Saturday, September 29, 2007

Steelers Nation: Ft. Lauderdale

This season, something special may be brewing. Steelers Nation receives attention every year, but awareness seems prematurely heightened. A new head coach and a 3-0 start don't hurt, but if the Steelers go into the bye week undefeated then I would expect the coverage to go to another level. I hope you don't mind, but that will mean more of this type of blog post.

For example, a journalist (Heather McCalla) working for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was working the local Steelers bar beat:

I have to admit, there is a contagious energy at the place, which has come full circle. After more than a decade as a stomping ground for Pittsburgh transplants, East Side Pub was sold and transformed into a gay nightclub that floundered. Last November, it was resurrected as home to the Steeler Nation.

"We're glad to be back! This is home for us," says Sue Johnson, who frequented the original East Side Pub with friends. "And we got our table back! We always have this table ... I call every Sunday at 11 and tell them how many chairs to have for us."

Steeler fans here are not shy about how they feel. Many flaunt the team's symbol tattooed on various spots on their body. Samantha Franconeri, a teacher from Wilton Manors, shows her team spirit with sandals she made from a Steeler blanket. Fort Lauderdale resident Karen Wichman says her family portrait shows everyone in Steeler outfits.

"The minute I found out about the bar, I walked in and knew I was home," Wichman says. "In Pittsburgh, you grow up on football. It's in your blood; no matter where you move to you can't get away from it."

If the Steelers keep winning, I'll find more and more stories just like Ms. McCalla's. I'll be able to add greater detail to my map of the Burgh Diaspora. For me, the stories never get old. If you are not a fan of the Steelers, this obsession must be annoying. You should try watching a game at a Steelers bar. I think you would understand why I think that the Burgh Diaspora is such a powerful force.

Ode to Steelers Nation

Boomerang migrant Holly Brubach wrote a guest op-ed piece about Steelers Nation for the New York Times. Over the next week, that newspaper will gain a good idea of the size of the Burgh Diaspora. If you are reading this blog post, I'd bet that Ms. Brubach's story will end up in your inbox a number of times from a variety of contacts. So, I needn't make you aware of a diaspora tale that you might have missed. What I would like to highlight is, in my estimation, a significant observation:

It occurs to me now that the experience of hunkering down with fellow Steeler fans in Manhattan or Rochester or Toronto or San Francisco is a lot like celebrating Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with other American expatriates during the years when I lived abroad. They were, for the most part, people I never would have met back home. We shared few, if any, interests; we worked in fields that were unrelated. The bonds we formed were based on solidarity — not a flag-waving patriotism but an awareness of our similarities, inherent and deep, which in the moment outweighed our differences. Those were among the best holidays I ever spent, still vivid in memory.

It’s not that you can’t go home again, but that once you get there, chances are you’ll wish you were somewhere else when football season rolls around. Maybe it takes someone whose sense of home has been intensified by distance to understand the logic in leaving Pittsburgh to watch a Steeler game. I’ve already booked my flights.

If you've read any postcolonial literature from authors such as Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri, you should recognize the theme. The diaspora experience engenders a dual or divided sense of place. Pittsburgh no longer feels quite like home. Instead, your neighborhood and family are located at the various Steelers bars scattered around the world. Steelers Nation is Pittsburgh's alter ego.

Ironically, Ms. Brubach has to leave Pittsburgh to go home. Yet, once at the neighborhood bar, she will share a longing for the Burgh with the other fans there watching the game. To be a member of the Burgh Diaspora is to live in a kind of limbo. More importantly, Pittsburghers are coming together in a way that would never happen back in the place where they were born. And that's why I think that the Burgh Diaspora will be the group to build New Pittsburgh, ushering in another golden era.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Erie's Talent Crunch

Outside Erie cites an article in the Erie Times-News about a local labor shortage. I'm struggling to understand why regions are framing this problem as both a lack of local talent and non-competitive wages. I did discover another piece to this labor mobility puzzle:

When GE Transportation advertised for manufacturing jobs early this year, about 5,000 applications were filed for 100 jobs.

The story was different when the company went looking for engineers, GE Transportation Chief Executive John Dineen said earlier this year.

"I needed 100 engineers, and I could only find 10 in Erie," he said. "We have to find them elsewhere."

First, there is evidence of an over-supply of manufacturing labor. But where are the engineers? The problem is that local talent isn't in step with local demand. As a result, Erie-based business must import expertise. Waiting for the retraining of locals is inefficient.

Another issue is the cost of labor. The story lurking below the surface is the ceiling on wages for businesses that compete in a global marketplace. They cannot afford to offer more money in order to attract the talent they need. One solution is business assuming the task of training, hiring under-qualified workers who fit better into the wage structure. This approach highlights the indirect subsidy that labor and the community typically shoulder, education.

I would guess that the cheapest solution for Erie is to subsidize the importing of needed talent.

ROI Pittsburgh

Bill Toland's latest Diaspora Report is up in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I hope the newspaper will offer a fixed url for Mr. Toland's column. The interviewee is Matthew Kleinrock, a boomerang migrant who attended Pitt before transferring to the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. After graduating, Mr. Kleinrock stayed in the DC area given the ample job opportunities in that region. He would later return to Pittsburgh searching for something he found lacking in Washington, DC:

If you've never been here, and you hear "Pittsburgh," you might think that it's not the best place. It was a challenge to get me to come visit Pitt when I was looking at colleges. But once I came here, I found the city to be full of good, accessible people.

Here, you can be part of a community and make a difference. In D.C., there really wasn't a sense of community because everyone is so transient. Here, you have the power to make things happen. People actually live here -- they don't just reside here -- and overwhelmingly, Pittsburghers are the best people I've met.

I want to emphasize that the Pittsburgh-DC connection is a two-way street and that Mr. Kleinrock's migration back to the Burgh is not uncommon. However, is his reason for returning representative of the talent flow? He suggests that the quality of life is the main attraction, but that this asset is relatively unknown.

Pittsburgh does a great job of attracting student who graduated from a high school outside of Pennsylvania. Attending university in the city is likely the out-of-state student's first significant exposure to Pittsburgh. We should surrender to their inevitable out-migration, but then help them get the word out about the advantages of Burgh living. Mr. Kleinrock is a good example of chain migration working for Pittsburgh.

