Thursday, December 14, 2006

Burgh Diaspora Joins Century Club

For the 100th post, I thought I'd look at the origins of this blog and how the theme has developed. I kicked off the blog proposing a closer look at what I called the "Pittsburgh Nation." I still think that the key to the region's economic development is connecting with the Burgh Diaspora. However, that goal does not mean enfranchising all the expatriates. My 99-post journey reveals to me that I am looking at a subset of Pittsburgh's far flung demographic, what UNESCO calls "Diaspora Knowledge Networks":

The implications of brain gain politics for managing a Nation’s human capital in the sense that management procedures are no longer restricted to efforts aimed at mobilizing resources located within State boundaries but imply, to the contrary, efforts aimed at reaching out over those boundaries to skills and resources located in other national contexts.

I've argued that Pittsburgh needs to look beyond its own region, to assets of mobile human capital that maintain some affiliation with the area. But I was thinking about all the people who left Pittsburgh, mainly the exodus of the 1980s. Diaspora Knowledge Networks (DKN) do not concern people pushed to move by an economic shock. These networks (DKN) are comprised of well-educated people pulled to places of innovation and creativity.

Jon Udell helped to clear up my original misconception, using the more precise term "intellectual capital" instead of the ambiguous "human capital" I've written:

When I met with Jeff Sandquist I had just finished this podcast with Jim Russell. It’s a story about migration and the mobility of intellectual capital, refracted through Jim’s experience with the Pittsburgh diaspora. Neither Microsoft’s nor any other vendor’s technologies are discussed. I’m certain that the ideas Jim lays out in this podcast will inspire new business models for social software, but it’s all rather speculative.

For now, the issue of development is about "Diasporas of Highly Skilled and Migration of Talent." Networking this community is task enough. I do think that the Burgh Diaspora should formalize the pathways of chain migration that already exist, but tapping into the "mobility of intellectual capital" is the best way to build "New Pittsburgh."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Homophily Pittsburgh

Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine surveyed the "Year in Ideas." Among the innovative concepts explored is homophily:

“Similarity breeds connection,” the sociologists Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and James Cook wrote in their classic 2001 paper on the subject, “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks,” and “the result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous.” This year, other academics have cited homophily in elucidating everything from why teenagers choose friends who smoke and drink the same amount that they do to “the strong isolation of lower-class blacks from the interracial- marriage market.” Researchers at M.I.T. even published “Homophily in Online Dating: When Do You Like Someone Like Yourself?” which showed that you like someone like yourself most of the time, online or off. So much for “opposites attract.”

My experience as a blogger is a strong example of this phenomenon. I'm busily connecting with like-minded people, represented by the list of links to other blogs and sites I check daily for updates on topics I find interesting. There are a number of sites that exploit how we connect with other people (more or less looking for a reflection), efficiently fostering the linkages we seek.

While social software allows us to network faster, it doesn't encourage us to network better. Instead of reinforcing held ideas, you might branch out to explore the frontiers of yourself and your peer group (choosing quality of interactions over quantity of interactions). The goal is to improve the results of your non-F2F interactions, promoting creativity and collaboration in the process.

Monday, December 11, 2006

England Takes First Look at its Diaspora

The United Kingdom is auditing its diaspora. The great outmigration has gone unnoticed thanks to strong immigration, until now. The British Institute for Public Policy Research published a report that concludes "large scale movements in and out present some important opportunities for the UK as well as challenges for policymakers." The BBC takes a closer look at the British Diaspora phenomenon:

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, co-author of the report, said that the scale and spread of the British expat diaspora was probably being driven by the UK's economic strength.

A strong economy was attracting economic immigrants - but also encouraging Brits to broaden their opportunities.

"Britain is truly at the crossroads of the global movement of people," said Dr Sriskandarajah.

"Two-thirds of Britons who leave do so to seek employment abroad - and are replaced by skilled professionals from elsewhere in the world.

"When the going is good, Brits get going."

Ironically, significant outmigration is characterized as an indicator of a strong economy. That wasn't the case for Pittsburgh during the 1980s, but the best and the brightest were (and are) the most able to seek better opportunities elsewhere. The crux of the problem is that many Western Pennsylvania towns and cities are unwilling to cultivate immigration flows.

Regardless, the Institute's report on the British Diaspora is another example of a public policy direction Pittsburgh should mimic. The Burgh Diaspora deserves more study and Pittsburgh should endeavor to formalize the migration flow and emerging network.

