State aid for small entrepreneurs also helps. Montana, which has a notably populist governor, has been pushing especially hard. In its last legislative session, the state legislature made even the tiniest of businesses eligible for aid. But Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Centre for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, says it is expensive to provide small business development services in rural America, even if there is a good return on investment. Rather appealingly, he proposes that the federal government shave 5% off its enormous farm-subsidy programme—which goes mostly to mega-farms—and give it to small businesses. “You could quadruple what the federal government spends on entrepreneurial rural development,” he says.
Another channel is philanthropy. “Rural communities are not going to be rescued by large corporations setting up large factories,” notes Mr Hassebrook, but they could be helped by people with money (local boys who have made good in Chicago or Omaha, perhaps). In particular, he says, the rich should be encouraged to give not just to churches and libraries, but also to economic development. One remarkable case is Martindale, Texas, another worn-down southern cotton town. In 2004 Carlton Carl, vice-president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, bought most of the central district (he won't say for how much). He is refurbishing the buildings, hoping to attract artists and “a nice restaurant”.
The trick is connecting the right person in the regional diaspora with the right opportunity back home. Economically depressed towns and cities should track down their high school graduates, updating them on the situation. I think now is the time to invest in Pittsburgh.
A successful model Pittsburgh could emulate is that of Globalscot, a Scottish government initiative to build a network that "harnesses the expertise of over 900 senior, influential business leaders who are committed to generating opportunities for Scotland." The network is entirely comprised of Scottish expatriates who are interested in helping Scotland's economic development.