Steelers Road Nation: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Jim Wexell is in Phoenix for the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Mr. Wexell has a full slate today after sailing across America's flat, big empty:

West Texas is hard scrabble, boy, but the roads are well kept and the speed limit is 80, so we were able to knock off the toughest part of the journey in one day.

That didn't help me get any quality work done, though, so today's the day I get back to my interviews. I'm heading out to Arizona State to talk to Marvel Smith's college position coach and will also talk with a scout about the guy who's anchoring the Steelers' line. Then it's off to talk to a Phoenix resident who's had Steelers season tickets since 1970, and then a hard-core Cowboys fan, a hard-core Raiders fan, a bar owner who has the audacity to drape his place in a "You're in Steelers Country" banner, and then I'll place a few out-of-town calls, including one to the "gatekeeper" in Chapel Hill. As Dale Lolley wrote, Willie Parker has to be considered among the elite NFL running backs these days, so he should be honored in Chapel Hill. I'll find out if that's been changed since I've been there.

The Phoenix area is one of the strongholds for the Burgh Diaspora. The new stadium and some emerging stars have enticed many more residents to take an interest in the Cardinals, but I expect an impressive showing of Steelers Nation at the game.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Boomerang Buffalo

What is Buffalo doing to entice expatriates to move back? Turns out, the city is doing quite a bit. But the successes are much more about the quality of boomerang migrants, than the quantity:

“It was my will that led me to bring the operation to Buffalo,” said Tim Godzich, a founder of Definity Health. The company was renamed United Healthcare after he and others sold it about three years ago for $305 million. “If I wasn’t from Buffalo . . . I probably would have brought the service center to North Dakota,” he said.

Together such former expatriates add up to a clutch of Western New Yorkers who overcame obstacles to return. They persuaded colleagues and bosses that Western New York is as smart a move as Boston. Though the corporate tax rate is a high 7.5 percent, office space averages $20 a square foot, which is a deal compared to respective rates of $26 and $63 for Philadelphia and Boston.

Concerning Pittsburgh, job creation is a big problem. I'd like to dig a grave and bury all the brain drain drama. Once I do that, the clamor to bring back the people who left the region should make less din. The same goes for the constant shrill about the people who leave. If they weren't going to increase employment opportunities, buy them a plane ticket to wherever they can find the best job.

I'll use Iowa as an example in order to clarify my point. Iowa Governor Chet Culver has convened the Generation Iowa Commission and they determined that student loan debt was pushing recent graduates out of the region. Once again, the looming shortage of skilled workers is cited as the main reason for action. Once again, I wonder why local businesses won't offer more money to fill open positions. When these jobs start opening up, more graduates will start staying in Iowa. Student loans aren't forcing graduates to leave.

Distance Decay and Steelers Nation

Buffalo is a shrinking city and the Bills, the local football team, are looking to Toronto for an increase in the fan base. The Steelers don't have a problem with their market because on-the-field success, not proximity, is what brings new fans into the fold:

As a 6-year-old franchise seeking its first winning season, Houston faces obstacles in building popularity in Mexico despite its proximity. Longtime success, more than geography, has dictated which franchises have the most fans there.

Of the two top teams in Mexico, one would be expected based on location, but the other wouldn't. The Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoy the largest followings, said Geraldina Gonzalez-Soberanes, NFL Mexico's senior manager for sponsorships and public relations. The passion for the clubs is often passed from one generation to the next.

On one hand, this anecdote about which NFL teams command the Mexican market share makes plain that Steelers Nation is bigger than the Burgh Diaspora. However, the other lesson is that proximity is not always the most important variable for predicting which team a fan follows. The Steelers are a global brand, while the City of Pittsburgh is more or less a local brand. One entity transcends geography, while the other is its prisoner.

Reconciling that disparity would be a good project for regional stakeholders.

Pirohi Diaspora

At university, I minored in Russian/East European studies. Despite my enhanced cultural awareness of that region of the world, a story about "pirohi" sent me on a Google search in order to pin down the exact meaning of the word that described what I understand to be "pierogies." If you don't already know, the term indicates Ukrainian heritage ("h" sound) as opposed to Russian influence ("g" sound). That bit of trivia out of the way, I introduce a most pressing issue:

"The food's my favorite part, and the fellowship's a close second," said Dave Gdovin, the president of the St. Michael's Church Council. "It waffles back and forth, depending on if I'm full or not."

While this columnist fell in love with the kobasy -- a synonym of kielbasa, a zesty Polish sausage -- the freshly made pirohi were undoubtedly the day's main attraction. Over 900 dozen pirohi were packed for the one-day festival, and Gdovin said he anticipated a sellout.

In the early evening, as hundreds of those pirohi were being devoured, Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan made a proclamation, officially declaring Msgr. Stephan Dutko the town's new Pirohi King.

While such a decree might seem frivolous, the pirohi business is a big deal in town. A promotion being run by prime pirohi producer Mrs. T's will soon declare the "Pirohi Capital of the World," and Binghamton will compete with cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh and New York City, said Gdovin.

If you have ever attended a tailgate party at a Pittsburgh Steelers away game, you've seen kielbasa and pierogies. You wash all that down with Iron City, or some other representative lager. While Pittsburgh is known for putting fries in sandwiches and on salads, the local flavor is decidedly Eastern European. Not to ignore the other ethnic influences on the Burgh identity, but I doubt Pittsburgh would compete with other cities as the capital of the world for any kind of food other than "pirohi."

For me, no trip back to the Burgh is complete without a visit to Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks. As for kielbasa, I love Parma's "kolbassi," which I assume is a type of kielbasa. But Parma is all about Italian food, so I might be wrong. I've read that "kolbassi is a Western PA thing" (according to beer aficionado Lew Bryson), but I'd appreciate if a reader of this blog would educate me as to the possible distinctions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Steelers Nation: Indianapolis

A somewhat different interpretation of chronicling Steelers Nation, Michael Casker is crossing the country taking photographs of the Black and Gold faithful. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is publishing the updates of his journey with writer Sean Barrett. The September 19th entry hails from Central Indiana:

Each week, Steelers fans gather at the Nickel Plate Bar and Grill, just outside Indianapolis in Fishers, Ind. Among these are Amy Burchfield, a 35-year-old native of Toronto, Ohio, and Jason Zanjeski, 33, originally from Weirton, W.Va. They now live in nearby Noblesville, Ind. The two met at Amy's cousin's wedding several years back and plan to marry Nov. 10 in Weirton. Each has a personalized Steeler jersey with his and her future last name on the back. Jason wears No. 11 and Amy No. 10 to acknowledge their upcoming wedding date.

