Monday, February 26, 2007

More Tales from the Burgh Diaspora

I missed this story about a member of the Burgh Diaspora in the Post-Gazette, earlier this month. Judy Glies lives in New Jersey, but remains closely connected to her hometown:

"Like many, I left Pittsburgh in the mid-70s to find work," she wrote, "but I have kept close ties with Pittsburgh and can hardly wait to be where there is great music, many artists, great people, great sports, wonderful museums and that gem, Heinz Hall."

Close ties with Pittsburgh? This education professor, who's taught at New Jersey City University for 16 years, returns to the 'Burgh almost monthly to visit family and longtime friends. When I answered her letter, she told me she'd be here this past weekend for a Super Bowl party.

Glies' story is one of return and is certainly worth celebrating. She's well educated and worldly, bringing back to Pittsburgh valuable characteristics she wouldn't have if she hadn't left. The region is much richer given her physical presence, but Pittsburgh shouldn't wait until its diaspora is ready to retire in order to tap their talent.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Creation Network Pittsburgh

Like most regions, Pittsburgh would like to attract and retain more talent. John Hagel blogs about Indian IT companies engaging in the same practice. Hagel contends that this industry is missing out on a great opportunity:

Rather than continuing to focus on attracting and retaining talent within their own companies, these firms could create enormous value by developing the management techniques required to mobilize and leverage specialized talent wherever it resides. This would require building scalable talent networks encompassing a broad range of smaller, more specialized companies.

The Indian IT services companies have been very effective in building relationships with technology product companies on a global scale. But when it comes to expanding their own IT services, they immediately focus inward. If they don’t have the capability already in place, they may go out and acquire a smaller, more specialized company, but their instinct is to bring the capability in house.

As an alternative, these companies could take their emerging skills in partnering with technology product companies and apply them to building talent networks to mobilize and leverage large numbers of more specialized service providers. The real power would be to master the techniques required to accelerate the development of talent across such a distributed network of partners, thus creating stronger incentives for partners to join the network. Focusing on this challenge would create an opportunity to innovate in “Learning 2.0” capabilities, moving from traditional training programs to more distributed learning platforms and ecologies.

Hagel's advice applies equally well to Pittsburgh. The competition for talent is fierce and Pittsburgh is struggling to foster in-migration relative to other regions. Few cities have the diaspora population that Pittsburgh enjoys and the connection with the homeland is special (e.g. Steelers Nation) when considering other places in the United States.

I recommend cultivating "Learning 2.0 capabilities" among the Burgh Diaspora, developing the kind of talent network that Hagel imagines for the Indian IT industry.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Disconnectivity Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's Future discusses the region's entrepreneurial culture in terms of the Council on Competitiveness' three categories of success: Creating Angel Networks, Leveraging Knowledge Assets, and Catalyzing Connectivity. Harold Miller contends that Pittsburgh does well in two-out-of-three, lacking the necessary connectivity, which the Council defines as:

The combustion behind innovation often emerges from chance encounters, face-to-face communications, and close interactions among people, ideas and resources. To facilitate these connections, successful regions create bridges that bring together entrepreneurs, academics, labor leaders, company officials and public sector leaders. Some, such as the example below, have launched boundarybreaking initiatives that fuel entrepreneurship at the grass roots.

As Miller notes, LancasterProspers is identified as an exemplar of a connectivity initiative. The stated goal is to network intra-regional assets of talent, experience, and innovation. The idea is that all the components for entrepreneurial success exist within the region, the main barrier being a fragmented community.

Miller buys into the positive-sum (zero-sum?) game between regions concerning promoting entrepreneurship:

The Council on Competitiveness report is intended as a call to action for keeping the United States competitive with other countries in supporting entrepreneurship. But it can also be a call to action to the Pittsburgh Region to be more competitive with other regions in the U.S. in supporting entrepreneurship.

What if a region's assets are less than that of other regions? Richard Florida recently posted his support for regional approaches to maximizing existing creative capacity. But he offers a caveat that Miller, the Council, and LancasterProspers all miss, connectivity with the creative capitals currently attracting the lion's share of national (and global) talent. On that count, Pittsburgh is failing miserably.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Latino Pittsburgh

The Latino population in Pittsburgh is growing. The Post-Gazette reports that there are considerable class tensions. My time spent researching immigrant communities in Miami, Florida informs skepticism about lumping people from different countries into one ethnic group. That local immigrant politics divide along lines of class is hardly shocking:

Cultural organizations such as the Latin American Cultural Union and the Pittsburgh Venezuelan Association typically don't include working-class Latinos, said Leonardo Baloa, who helped form the Pittsburgh Venezuelan Association in 2003.

"These associations are formed out of a desire to be with people with similar cultural standards or morals, who laugh and speak and dance like you," he said. "But they are made up mostly of professionals. It is rare to see members who are struggling."

I'm aware that the kind of connectivity I espouse would enfranchise the relatively wealthy members of the Latin American Cultural Union and the Pittsburgh Venezuelan Association. In this sense, the rich get richer. What about the underclass of documented and undocumented workers?