Downsizing Pittsburgh

For a city once at the top of the urban hierarchy, shrinking is hard. Those who stay behind, remember what the place used to be. But is a declining population necessarily a bad thing? Youngstown, Ohio is currently asking itself that very question:

If Youngstown has made peace with its smaller self, however, its policy makers are still grappling with the key question: What does it mean to manage shrinkage in an intelligent way? Volumes have been written about how to implement “smart growth.” But what about smart decline? Youngstown may emerge as something of a national laboratory for ideas on how to cope with urban contraction. It’s not that the town’s civic leaders want to be in that position — they simply see little choice. “We’re on our way to accepting some obvious things about what the city is and isn’t going to be,” says Jay Williams, Youngstown’s 35-year-old mayor. “It was unrealistic to think we’ll be a 100,000 person city. But why not be an attractive city of 80,000 or 85,000 that offers a quality of life that competes with other cities across the state and across the country?”

Youngstown learning to love shrinkage is an urban novelty, enjoying some blogosphere fame as well as some attention from the New York Times. But looking more closely at the tale of renewal reveals a familiar story:

Lately, though, a new generation of civic leaders has come of age in Youngstown. Mayor Williams, a home-born banker who also worked as the city’s community development director, was just five years old on Black Monday. Several key positions are in the hands of outsiders whose thoughts aren’t haunted by ghosts of the mills. Anthony Kobak, Youngstown’s planner, arrived from Cleveland in 2000. So did David Sweet, the president of Youngstown State University, who had previously been dean of the urban affairs program at Cleveland State.

A year later, Sweet asked Hunter Morrison to join him. “Many of the politicians and the business leadership who were here when things collapsed either retired, moved or died,” Morrison says. “One thing that happened in the 2010 planning process is people looked around and said, ’You know what? The boss is dead. We don’t have to ask permission anymore.’ ”

Mayor Williams and his cadre of urban scientists moved into a vacuum. Youngstown has developed into a frontier geography, a fringe space, where novel ideas thrive. Cleverly, the city used the anxiety about population loss to engage citizens, activating them in the process. People are talking, but there appears to be little opposition to the renewal scheme of downsizing the city.

As word gets out that all the old bosses have left Youngstown, developers will smell opportunity. I must admit, I'm intrigued:

“Here’s the pitch,” Anthony Kobak says. “Look how easy it is to get out of the city and into the country. We’re right off the interstate. Our housing stock is incredibly affordable. We’re an hour from two international airports. Perfect for telecommuters, retirees, anyone trying to get out of the rat race. It’s just amazing what’s here."

Reads like a perfect place for Globalburgh to set up shop. I'd prefer the Mon Valley, but airport access is vital for global connectivity.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Silicon Valley Burgh

In the Winter 2007 issue of the Pittsburgh Quarterly, CMU West Dean Jim Morris advises that Pittsburgh bury the past and head boldly into the future. The point of resonance for the Burgh Diaspora is accepting the going along with the coming:

It’s OK to send some of our older companies to New York where Carnegie and Frick went a century ago. Existing industrial cultures tend to suppress the growth of new ones. Many top-tier high technology cities — Austin, Seattle, Raleigh-Durham and San Diego — started with modest wealth and small industries.

Instead of mourning the loss of Mellon Financial to New York City, celebrate the expansion of Westinghouse and the emerging alternative energy economy. We have witnessed over the last few days the outmigration of the old and the inmigration of the new, positive news for Pittsburgh. As far as I'm concerned, the Pens and Pirates should be next. Of course, I couldn't endure the exit of the Steelers.

The Steelers connect Pittsburgh with its Diaspora, the framework for Morris' suggestion that Pittsburgh "overcome geography with the internet." Connectivity is an emerging metric for gauging economic development. The New Pittsburgh is already thriving in cities around the country. There are Austin Burgh and Raleigh-Durham Burgh, homes to Cool Pittsburgh. Fittingly, Morris offers just the kind of outsider's insider perspective that Pittsburgh so desperately needs.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Turkish Diaspora

A key feature of economic policy for developing countries is facilitating the mobility of its people. This perspective is a radical departure from the days of decrying brain drain and attempts to disrupt international migration patterns. Turkey is no exception, seeking to position itself as a major player in the emerging knowledge economy:

The government must play its own role well and get public policies right: The stabilization of macroeconomic conditions must continue, the legal and regulatory framework to encourage entrepreneurship and rapid growth of successful small businesses must be put in place and reform of the public sector itself must continue.