"I let her wear the 10. It reminds me too much of the Kordell days," Jason says with a smile. Their dog Bobo wears a baby onesy Hines Ward jersey. Part of their wedding celebration includes tickets to the Browns game at Heinz Field in November.

Among the friends they've made at the Nickel Plate are Kurt Emmert, his wife and two children. In fact, Kurt, 35, of Anderson, Ind., may be one of the most passionate Steelers fans anywhere. Every day for the past 14 months he's worn some sort of Steelers apparel, and he also runs a Web site,, established to help fans in the area stay connected.

What interested me about this particular report from the field is how the Pittsburgh Steelers help connect non-natives to the city. Mr. Emmert's experience is somewhat like my own. He's not a fan because he's from Pittsburgh. The great teams of the 1970s stretched the following well beyond the region, swelling the ranks of the Burgh Diaspora with people who did not claim Pittsburgh as their hometown.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Startup Diaspora

HELP (Helping Entrepreneurs Learn from Peers) Pittsburgh's Gary Rosensteel is attempting to make the opaque startup process a bit more transparent through a new website titled Help Startups. I would describe Help Startups as a catalogue of information about becoming an entrepreneur. Mr. Rosensteel, perhaps with some assistance from others in the know, has created a one-stop shop for business creation in Pittsburgh and nearby West Virginia. (Edit: Mr. Rosensteel informs me that West Virginia is not in the fold as of right now)

Help Startups has a Colleague Forum, which should be the most vital component of the website. I registered (username: globalburgh) and I hope to see a lot of activity there soon. Pittsburgh needs a stronger entrepreneurial community and culture. Providing links to all the necessary startup information won't accomplish that. If Mr. Rosensteel can cultivate some virtual social capital, he will have done Pittsburgh a great service.

Iron Chef Diaspora?


Three teams of artists face off in sculpture challenge at New Hazlett Theater

PITTSBURGH, PA (September 25, 2007) – Look out Steelers, Pittsburgh's newest art event, Art Olympic Theatre, threatens to lure away some of your die hard fans with the action and excitement of competitive art making, arena style! On October 6th at 7:30pm, the New Hazlett Theater will host three teams of artists who will compete to build winning sculptures out of secret materials (read: junk to be unveiled at the event). The only supplies that the teams may bring with them to the challenge are the contents of one suitcase. Adding to the suspense of the evening is the arrival of Team West Virginia, led by WVU sculpture professor and artist Douglas Loewen. Tickets are $10.00 and will be available at the door.

Conceived by Tom Sarver of The Tom Museum, winner of the Mayor’s Award for Public Art, Art Olympic Theatre brings the drama and spontaneity of reality TV and sports straight to the public in the form of an arts event. Tom was particularly inspired by the Food Network cooking show Iron Chef while developing the idea. The October 6th event launches a series of Art Olympic Theatre events sponsored in part by a Seed Award from the Sprout Fund. Future events are planned for March and July of 2008.

Tom Sarver, Mike Cuccaro, Liz Hammond and Buddy Nutt will host the event, and conduct official Art Olympic Theatre opening and closing ceremonies. Music will be provided by DJ Mary Mack and Mr. & Mrs. Funky of Unfinished Symphonies. Judges for the event will include Heather Pesanti, Assistant Curator at The Carnegie Museum of Art; Mickey McManus, CEO of MAYA Design; Artist Thommy Conroy; and Karen Hartman from the Brew House Association. A pre-event fundraiser for The Tom Museum with special guest Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will take place from 6 – 7 PM in the lobby of the New Hazlett Theater. Admission to the fundraiser is $65.00. More information about Art Olympic Theatre can be found at


TEAM 1 (Pittsburgh)

Team Leader: Christopher Kardambikis

Team Members: Nicholas Hohman, John Brodski, Jairan Sadeghi

Chris Kardambikis is the co-director of Encyclopedia Destructica, a self-published and hand made book operation that presents sketchbook and journal work from artists and writers. Over a two year period he has overseen the creation of 13 books and helped to produce over 2000 individual copies. He was awarded Full Fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center and was a recipient of the Sprout Seed Award. Kardambikis has studied at the Lamar Dodd School of Art in Cortona, Italy, the CMU Inquiry and Vision Program in Sparta, Greece and holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. Chris is best known in Pittsburgh for the development of Encyclopedia Destructica, a popular local zine that features the illustrations of local artists. Chris is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.

TEAM 2, "Self-es-Team" (Pittsburgh)

Team Leader: Morgan Cahn

Team Members: Caldwell Linkerbelle, Ange Gagnon, Teresa Martuccio

Multimedia artist Morgan Cahn skyrocketed into the Pittsburgh art scene in the past two years with shows at Brew House Space 101, the Mattress Factory (Gestures) and Future Tennant. Morgan completed the Brew House Distillery Program in the spring of 2007. Her colorful works include painting, drawing, sewing, sculpture, performance and video.

TEAM 3 (Morgantown, West Virginia)

Team Leader: Douglas Loewen

Team Members: Emily Walley, David Hale, Evan Thomas

Nationally exhibited artist Doug Loewen is best known for his kinetic installations and sculpture. He is currently teaching sculpture at West Virginia University.

# # #

EDITOR’S NOTES: The Tom Museum is an independent project of Tom Sarver in partnership with The Mattress Factory.

Sponsors for the event include Whole Foods, Pittsburgh City Paper, Penn Brewery, Big Burrito, Breadworks, The Gypsy Café, MyGoodies Bakery, The New Hazlett Theater and The Mattress Factory. The Tom Museum is supported by The Heinz Endowments and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Art Olympic Theatre is sponsored in part by a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund.

The Sprout Fund is nonprofit organization supporting innovative ideas and grassroots community projects that are catalyzing change in Pittsburgh. Each of The Sprout Fund's programs, Seed Award and Public Art, is designed to advance a community initiative from idea through dialogue to implementation, creating a critical mass of activity for positive regional change. Sprout believes a vital component to building healthy and vibrant communities is civic engagement; serving those who demonstrate the drive and the capacity to think creatively about their communities.

The New Hazlett Theater is a non-profit organization, founded in 2004 with a mission to cultivate the arts and provide a venue for world class and neighborhood cultural events.

