing knowledge are the most significant resources of diaspora networks. The overarching focus on the knowledge and policy contributions of expatriates and diaspora networks distinguish this book from a rapidly growing literature on international migration.
Just because a number of Pittsburghers have left does not mean that they can no longer help the region. These expatriates are cultivating networks in various economic hotspots all over the United States. They also tend to be unabashed boosters of Pittsburgh, though most of their co-workers are likely tired of Steelers talk. If you are looking for a spark for Pittsburgh's next renaissance, start your search outside of the region.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pittsburgh's 'Interesting' and 'Trendy' Geography

Watch out, Pittsburgh is about to go boom. The most recent Sunday New York Times Real Estate section hypes the South Side Slopes. Growing up in Vermont during the late 1980s, I am familiar with the New York City real estate refugees. The Green Mountain State was a hotspot for young and hip urban families hunting for the rural utopia of the Romantic Era. I even recall during my short stint in Pittsburgh during the summer of 1997 a cadre of transplants from New York City who viewed the city as on the leading edge of affordable urban chic.

Pittsburgh is cool again. A geographer by training and passion, I am glad to see that other non-Pittsburghers might begin to appreciate the city's unique and stunning landscape after reading the article:

It's just kind of quirky, funky and real, more organic, built by Europeans and other immigrants. The only other American cities that I find as geographically interesting are maybe San Francisco and Asheville, NC. --Ernie Sota, quoted in the Sunday New York Times
I couldn't move to Pittsburgh fast enough. Of course, I had the same pang when I read a similar Times article about Asheville a few months ago. I think the real estate journalist was a little late to the Asheville scene, but the budding community there seemed inspiring. Pittsburgh's upswing is also likely further along than many locals may suspect. The article will also inspire another wave of pioneers, this time in the Rust Belt.

Be careful what you wish for, Pittsburgh.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Ungeography of the Creative Class

My latest content connection sprouts from part of Thomas Barnett's knowledge cluster, Coming Anarchy. Their traditional geopolitical musings turned towards the migratory geographies of creative people. The observation is that the creative class flocks to various knowledge centers to be among the like-minded and expand one's horizon. The subsequent hypothesis is that the virtual knowledge communities of Web 2.0 are busy marginalizing the variable of proximity to important knowledge centers.

The Paducah success story might offer some support to the above assertion. In this case, real estate opportunity trumps proximity to more established artist communities. I don't think anyone would have a problem poking holes in that narrative, but leaving New York City for Western Kentucky deserves a least a few scratches of the head.

More compelling are the various blog networks that form intentional virtual communities of practice. In my case, I am a non-Pittsburgh native who lives in the Front Range of Colorado engaging other people all over the country concerning all things Pittsburgh. Do I need to be in Pittsburgh to feed my passion? I'd like to live there, but it isn't necessary (at least right now). My involvement in the Pittsburgh community is not dependent on proximity to Pittsburgh.

Few, if anyone, are claiming that virtual communities are effacing geography, but location is no longer a prerequisite for joining a group. I don't need to live in Pittsburgh and posses season tickets to be a Steelers fan. Meanwhile, knowledge centers are springing up online, providing anyone with an opportunity to engage other folks passionate about the same subject.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Tale of Migration and Mobility

Don't believe the hype. That applies to this blog as well. I'm assuming that as the Knowledge Economy develops, labor mobility will increase. International labor mobility may be increasing, but trends within the United States are less clear. The graph to the right indicates that the percentage of Americans on the move has been in steady decline over the past 50 years.

My sense is that migration stories tend to be sensationalized. Immigration issues make an excellent lightening rod, or a fine dish of red herring. Concerning Pittsburgh, the shrill is that everyone is leaving. The region is leaking people and we have to figure out a way to patch the holes.


The more I look at the data, the less evidence of outmigration I find. The 2000 US Census describes mobility in terms of current state of residence and state of birth. The three states with the least number (as a percentage of total population) of natives in 2000 were Nevada (21.3%), Florida (32.7%), and Arizona (34.7%). The states with greatest number of natives were Louisiana (79.4%), Pennsylvania (77.7%), and Michigan (75.4%).