Unskilled labor is less likely to relocate and more likely to put down roots, whereas professional Latinos comprise the more itinerant class. If they feel marginalized in the Pittsburgh community, they have the resources to move to another place more tolerant. Unskilled and low-wage labor will establish a more lasting presence in the Pittsburgh region and set up the migration-chain.

Importing Silicon Valley

Europe is busy trying to catch up with the United States by encouraging more entrepreneurial activity. France is no exception, though the environment there is less than ideal for start-ups. French nationals who have gained the requisite experience abroad are making a go of it in their homeland:

Jacques Souquet had gone through several start-ups in Seattle, but he still was not entirely prepared for beginning a high-tech company in his native France...

Mr. Souquet’s experience illustrates how far the Continent has to go if it hopes to match the United States. He was able to lure eight of his 27 employees back from the United States. And after two years, he is preparing to offer his product in 2008, a device that measures the elasticity of living tissue, to assist doctors in diagnosing and treating cancer.

Still, Aix is not Seattle. French attitudes are a bit rigid, compared with the American approach of if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed. And French law, which mandates a 35-hour week, still crimps entrepreneurial flair.

Once again, the story is about the return of a prodigal son or daughter. Mr. Souquet brings with him ample start-up experience and a network of talent that remains in the United States (he opened an office in Seattle). In order to succeed in France, he eschews geographies much more conducive to entrepreneurial enterprise. In this case, relationships and connectivity trump an advantageous environment.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

U-Turn Pittsburgh

That Frost Belt retirees are migrating to the Sun Belt should surprise no one. However, the return of the elderly to their hometown for the last months or years of life is making news:

"People relocate in their 60s when they're in good health and often move to active adult communities," said Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "When they face either a dramatic illness or the death of a spouse, all of a sudden these active adult communities are away from the support system they have and they're not as attractive as they once were."

Peter Morrison and Chris Briem have already noticed this emerging trend in Pittsburgh. They conclude that the region should expect a greater demand for health care services along with a stronger political voice for voters over the age of 60.

What the study suggest to me is that retirees retain a strong support network in Pittsburgh, even after leaving the region for better golfing weather. Talent and experience are leaving, but the lines of communication are still open. Baby boomers remain connected to their hometown wherever they may go.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Little Buffalo, Charlotte, NC

Pittsburghers aren't the only ones relocating en masse to Charlotte, NC. Buffalo is invading Mecklenburg County, and they are bringing their cuisine with them:

U.S. Census Bureau data show New York is the No. 1 source of newcomers to the nine-county Charlotte region from outside the Carolinas. An estimated 13,000 people move here from the Empire State annually.

As a result, neighborhoods around Charlotte are filling with people who prefer beef on weck (roast beef on a special salty roll) and white-hots (spicy white hot dogs) to barbecue and pimento cheese.

Upstate New York-oriented restaurants such as Tavern on the Tracks in South End and Township Grille in Matthews are thriving. And the area will be the first place outside Buffalo for expansion of the Anchor Bar, pioneer of the famed Buffalo wings (slated to open near Concord Mills mall and in uptown Charlotte later this year).

Rich Rust Belt traditions live on in the booming South, though I'm curious to see if any local variations develop into a Great Lakes Creole. Meanwhile, these Northern transplants are desperate to connect with others from the same hometown. Thanks to virtual social networking, new arrivals can quickly discover familiar comforts in a strange environment.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Third Place Pittsburgh

Richard Florida makes a cameo appearance in a BusinessWeek article. The West Michigan Strategic Alliance is trying to attract mobile intellectual capital. Florida makes a strong case that there are fewer talent magnets in the world where the Creative Class will settle. I'm unclear how Western Michigan can buck geographic destiny, but the region is taking a cue from Florida concerning the transformation of the workplace:

Local leaders say they'll need to make some changes to ensure Western Michigan is telecommuter-friendly. In late 2005, they came up with the idea to create business community centers that are inviting to people who may need to work outside their homes anywhere from a few hours to a few days per week. These work centers, still in the conceptual phase, are company-neutral locations where a mobile worker can, say, have a serious business meeting away from home and the office.

Such locales are known in industry parlance as "third places" and they can include coffee shops and bookstores—but they also range to the more professional community centers that Western Michigan envisions. "You've got to invent a different place for people to work—the coffee shop gets really old after a while," says Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class.

Not only can a region market itself as more telecommuter-friendly, it can also position itself as much more freelancer-friendly. I recently noticed that Pittsburgh is home to, "the world's largest online marketplace for freelance talent." Workspace for the mobile class is a great idea. Catering to freelancers is even a better one.