Creative Co-Location Pittsburgh

John Morris of Digging Pitt Gallery is putting on The Blogger Show:

In November, Digging Pitt will assemble work from artists whose common interest is in clarifying artistic discourse through their blogs. The Blogger Show will utilize several spaces in Pittsburgh and New York for the exhibits. All of the exhibits will take place between November 10, 2007 and January 12, 2008. Free and open to the public.

Mr. Morris appreciates the expanded concept of community that I preach about here at the Burgh Diaspora blog. He is an active facilitator of artist networks and I think he provides a good example of the importance of connectivity between Pittsburgh and New York City.

Steelers Road Nation: Roll on, Southern Pacific

On his way to watch the Steelers game at Casey Hampton's family home in Galveston, Texas, Jim Wexell found a little bit of Pittsburgh in Baton Rouge:

On Saturday morning I met with Uniontown native Jack Marucci. He’s the trainer at LSU and was on a tight schedule because the team hosted South Carolina that afternoon. Baton Rouge was hopping early but the insightful interview made the fight through traffic worthwhile. Marucci is a Steelers fan and he talked about how so many of the NFL scouts that pass through LSU have Western Pa. roots. He talked about Alan Faneca and Ryan Clark and also showed me the greatest collection of sports memorabilia I’ve seen. Jack has a Steelers helmet signed by the original Steel Curtain, among many of his other artifacts. He also makes bats for every Major League team, except the Pirates. Well, that used to be true until he recently sent a shipment to Freddy Sanchez. I’ll explain more in the book and talk about the “professional whiffle ball field” he has in his backyard. Jack also noted that LSU’s offensive coordinator and equipment manager are Steelers fans, mainly because of the way the team plays the game so remember that as you watch LSU’s offense. That makes the Tigers a team to root for in the national title hunt this season.

Those of you who subscribe to Steelers Digest, look for Mr. Wexell's story on his gameday experience in Galveston.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Youngstown Diaspora

One of my daily search queries is "Pittsburgh Diaspora." Today's results yield a blog post about Dr. Sherry Linkon's interview with Hunter Morrison, Youngstown's shrinking cities champion. Dr. Linkon comments on Morrison's ideas about Youngstown and a pan-regional economy:

Hunter predicts that the Cleveland/Youngstown/Pittsburgh corridor will become one large economic region, and because Youngstown is geographically central, we will play an important role as these cities learn to work together to promote development and do economic planning as a region. While I agree that the region is becoming a sort of megalopolis, and that does bring new money into the Mahoning Valley, I have doubts about whether it’s entirely a good thing. Do we want to be a bedroom community for people working in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Akron? How will that affect local workers and the local economy? If we become the meeting place for leaders from the big cities, will our needs and issues be heard? Hunter is enthusiastic that regionalism can help this area, and while I hope that’s true, I also have some doubts. Regional growth may be inevitable, but I think we need to be strategic about our role and our interests.

Seems to me the question isn't whether or not the developing megalopolis is a good thing for Youngstown. The question is what should be done about it. Dr. Linkon's perspective reminds me of the debate about globalization. Is globalization good or bad? Whatever your opinion on the matter, your region must still deal with economic integration.

One person's problem is another person's opportunity. I think that's the driving force behind the embrace of a shrinking city.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Steelers Road Nation: Born on the Bayou

Jim Wexell checks in from Steelers CB Ike Taylor's home. Searching the post for an interesting tease, I appreciate what Taylor's Uncle Herm had to say about Mr. Wexell's journey:

Then Herm got on a roll. He began talking about the media and how my trip around the Nation is special on more than one level. “You’ve been to the Ninth Ward. You’ve seen where Ike Taylor grew up. You’ve seen what those winds did to his high school. It don’t even have a football team anymore. You know how he bounces back. You know how Willie Parker bounces back. You’ve walked in their shoes. You know the people you’re writing about. You won’t be guessing when you get home, Mr. Jim. You won’t be writing about shadows. You know them. No, Mr. Jim, you’ve been called to do this work. It’s important work, and may God bless you.”

I expect Mr. Wexell's book will improve the sense of community for the Burgh Diaspora. Matters beyond the Pale of Pittsburgh become the concern of everyone in Steelers Nation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Labor Market Geography

By way of an update to my "Captive Labor Pittsburgh" post, Utah's talent shortage is worse (and more complicated) than I previously realized:

Utah’s economy may be hot, but the job market is as tight as ever. Recruiters are doing all they can to woo top talent, but below-average wages, the lowest unemployment rate in the nation (2.6 percent) and unqualified workers are making it difficult to find the right fit.

What I'm struggling to understand is the "below-average" pay. I would figure that one way to attract talent is to offer more money than your competitor. Instead, the solution is to cultivate more talent in-state while promoting the high quality of life and low cost of living to outsiders. Will geographically mobile businesses leave Utah if salaries must rise in order to secure the necessary employees?

I realize that importing labor is expensive. Talent-in-demand can command more money and insist on the company picking up the tab for relocation. And as my previous post indicates, moving to a new place may be daunting. That said, young professionals across the country are making long distance journeys to find employment. The barriers to intellectual capital must be comparable in almost every region except...

With all of that in mind, why isn't Pittsburgh more competitive in luring talent-starved businesses?

"I'm Not From Here" Diaspora

The Wall Street Journal is running a series of articles on the American geography of young professionals. The most recent story is about the rise of Minneapolis/St. Paul as a hot destination for college graduates seeking jobs AND a high quality of living. However, not all residents welcome the recent influx of outsiders:

Newcomers also must confront the social hurdles of being a "transplant" -- a term widely used in Minnesota to describe outsiders. Adrienne LaPointe, a 29-year-old originally from Michigan, says she was warned that many Minnesotans spend their entire lives in the state, gleaning their social circles from as early as middle and high school.

"There are two separate social societies here: people who grew up in Minnesota and everybody else," she says. Undeterred, Ms. LaPointe joined more than 500 people who are part of a social-networking group started in the 1990s for non-natives called I'm Not From Here.

This social network has expanded to include organizations in Richmond (VA), Milwaukee (WI), Wichita (KS), New York City (NY), and St. Cloud (MN). If there is a city that epitomizes the need for such a group, it is Pittsburgh. And yes, I'm suggesting that some non-native Pittsburgher now living there should start one. If the new CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council (Audrey Russo) is looking for a few useful projects, creating an "I'm Not From Here" chapter in the city would be a great initiative that would help to re-orient the Council towards the outside.