I speculated that Colorado natives were becoming an endangered species. Colorado had the 6th least amount of natives (41.1%). What this describes is significant inmigration, something Pennsylvania clearly lacks. We already know that Pennsylvanians are some of the least likely to leave. Couple that with the relatively few newcomers and you might understand the perception that Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are increasingly parochial.

Another way to understand the findings is to view Pennsylvania as relatively inert.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bohemian Nomads

Thomas Barnett recently used a term that resonates with me, "content connector". His readers deliver relevant articles right to his virtual doorstep, providing him with more blog ammunition than he can use. I have one or two readers, who have played the role of content connector, but I usually have to beat the internet bushes for a few ideas. Hitchhikers pick up hitchhikers and bloggers read blogs. Once again, I thank Chris Briem for bringing the site to my attention (passively, of course).

With my meandering introduction out of the way (I can't let an opportunity to make a proper attribution pass me by), I want to visit Paducah, KY. Zach Patton traces an unusual migratory pattern, artists flocking to an urban backwater looking for another gentrification opportunity. The incentive is essentially subsidized home ownership for the creatively inclined. The program proved to be very successful (perhaps too successful), bringing in artists "as far away as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tucson and New York."

How did these artists find out about the program? That question both vexes and inspires me. Paducah's immigrant windfall should similarly inspire Pittsburgh. But the region will need more than the right magnet. The rub is figuring out a cost effective way to reach the desired demographic.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Marketing Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers leaving their hometown need to sow the seeds of the next wave of immigration. I've heard some people call Pittsburgh "Little San Francisco" and the real estate refugees from the Bay Area might agree, if they knew even just a little bit about the City with Three Rivers.

As we all know, Pittsburgh expatriates abound in just about every major city in the United States. They bring a bit of the Burgh with them wherever they go, San Francisco included. Giordano Brothers is a shining example, serving up the All in One sandwich to more than those who simply miss home. The "Pittsburgh Sandwich" is a big hit.

With Carnegie Mellon University sporting a branch campus in the area, this region is primed for a Pittsburgh media blitz. I'm sure this isn't lost on CMU, but what about the rest of Pittsburgh? The networks the Burgh Diaspora is developing on the Left Coast should be one of the Burgh's greatest assets. At the very least, there should be a number of interregional B-2-B opportunities.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Washington, DC: Not as Far as You Think

Virginia is booming, right on the doorstep of the Pittsburgh region. The outer county schools of Northern Virginia should be bursting at the seams by 2010, while the areas closest to Washington, DC experience a decline. The migration to the suburbs and exurbs is overtaxing what was recently rural.

Virginia is the closest to Pittsburgh of the high-growth states, behind only California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and North Carolina during the 2000-2005 period. Since proximity is such an important variable in explaining migration patterns, Eastern West Virginia, Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania are likely to experience the influx of the NOVA overflow. Cheap real estate in good school districts should continue to serve as magnets for the westerward migration of the DC sprawl.

Since the Mon Valley can't find any love in Allegheny County, I suggest this region start looking towards DC and away from Pittsburgh. I don't think Uniontown will turn into an exurb of DC, but some industry will relocate to outer counties of Northern Virginia, putting a highly-skilled workforce and wealthy demographic just a three hour drive from Southeastern Fayette County. At the very least, there might be some weekend tourism dollars waiting to be gobbled up.

Outmigration in Perspective

This US Census report has already made the rounds, but the findings bear repeating. From 1995-2000, Pennsylvania was 47th in outmigration rate (includes DC). Migration rate controls for state population. Michigan was 51st and Ohio was 49th. Relatively speaking, people are NOT leaving the Rust Belt in droves.

The problem for the Rust Belt is the rate of inmigration. Pennsylvania had the 46th lowest rate of inmigration. Perhaps surprisingly, California was 50th.

Concerning net migration rates, Pennsylvania was 37th. The big winners are the usual suspects: Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. Nevada had the 5th highest rate of outmigration. Colorado was 10th. If you remember, Georgia currently works hard to retain its high school graduates. From 1995-2000, Georgia was 30th in rate of outmigration. Georgia was 10th for inmigration. Looks as if Georgia reacted strongly to the new immigrants.