Taking advantage of the knowledge economy requires full participation in the international economy. Essential elements are an outward orientation that encourages an increasingly diversified range of high value exports, better efforts to attract foreign direct investment and stimulating international mobility of highly qualified people.

Such advice applies equally well to Pittsburgh, and any other Rust Belt community. A recent post at Pittsblog suggests an insular and inward-looking (omphaloskepsis) approach to any economic bad news. Like Turkey, Pittsburgh is having a hard time breaking with its nostalgic past, struggling with an identity crisis.

As I've often written, Pittsburgh must look beyond its region for guidance. Furthermore, it should promote the mobility of its citizens. The answer is not within the Good Ole Boys network currently running things, as the Border Guard Bob fiasco indicates.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Service Science Pittsburgh

A couple articles of note in the Sunday New York Times. The first piece is a portion of an interview with I.B.M.’s vice president for technical strategy and innovation. This is another call for higher education to create the kind of workforce today's and tomorrow's employers need. IBM, along with a list of top-notch research universities, is developing a curriculum called "services science":

"A small but growing cadre of academics at universities across the country thinks that IBM is onto something and is ramping up the new discipline of services science. “The economy now consists of 70 percent services. It makes sense that we should concentrate on that,” says Henry Chesbrough, adjunct professor and executive director, Center for Open Innovation, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.

In a 2003 study on the impact of academic research on industrial performance, according to Chesbrough, three product-based sectors had experienced tremendous impact while two services-based sectors — financial services and transportation — saw little impact. With the biggest growth in the economy coming from services, not products, he concludes that “we can and should apply scientific and academic research to services.”

IBM itself has experienced the dramatic transition to a services-based revenue stream. “In the early1980s, services amounted to less than 10 percent of our revenue. Now, services account for over half our revenues,” says Morris.

In the general U.S. economy, the services sector employs 75 percent of the labor workforce, Morris notes, referencing various published sources. And don’t think that this is just a U.S. phenomenon: In Brazil, Russia, Japan, and Germany, services employ over 50 percent of the workforce. As the workforce shifts to services, “the world is experiencing the largest labor force migration in human history, driven by global communications, low-cost labor, technology innovation, and more,” Morris points out. In sheer magnitude, the shift to a services economy rivals the shift from agriculture to manufacturing at the dawn of the Industrial Age.

When you see large-scale labor migration, there is usually an associated economic transformation. Technological innovation drives the global shock. The drag on this economy is the lack of socialization necessary to get the most out of our new toys, thus IBM's demand for a new discipline in higher education.

The Long Tail blog discusses the second article, which I see as linked to the interview about service science. US intelligence is struggling to the power of information and knowledge exchange of blogs and wikis. The problem is the lack of a transparency culture. The CIA is stuck in yesterday's economy of intellectual property and other corporate secrets. The intelligence workers do not know how to thrive in an open information environment.

I think this is a useful allegory for Pittsburgh. The region needs to open up to new ideas, with the power brokers releasing their stranglehold on policy formation. Turf wars may have once served a useful purpose, but that time is over. Pittsburghers must learn how to collaborate.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Job Mobility Portals

The European Union (EU) is attempting to formalize its immigration flows. Years of a Fortress Europe policy have resulted in a large population of undocumented migrants, straining social services. The plan is to embrace labor mobility instead of trying to block it:

Mr Frattini proposed establishing EU "Migration Support Teams" to help African countries manage migration.

He also announced plans to create "European Job Mobility Portals" in African countries which would provide information for local people about job opportunities in Europe.

The new measures are expected to help "step up the dialogue and co-operation on migration issues with Africa", he said.

Some African officials and aid groups have warned that attracting skilled labour will cause a brain-drain in Africa.

Mr Frattini insisted his plans would not result in a shortage of educated talent in Africa.

"We can avoid the brain-drain by enhancing our assistance to the countries of origin, by promoting initiatives to have a brain circulation rather than a brain drain," he said, quoted by the AP news agency.

Pittsburgh could do the same thing, setting up job mobility portals domestically and internationally. The region should help its talent and youth relocate along established lines of communication. Pittsburgh would attract other economic migrants aiming to tap into the network of labor mobility.

In other words, Pittsburgh would become a staging area for entering the global economy.

Pittsblog lists a few organizations already in Pittsburgh who could help facilitate the desperately needed inmigration. Pittsburgh does have a migration problem, but it mostly ignores the networks best positioned to address the current economic slump. The reason is a lack of policy leadership.