Of course, I'd rather see Pittsburgh-centric social network develop. But I think the focus of such an organization should be to help young professionals relocate. I know this is blasphemy, but the Minneapolis experience details the need for such a geographic mobility service and I can't think of a better way to get the word out about the opportunities in Pittsburgh.

Steelers Road Nation: Georgia Satellites

Jim Wexell's latest entry includes comments about his interview with a good friend of WR Hines Ward, and a conversation with former Steelers LB Greg Lloyd. However, the Burgh Diaspora angle concerns a Steelers bar in Alabama:

As I’m typing this morning, we’re idling the RV at a rest stop just south of Montgomery, Alabama. We’re shooting for lunch at a Steelers bar in Mobile called Hero’s and hopefully I can talk to some fans. In Alabama, the football fans know passion, and I’m interested in finding one who understands that passion in both college and pro football today before we head to New Orleans.

I believe Mr. Wexell is referring to "Heroes" Sports Bar & Grill.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Captive Labor Pittsburgh

As we get closer to election time, politicians beat the brain drain drum more frequently. Ironically, at least from the Pittsburgh perspective, the resulting crisis is a tight labor market in states such as New Hampshire:

Michael Power of the state Workforce Opportunity Council, said the state does not have an unemployment problem, but rather a labor shortage. Employers are looking for educated and skilled workers. On its website,, the state provides a job match program, a list of training centers and educational facilities.

If Pittsburgh is experiencing brain drain, where is the local coverage detailing a similar problem with unfilled positions? On the contrary, the story is about people leaving the region because they can't find good employment. Pittsburgh is struggling to create enough jobs in order to meet the demand to live there.

The New Hampshire case makes plain the trouble with retaining talent that graduates locally. What the policymakers in that state should do is target places such as Pittsburgh (like what Utah is doing) where there is a glut of labor. Actually, I don't know if there are any other Pittsburghs out there in terms of an over-supply of workers that results in depressed wages.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pittsburgh Green Drinks Does The Boomerang

Pittsburgh Green Drinks Event Announcement

TOMORROW: Friday, September 21st at Bossa Nova from 5:00pm to 9:00pm

Join us in the REMIX of Green Drinks Summer Edition at our new home in Downtown Pittsburgh with complimentary tapas sampling from 5:00 to 8:00!

Mary W. Wilson is a classic example of a boomerang Pittsburgher. She gladly left the declining milltown atmosphere in the 70's to pursue two degrees in biology with her eye on field work in much greener pastures. During return visits to family while studying or working in northern New York, southern Illinois, "deep south" Alabama and later in Florida, Wilson decided the hills and streams of western PA are the best place to hang your hat, so she's settled in the North Hills, vowing to never move again. Wilson works on environmental efforts as vocation ( Executive Director of Allegheny CleanWays) and avocation (Pine Creek Watershed Coalition, Pine Creek Land Conservation Trust and North Area Environmental Council) and is pleased to see a growing appreciation of the environment in the region.
Allegheny CleanWays is an independent 501(c)(3) affiliate of PA CleanWays, Inc. Allegheny CleanWays has worked for seven years to engage and empower people to eliminate illegal dumping and litter in the county. It works with several partnering organizations to operate the "Tireless Project" in which volunteers help remove debris from Pittsburgh's river banks, as well as conducting illegal dump cleanups and supporting litter cleanups throughout the county. With approximately 300 illegal dumps logged in the county, there is a lot of work to be done, and a continuous need for enthusiastic volunteers. This photo of a "Tireless Project" cleanup along the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville last Saturday demonstrates the power of amazing potential of volunteer power. To learn more, come to Green Drinks! If you can't make it, but still want to learn more, contact Mary W. Wilson at 412.381.1301.

Be sure to bring your friends and colleagues to have a couple of drinks with green folks like you - environmentalists, journalists, academics, elected officials, green builders, green business folks, health care professionals, doctors, chemists, developers, artists, students and just about anyone else who is interested a better Pittsburgh environment. Green Drinks is a social activity, so come enjoy an end-of-the-week drink with some really caring and talented people at Pittsburgh's green drink event.

Featuring GREEN spirits such as Rain Vodka, Bluecoat Gin, Bonterra Chardonnay Bonterra Cabernet, Peaks Organic Pale Ale Beer and/or Peaks Organic Nut Brown Beer AND the Treehugger-tini made with Rain Vodka.

Domestic Diasporas Diaspora

The diablog between GlobalErie and Burgh Diaspora continues. Mr. Panepento's posts generate a fair amount of comments, which are worth a read. The various perspectives look quite familiar to me.

Edit - One comment (13th from David VanAmberg) I think is particularly provocative and aligned with my approach to the Burgh Diaspora project:


Allow me to make a point that has been apparent to me for 40 years. If company owners without roots in Erie have no interest in moving here, while people with roots here are looking for employment opportunities to move back, or choose to return upon retirement, why do we not want to strongly focus on communicating with the diaspora of Erie expatriates around the globe who have already succeeded (and there are many thousands) to:

1. Move or expand their business back to Erie,
2. Start a business in Erie, and/or
3. Invest in businesses in Erie?

They have the critical experience and global contacts in their fields of interest. Would we not have a much greater return on investment in business attraction by focusing on communicating with these people?

I truly appreciate reading the sincere and positive comments of the folks who participate in your discussion. Now how do we get the folks who have already succeeded in their careers and businesses, or who are ready to start their businesses to read this blog and participate in this discussion? It would be enlightening to hear their thoughts.

Think Big.

Utah Diaspora Pillages Pittsburgh

A story about former Utah Governor Calvin Rampton contains a tidbit about an attempt to attract Pittsburgh business and talent to Utah:

[Mr. Rampton's first cousin] Robert said that Calvin formed Rampton’s Raiders, as a means to jump-start Utah’s economy. As a part of that push Calvin traveled nationwide meeting with businessman and others who might be willing to start or move businesses to Utah, including a stop in Pittsburgh, where Calvin spoke to about a dozen people.

Robert worked (public relations) in Pittsburgh for 10 years and former Gov. Rampton likely tapped into his network. Robert would eventually to return to Utah and provides a good template of how brain drain can benefit a region.

