Monday, September 03, 2007

Pittsburgh-DC Network Migration

Mt. Lebanon resident, and Trib columnist, Tom Purcell is a great example of what ECC Pittsburgh could accomplish. Two of his recent offerings tell the tale of a geographically mobile worker who returned to Pittsburgh, from the DC region, in order to reconnect with a deeper sense of community:

I lived in Washington, D.C., for nearly eight years and am grateful I was able to escape the place. Things are moving rapidly there. You spend hours in traffic jams and hours more at the office. There is very little time to talk to, let alone connect with, your neighbors. And as soon as you get to know them, they take a job in another city and off they go.

I'm glad I live in Pittsburgh again. I'm glad I was able to go to a picnic last weekend. Though the heyday of community picnics is over even in Pittsburgh, the old park is still hosting its fair share of them.

Mr. Purcell is not alone in his odyssey experience. Now that I'm tuned into the boomerang phenomenon, I'm meeting more and more expatriates who would like to return to Pittsburgh. But there is considerable anxiety about how to make the move.

Finding that job in the Burgh that will facilitate the relocation is a tall order. Mr. Purcell's solution is to go the route:

I've been self-employed since 1993. In addition to writing this weekly column, I provide communications services to corporate clients. My biggest client is in Virginia. I work from Pittsburgh.

There are risks to rootless employment. These are jobs that are more easily outsourced and vulnerable to intense competition. The hedge is an entrenched network that is rich in social capital, thereby approximating proximity economics. The greater the quantity and quality of the relationships you cultivate, the greater the value of your business (and the more money you will earn).

For most people, I would guess that this career option would require at least some retraining. But you could moonlight as a self-employed person until you have established sufficient income (and network critical mass) to justify the move back to the Burgh.

1 comment:

Ann said...

I've been away (interestingly, for several days in Atlantic Canada, whose charming cities reminded me very much of Pittsburgh) and am just catching up on this blog. I don't usually comment, but this set of posts compels me.

I've spent just over three years as a member of the diaspora, leaving after grad school to take a job in Baltimore; I'm also someone who would love to boomerang home and am searching for opportunities to do so. It seems my - and maybe most of the diaspora's - best opportunity is to seek employment with a company that has taken advantage of the latest networking technologies and is abandoning the concept of being located in one specific place.

A friend of mine recently was hired by a company based in St. Louis, but she's never moved from Baltimore. She set up a home office and the company remotely linked her to its internal networking systems (similarly, its chief IT man is in New Orleans). She loves it.

I think we'll see more companies embracing this concept as they realize that 1) today's technology makes it easy to have a virtual office and 2) it's easier to hire and retain talent if you let them live where they want. We of the diaspora who long to return should be seeking out these companies.

Further down the road, one can imagine a city where people do go to physical offices to work, but rather than the office being made up of people at one company, it would be, essentially, a bricks-and-mortar LinkedIn. Companies could pool resources and share operating costs across several cities, which could be attractive to those currently located in more expensive markets. There are issues (confidentiality of certain types of work, for one), but it's not outside of the realm of possibility and Pittsburgh would be wise to pave the way in accommodating virtual-office companies and their employees.

Truly, regions like western PA and Atlantic Canada could most greatly benefit from the virtual office. Imagine making a New York salary and paying a Pittsburgh mortgage - that alone is enough to get people at least considering moving there. The region is a perfect fit for individuals in these situations: roughly halfway between New York and Chicago, home to an international airport, having lots to do (sports, arts, and outdoor-adventure), good schools, great universities, premier health care, and possessing a low cost of living. The marketing campaign writes itself.

Everybody is so focused on Pittsburgh attracting the actual businesses (which is important too), but there are other opportunities if we just look for them.