States are always hungry for new people, but the idea of trying to lure ex-residents is fairly new. Most economic-development efforts focus on attracting new employers, often with a combination of tax breaks, cheap real estate and cash. Yet relocation consultants say that for companies thinking about moving to a state, one of the biggest concerns is having an adequate, well-trained work force.
"Getting people to move back to an area will become a very important economic-development tool," says Dennis J. Donovan, a principal at Wadley-Donovan-Gutshaw Consulting, a corporate-location consultant in Bridgewater, N.J.
Many of these programs use college alumni lists to reach out to former residents. The Internet and social-networking sites like Facebook have made tracking down grads easier. In addition, expatriates tend not to stray far from their states of origin and are inclined to cluster together. People who leave the Great Plains states often go to Minneapolis.
The Canadian province of Saskatchewan, which also has a "come home" program, has found that many of its college grads flee to neighboring Alberta.
These boomerang initiatives are reportedly cost effective and the trend is catching on in other places. IntoPittsburgh lacks any affiliation with the governments of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, which may make our project unique. But does the lack of direct governmental support hinder or help our efforts?
I argue that our grassroots approach is better suited for the job of attracting human capital and (more importantly) creating jobs. For the most part, government is more burden than boon for shrinking cities in the Rust Belt. If you haven't guessed by now, I advocate market-oriented solutions, though my approach to solving problems isn't so dogmatic as to preclude governmental assistance. Marketization is not a panacea. However, I do understand migration as a market of human capital and that working against those flows is generally bad policy. As a result, I appreciate the attempts of Vermont, South Dakota, and Iowa persuade former residents to return. Just the same, I think Maine's efforts to keep college graduates instate are misguided.