J'Burgh Diaspora

Pittsburgh's Jewish community is attempting to network young adults and graduate students, including members of the Burgh Diaspora:

In addition to engaging graduate students and young professionals who are living in Pittsburgh, J'Burgh will also reach out to the "Pittsburgh diaspora," the large number of young Jews who have left the city, but maintain close ties to home. One of the long-term goals of the program is to attract more young people to move to Pittsburgh and encourage those who are here to stay.

I figure that my bit about critiquing efforts to keep people from leaving is now a tired refrain. I'll stick with what I appreciate about J'Burgh, namely the promotion of connectivity between talented young adults who should provide Pittsburgh with the energy it needs to reinvigorate itself.

Steelers Road Nation: Southbound

The first report from Jim Wexell's tour of Steelers Nation:

I also interviewed several other friends of these players and fans of the Steelers. I talked to Heath Miller’s high school coach, who called 2005 one of the greatest years of his life. “My favorite team drafted my favorite player and they won the Super Bowl. What a year!” he said. I also caught a Steelers fan selling coal-mining gear on the side of the road in Elkhorn, West Virginia. My interviews in Bluefield had just ended and my host, reporter and Steelers fan Bill Archer, was about to send me on my way to Swords Creek when we spotted this young guy who was wearing a Heath Miller jersey. It was a great omen for a trip that’s going extraordinarily well.

Talk to yinz soon.

The above is just one of the anecdotes Mr. Wexell posts in his road blog entry.

GlobalErie Responds

Outside Erie blogger Peter Panepento comments on the Domestic Diaspora Policy post:

I agree that attracting the boomerangs alone is not enough.

But I see no harm in trying to get some of the folks who really want to live in your city to come back. And if you can get some of those folks to invest in starting new businesses, there is a great chance that they will be able to find ways to attract others from outside the community to work for them.

It's also a lot easier to attract a Web audience of people connected to a community than to try to build a web site about Erie that is marketed to those who have no connection to the community.

If we can get those who lived in Erie to talk about what they're learning in their new homes -- and maybe share ideas with the hometown folks -- there is a real opportunity to circulate some new ideas into the community and create some change.

I don't think I have the whole solution. But I think I'm creating the kind of conditions where enough people can come up with enough ideas to push the needle a bit.

See my own comments on Mr. Panepento's response below.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Upstate New York Diaspora

Despite evidence from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the contrary, the State pressed ahead with its Brain Drain Summit. The typical political red herrings were invoked, but a few interesting solution concepts did emerge:

If upstate New York applies its strengths, the region can retain its work force and attract new talent from other states, said [Martin] Babinec, the chairman, president and CEO of TriNet Group, which outsources human relations services. Babinec can live in upstate New York and run his San Leandro, Calif.-based company with some travel and the use of new technologies like video teleconferencing. Upstate companies should adapt to the changing technology environment to give workers the same opportunities he has, he said.

Mr. Babinec is a boomerang migrant who is sharing his successful Silicon Valley experiences with the struggling region where he grew up. Many of the assets he sees in Upstate New York would be familiar to Pittsburgh boosters. However, the concern about the lack of talent to make the economy go is one aspect that is different.

The aging workforce is expected to retire soon, which should result in a sharp rise in employment opportunities. New York is forging ahead with the pork regardless of the looming demographic brain drain, thereby casting a shadow over the intent of this summit. Tapping into the brain drain anxiety stinks of political pandering. Less cynically, Mr. Babinec is someone I intend to follow to see what comes of his initiative.

Domestic Diaspora Policy

Calming regional brain drain anxiety is difficult. The desire to keep young people from leaving is strong and the aim of just about any diaspora network project is to help expatriates return:

Jobs aren’t the answer for everyone.

They need other things, too, that appeal to their interests and offer them some form of meaning.

That said, I think it’s the only place to start a discussion about improving an economy and reversing the flow of people out of Erie. People go where the opportunities are. The other stuff follows...

...The only way Erie will change is if it can incubate and attract businesses that provide good jobs.

The other stuff will follow.

I’ve heard from many Erie expatriates who say they would gladly move home if they had the right opportunity.

That tells me that jobs just might be the answer here.

But you tell me. Maybe my thinking is flawed.

Increasing the number of jobs in a region is a good idea, but Mr. Panepento's (Outside Erie blog) thinking is still flawed. Helping someone who would like to move back do exactly that is a worthy cause. But attempts at "reversing the flow" are misguided and help feed the brain drain myths that inform ineffective policy.

If shrinking cities such as Erie and Pittsburgh continue to insist on keeping everything within the" family", the demographic problems will persist. Willing boomerang migrants will not do nearly enough to address the in-migration issue. In fact, not all brain circulation is good for a region. What struggling cities need are people who will help create jobs, not just fill open positions.

How can the Burgh Diaspora improve Pittsburgh's opportunity landscape?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Secondary Migration Diaspora

A New York Times article about blackmarket cigarettes in the United States unintentionally reveals a Pittsburgh international migration anecdote:

One restaurant worker, Toiyan Auyeung, who lives in Pittsburgh and was in New York recently awaiting a bus to Maryland for a restaurant job, said, through an interpreter, that he did not want to buy illegal cigarettes and that he relied on a friend to buy him real Marlboros in Chinatown. “I can’t figure out,” he said, “which ones are real and which are fake.”

What becomes of the relatively few international migrants who do make it to Pittsburgh? For whatever reason, Mr. Auyeung is leaving Pittsburgh in order to find restaurant work in Maryland. I'm interested in why he is relocating and how he found out about the job in Maryland that I would categorize as a risky migration.

My guess is that Mr. Auyeung struggled to crack a local social network while in Pittsburgh and therefore struggled to find gainful employment. For whatever reason, he had an easier time landing a restaurant job in Maryland than in Pittsburgh. Somewhere buried in this story are the reasons why Pittsburgh struggles to attract international migrants.

Then again, he might be moving to be closer to friends and relatives.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pittsburgh-DC Overlap

DC folks are invading a part of Maryland traditionally the province of Pittsburgh wealth:

[Deep Creek Lake], in Garrett County, quickly became a vacation spot for the affluent of Pittsburgh, who built log cabins on its shores. When the completion of Interstate 68 in 1991 cut the drive from Washington to three hours, real estate agents say, the number of Washingtonians flocking to the area surged — along with home prices.