Might the airport be a good place to offer third places for Pittsburgh? Not if the region fails to connect its flagship universities with the rest of the world.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Case Study Pittsburgh

I WILL SHOUT YOUNGSTOWN digs up more shrinkage talk. The Shrinking Cities Group at Cal-Berkeley is finishing up an international symposium on this global urban phenomenon. Along with Youngstown and San Jose, scholar Karina Pallagst offers up Pittsburgh as an example of how American cities are dealing with shrinkage:

Urban shrinkage is a factor that widely addresses the scale of regions and requires policy-makers to redefine traditional paths of regional governance. It can be observed that especially in the US, planning practice is to a large extent concentrated on either managing urban growth or tackling redevelopment in a fragmented – not a regional – way. The search of the notions of progressive regionalism should deal with the problematic of shrinking cities. This could offer a window of opportunity to discuss a shift in paradigm from growth-centered planning to more sustainable regional development patterns and thus be of value for a stimulation respectively redefinition of regional governance in the US and in further countries.

You can find more on Pallagst's work here and here. Pittsburgh's strategy to deal with shrinkage is characterized as a "revitalization of the city center." But the efforts are failing and Pallagst wonders if Pittsburgh will now engage in a regional approach. Meanwhile, Youngstown is embracing its declining population and attempting to scale-up efforts to the regional level.

A post over at Null Space does indicate regionalism afoot in Pittsburgh. However, I'm skeptical that an attempt to cultivate a regional identity will work. I think the city should focus its efforts on its connections to places outside of the region.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cohort Pittsburgh

An article in the Post-Gazette describes another opportunity for the Burgh Diaspora. Pittsburgh struggles to attract minority professionals despite what appears to be an attractive environment for career advancement:

"You don't have to go to cities with a large African-American population for opportunity," said Mr. Cooper, a Philadelphia native who came here in 1977 to teach at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Law. "Pittsburgh will give you opportunities and you'll rise faster here because you're not in stiff competition with kids from Harvard and Columbia who go to Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Chicago; New York; and the other prime cities most African-Americans go to."

Without a migration-chain, Pittsburgh will have to fight against the flow of people. Furthermore, as Richard Florida would point out, talent attracts talent. The opportunity to rub elbows with Harvard and Columbia graduates can be a boon to a professional's career. I'm skeptical that Pittsburgh can effectively compete for young minority talent.

I think Pittsburgh would fare better marketing itself to people a bit further on in their careers who have established networks in the alpha cities. A promising African-American lawyer can get her feet wet in New York, thereby learning to appreciate the positives Pittsburgh has to offer. Colleagues who are Pittsburgh expatriates can make the pitch, building the necessary migration-chain.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Innovation Networks

The story of immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States continues to be one of great success. But cities tend to overlook such economic assets, doing little to attract and cultivate the small businesses of foreign nationals. Meanwhile, international migrants are starving for the knowledge and experience that can help their enterprises grow:

At a time when cities woo biotechnology firms and sports arenas to jump-start local economies, the economic potential of immigrant entrepreneurs has remained largely under the radar, says the Center for an Urban Future. Though there are no precise figures to measure their economic contributions, the report said, these businesses create jobs in good times and bad. They offset the cyclical slumps of more high-profile sectors like finance in New York or energy in Houston. And they have created ethnic markets that draw shoppers into the city, balancing the loss of retail trade to the suburbs.

The report credits the Bloomberg administration for small-business initiatives that have helped some firms, but calls on public, private and nonprofit agencies to do more to connect immigrant entrepreneurs to the expertise available.

The market for many immigrant businesses is dispersing to the suburbs thanks to strong secondary migration. Furthermore, the costs of staying in the gateway city are increasingly prohibitive. But these entrepreneurs do not have access to the networks of start-up expertise that helps to upscale operations and mitigate crushing overhead.

The irony is that the close proximity to the necessary knowledge isn't enabling immigrant entrepreneurs. If you don't run in the right circles, your address in a "Cool City" won't help you. The Center for an Urban Future calls on brokers of all kinds to bring these new ideas to market. I can already see the immense economic opportunity brewing in the "boomtown" secondary cities as immigrant networks continue to diffuse.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Parochial Pittsburgh

The urban experiment also-known-as-Youngstown continues to serve as a Rust Belt vanguard. Youngstown State University's Hunter Morrison describes the elusive brass ring for Northeast Ohio: Cultivating a regional identity. If I understand Dr. Morrison correctly, he advocates a voice for Greater Cleveland's satellite communities in future attempts to market the region. Missing from past campaigns is a greater appreciation of the parochial pride of places such as Youngstown.

What I am hearing is a battle over defining Northeast Ohio. Morrison suggests mapping Cleveland's connectivity to its urban hinterlands, framing the fierce individuality as an asset worth leveraging. If Northeast Ohio is anything, it is a network of distinct cities that have significant relationships with each other.

I think there is more to what Morrison says than Cleveland taking the time to massage the egos of its second tier cities. However, I'm not sure his observations might lead to a more coherent Northeast Ohio region. I would like to see the connectivity profile of each place in the area. At the very least, I suspect that Youngstown's diaspora network is different from that of Cleveland or Akron for the very same reason that the parochial outlook prevails.