According to the article, "professionals and executives" from both Pittsburgh and Washington, DC (as well as Baltimore) are buying up property in the area. I've been following closely the westward advance of the DC region and Deep Creek Lake is practically in Pittsburgh's backyard. Perhaps more significantly, the DC expansion is on the Pittsburgh side of the mountains.

I like the idea of Pittsburgh execs rubbing elbows with DC execs on a regular basis. The two regions should be doing more business with each other and perhaps this resort community is a harbinger of things to come.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Soul of Steelers Nation

Somehow I missed this piece about Pittsburgh's obsession with its Steelers:

Despite these critical cautions, idolatry and worldliness are not the whole story, not by a long shot. Evil exists only by corrupting that which is good, and in football there remains considerable good to be savored and preserved. Football, to put it differently, may lead not to the forfeiture of grace but to a richer experience of it. And like most experiences of grace, it involves people and takes root in a place. For me, that place is Pittsburgh.

Having lived here for eight years now, I sense more fully the region's rhythms, the slow shifting of seasons and sports, each sport with its season, each season incomplete without its sports. The traditions surrounding high school football run especially deep, I've learned. In our introductory history class, I require students to write research papers and urge them to use local sources. It's the world of football that many of the local kids turn to, rooting out the legends and stories, investigating and re-telling tales of yore. The most memorable papers recount the students' own participation in rituals and rivalries that go back decades, often to the early 20th century.

These young researchers are, I think, laying hold of a way to keep faith with the world of their childhood. This world was, at its best, a place of grace, with football near to the heart of it. College, they uneasily sense, offers not a way to settle into what they know but a course that will shake them from it. The authors they read, the people they meet, the training they acquire: Much of it prepares them for departure from their homes—especially likely given the area's declining economic fortunes in these post-industrial, post-local United States. In this uncertain climate, high school football feels like the ground itself. So they dig in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a touchstone, providing Pittsburghers with a sense of place no matter where they live. No matter where they must go.

Cuisine Connectivity

While the Burghblogosphere is busy debating how to best bring the rest of the world to Pittsburgh, expatriates continue to export the local culture:

The best of our entrees, a Pittsburgher ($8.90), was a sizable, good-tasting burger without fillers. Famous in Pittsburgh, the patty was presented between two slices of toasted rye, with Swiss cheese, coleslaw that tastes like a grocery store version, and skin-on fries, all piled atop one another. It might sound like an insurmountable mouth task if you've had other Pittsburghers, but this one was easy because there were too few fries in residence. Burgers come with a choice of one side, entrees come with two. Have garlic smashed potatoes, sweet-potato smash, fresh asparagus or fresh veggie medley.

I'm sure if you ask, you can also get fries on your salad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Writing Steelers Nation

Journalist and author Jim Wexell is expanding his beat to Steelers Nation. Mr. Wexell will sample the best that the Burgh Diaspora has to offer over the next 6 weeks:

My mother asked if I was nervous. I hadn’t really looked at it that way … until she asked.

Casey Hampton asked if I was crazy. Now that’s getting a little warmer.

But I still needed something positive, so I asked Troy Polamalu.

“I think it sounds like a cool idea,” he said. Then cool it is.

So we’re moving forward with a crazy plan that’s apt to make me nervous: an RV adventure through Steeler Nation.

I can't think of a more qualified person to chronicle Steelers Nation ("America's REAL Team") than Mr. Wexell. He's been running a fansite for a number of years now, bearing witness to this community surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers. I've been reading his coverage of the Steelers since the late-1990s and with all due respect to Ed Bouchette, there isn't a better beat reporter in Pittsburgh.

I'll be following his journey closely on this blog and I hope you enjoy the stories he will tell.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Strategies for Boomerang Migrants

If you would like to move back to Pittsburgh, then you might benefit from the following suggestion from a member of the Burgh Diaspora:

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.

What could you do in order to pave the way for your return to Pittsburgh? That the current regional economic climate is unable to support boomerang migrant demands isn't a secret. The idea is to expand Pittsburgh's job market to other regions currently thriving but desperately seeking the kind of talent that could telecommute.

If you are wondering how you might get into such a line of work, start reading the Freelancers Union blog. The prospect of freelancing might scare you, but at least you can begin to figure out the kind of career that lends itself to geographic labor mobility and allow you to move to Pittsburgh.

What Pittsburgh should do is build the kind of infrastructure that would cater to these economic nomads. Also, the region could offer to help retrain members of the Burgh Diaspora (who want to come home) to become freelancers, entrepreneurs, or telecommuters. If you are curious about the kind of policy that would promote boomerang labor mobility, see the Freelancers Union post about the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cleveland Browns Diaspora

With the recent surge in the size of Red Sox Nation, the stage for ubiquitous sports fans looks crowded. The national popularity of the Boston Red Sox is tied to the success of the team, which makes the growing numbers of Browns Backers all the more curious:

In the past four years, the Browns have gone 5-11, 4-12, 6-10 and 4-12 with three different head coaches and four different opening-day quarterbacks. Yet, every game (as has been the case since 1999) is a sellout. Browns Backers membership has grown from about 55,000 to closing in on 80,000 in the last nine months, according to the [Browns Backers club coordinator, Bridget Huzicka], who has a running tally of members signing up on

"Our club doubled from about 70 to 140," said Tom Rupe, a FedEx driver and head of the Ashland Browns Backers. "It's all because of the draft. When they got [offensive tackle] Joe Thomas and then traded for [the right to select quarterback] Brady Quinn, people just got back into the team. This is the most optimism since they came back in 1999."

Browns fans are anything but fair weather (only visible when the team is winning). However, once the season is lost, any bar that promotes a certain team has trouble filling the barstools. Without an owner who is also a diehard fan, most sports bars can't afford to affiliate with just one organization. Supporting the Browns might be the safest bet for a bar trying to establish a loyal clientele.

I doubt there are many bars that don't support at least one local team. I'd be interested to know if there are any bars outside of the Greater Cleveland market that promotes all Cleveland, all the time. Could an all-Pittsburgh bar survive in a faraway city such as San Francisco?

Nomadic Steelers Fans

This weekend, the Burgh Diaspora takes a backseat to Steelers Nation. The Pittsburgh Steelers open their season against the Browns, in Cleveland. For those Steelers Fans who enjoy making the journey to away games, Nick Nery suggests a site that will put the entire experience package together for you. You can also try a la carte if your needs are a bit more specific. I'm going to try this service for the Denver game. I'll let you know how it works out.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tailgate Diaspora

For all you Pittsburgh Steelers fans near Hagerstown, MD:

Representatives from a Hagerstown area Pittsburgh Steelers fan club on Wednesday asked Washington County liquor officials for permission to hold tailgate parties outside the Colonial Inn at 14130 Pennsylvania Ave. in Hagerstown.

The tailgate parties would be held before Steelers games.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Out-Migration Anxiety

How might a region respond to an initiative that purports to promote brain circulation? Turns out that Atlantic Canada is as skeptical about such a scheme as I suspect Pittsburghers are:

A number of folks have commented on my last post about the East Coast Connected initiative. After a 90 second perusal of the website (and reading the Herald article), I suggested this might be a good way to link into the diaspora. Most of the comments (posts, emails and a couple of telephone calls) provide good points.

Some have said that this initiative is more about sucking talent out of Atlantic Canada rather than 'circulation'. Some say it sounds like an initiative to make Atl. Canadians more at home in the big city. This may be true. Who knows.

David Campbell, author of the above post at the It's The Economy, Stupid blog, goes on to provide the cooler head perspective:

But the bottom line, for me, is this. Something like 550,000 people have moved out of New Brunswick since 1976 (some have moved in but this is the out-migration total). I suggest (and you mostly would agree I submit) that the single most popular reason to migrate out of New Brunswick (and ATLCAN) is lack of economic opportunity.

So, in general, keeping these folks in some form of 'loop' for the 'if' and 'when' they would be candidates to come back here is a good idea. There are an increasing number of wage competitive jobs (adjusted for cost of living) available down here in financial services, IT, health care, etc. And my experience is that a lot of ATLCANers want to move back here when it comes time to raise their family.

So, I think this type of networking process is highly valid (without knowing the specifics) and its up to NB companies and NB governments to ensure that it in fact is a two-way street. This should not be about brow beating ex-Maritimers to move back out of some sense of guilt or about greasing the skids for the folks moving to Toronto (remember, Toronto has a net out-migration of Canadians over the past 10 years - its populationg growth is being driven by immigrants - not migrants from other areas of Canada).

Mr. Campbell appreciates the crux of the problem that plagues Atlantic Canada, Pittsburgh, and other regions struggling to make the economic transition. Out-migration, namely of young adults, is a fact of life. But when the human capital is ready to return, the means to do so are unclear. The solution is simple: Cultivate a relationship with the young workers leaving the region.

What can we do for out-migrants? We can help them relocate and network. This helps foster regional loyalty beyond the typical cultural affiliation that feeds the longing for home. The idea is to serve the people of the region instead of the region itself. Without a formal diaspora network, programs such as the Pittsburgh Promise are a waste of money.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Steelers Erie Connection

The newest Pittsburgh Steelers player, kick returner Allen Rossum, married into the Erie Diaspora. His wife and her family are Steelers fans, Mr. Rossum noting that they did have a choice:

"My wife is from Erie, Pa., and is not a Buffalo Bills fan," declared Rossum, who played at Notre Dame.

Mr. Rossum is missing one-third of the Erie football fan equation. My father's generation tended to cheer for the Cleveland Browns. That's right: A Browns fan begat this Steelers fan.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Elders Pittsburgh

There is a new blog on the block, Pittsburgh Elders Guild, and I want to extend a warm welcome to our neighborhood. The brain drain that is the result of retirement could be a regional blessing in disguise. At least, that would be one of the themes I would expect Pittsburgh Elders Guild to address.

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.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Global Connect Pittsburgh Vision

The forward-thinking of East Coast Connected (ECC) continues to impress me. I would love to know how ECC convinced Atlantic Canada stakeholders to promote out-migration from the region:

"We're very excited to be kicking off our mentorship program by working with Dalhousie" said Kevin McSweeney, Director of University Relations for East Coast Connected.

"This is the first step in a larger mentorship program that will eventually provide mentorship opportunities to students attending universities across Atlantic Canada" said McSweeney.

JoAnne Akerboom, Director with Dalhousie Management Career Services also sees benefits to the program. "Dalhousie students can get a leg up by having a mentorship program in place with an Atlantic Canadian already living in Toronto before moving there themselves. This program may also assist our graduates with awareness of the opportunities to return to Atlantic Canada down the road."

The "first step" isn't radical. I recall a New England consortium of colleges and universities that provided a number of opportunities for this Vermont high school graduate, including in-state tuition throughout the entire region. The final step of increasing the number of boomerang migrants, thereby reducing brain drain, is a significant evolution in policy from the Border Guard Bob approach currently holding sway in Pittsburgh.

The piece of intrigue is the facilitation of relocation of intellectual capital from Halifax to Toronto. Imagine yours truly making a similar pitch to CMU and Pitt. Well, that's the gist of my proposal to deal with Pittsburgh's geographic labor mobility problem.

What ECC has done is allow Atlantic Canada to stake a claim to Toronto. I'm certain that Pittsburgh could do the same with regards to Washington, DC. That's an established migration pattern with some significant return flow of talent. Sticking with my regional discussion, New York City is already a big part of most Pittsburghers' mental maps. That, overt connectivity to the Megalopolis region, would comprise ECC Pittsburgh.

Cultural Fault Line Pittsburgh

My Erie roots outline a region that would spark little debate. The connections to Buffalo and Cleveland are easy enough to understand. I know from experience that I have much in common with Pittsburghers and I recollect watching Hockey Night in Canada as a child. However, extending the cultural region to Detroit and Cincinnati is a bit of a stretch.

As I've previously argued, Pittsburgh is more than just the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers. The city is the overlap of at least three regions. To the north and northwest is the Midwest. To the south and southwest is Appalachia. To the east is the Megalopolis/Mid Atlantic. A journey to southeast could represent a fourth, depending how you define the South or Piedmont regions.

Pittsburghers, perhaps as a point of pride, tend to look eastward towards the urban corridor of NYC-Philly-DC. In this worldview, Pittsburgh serves as the western-most city of the East Coast or Northeast. But there is no denying the Midwestern and Appalachian cultural influences.

Instead of Pittsburgh being the place where these regions come together, the city imagines itself as a distinct region. The problem is that Pittsburgh lacks the confidence and sufficient vision to serve as a pan-regional nexus. What Pittsburgh could be is something it never was during its entire history.