Monday, December 31, 2007

CEOs for the Burgh Diaspora

In 2008, CEOs for Cities intends to explore how globalization and increasing geographic mobility are redefining our sense of home. By way of explaining the phenomenon, the blog offers an article discussing the confusing status of residency:

One young woman who shares my last name (but unrelated) was teaching in a college in US. One day she saw the college president to tell him that she was quitting to return to Dhaka. The president could not believe it, but she meant what she had said. I can give a long list of people who could break the temptation of overseas living and returned home. Others stayed but their hearts were in Bangladesh, their bodies were overseas. As globalisation deepens, people will live in multiple localities. And they will have multiple jobs. A friend of fine, a Kolkata-born economist educated in US has worked his way up to be a professor in a mid-sized US university and now helping set up a private university in Bangladesh (Chittagong) using his experience of setting up one in Venezuela.

I was born in Erie, live near Denver, and my heart is in Pittsburgh. Many people struggle to understand my Pittsburgh obsession, but the Nomads of Globalization all share a similar experience. What might this growing class of cosmopolites mean for the future of cities?

We can easily overstate the novelties of a more deeply interconnected world. Kenichi Ohmae heralded the End of the Nation State and Salman Rushdie spelled out the threat of transnationalism in The Satanic Verses. But the agents of change are still a small vanguard and The Order of Things is far from transformed. But we shouldn't dismiss a new understanding of home because of a lack of overwhelming evidence.

In 2008, the Burgh Diaspora will become an important part of shaping the latest incarnation of New Pittsburgh. The region shall emerge as an innovation hub for urban policy and serve as an economic development model for shrinking cities around the world. Pittsburgh's great strength is the exodus of talent, forever vexed by the potential of the city. Pittsburgh inspires great passion, both love and hate (often at the same time). Does anyone quietly leave without a trail of drama?

Pittsburghers are not unique living in economic exile and we can find impressive urban nationalism in some unexpected corners. However, any attempt to network a diaspora is beholden to the context. The motivation to help one's homeland must overcome the comforts of success in a new location. I believe that the gravity of Pittsburgh is such that expatriates will seek the opportunities that their struggling home currently presents. All the Burgh Diaspora needs is an invitation to do so and we at IntoPittsburgh intend to provide it.

Happy 250th birthday, Pittsburgh. To the city's future and its great Diaspora. Cheers.

Homegrown Talent and the H-1B Visa Program

Recently, I have had the good fortune of receiving a few ideas for blog posts from readers. Today's draw takes me to Robert Cringely's thoughts on IBM's rumored downsizing here in the States. Mr. Cringely suggests that new free agents will find the current job market tough going thanks, at least in part, to the H-1B visa program:

So IBM is getting rid of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs yet escapes public attention. Since most of these are experienced IT workers, one would assume they can get good jobs. WRONG! Thanks to the H1B visa program they can't. Or if they can, it is with terrible pay. The USA has more than enough IT workers for its needs. H1B shuts them out of those jobs.

I have a friend in the Midwest who runs a small job placement service specializing in programmers. He has an engineering degree and is good at spotting talent. A few years ago the people he placed made about $70,000 a year, but no more. Last year he placed someone at a big firm. This person had 20 years of programming experience and was really good. The job paid $21,000. Then the employer laid this worker off during his first week on the job, bringing in an H1B replacement. That employer was MasterCard.

That management is using cheaper foreign labor to undermine the leverage of domestic workers is an old charge. Increasing the supply of talent should depress wages, but the H-1B visa program is not likely the only culprit for the above anecdote. Shedding tenured employees for entry-level or even temporary workers is a common method for reducing labor costs. Cutting the total number of employees and increasing the workload for those remaining is also part of corporate restructuring occurring in the wake of an economic boom gone bust. Is there no evidence for slack in the demand for talent, particularly for people with more experience?

Regardless, Mr. Cringely claims that there is no domestic shortage of IT workers. That is in stark contrast to reports of a talent crisis in a number of US States. Basic demographics reveal an aging workforce on the verge of retirement. The shrinking number of young adults is fueling the concern about the future viability of Social Security.

What the H-1B issue boils down to is the relationship between the supply of talent and job creation. If the demand for labor stays the same or even shrinks, then the H-1B visa program is most certainly a bad deal for current employees. But do we see depressed wages in areas with a relatively high concentration of foreign-born labor? Does the "Midwest" meet those criteria? Is unemployment among IT workers rising dramatically? Mr. Cringely is guilty of the same kind of baseless fear mongering that anti-immigrant groups use to fuel populism. The arguments lack substance and often do greater harm (stifling job creation) than good (raising wages).

Friday, December 28, 2007

More Boomerang Projects

A reader of this blog tipped me off to an article in the Wall Street Journal about the attempts of Vermont (here and here), South Dakota, Maine, and Iowa to reverse the trend of human capital deficits:

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.

Transplants to Pittsburgh

A new blog titled The Out of Towner kicked off today with an introductory post:

I think that many people would appreciate a site that acknowledges this groups presence and their efforts to establish themselves. Charlotte is basically a refugee camp for Rust Belt families today. Here at The Out of Towner, I want to help us form a new community.

Insight about finding good schools, adjusting to the Bible Belt, making job connections, local real estate, and Charlotte politics will be posted frequently as we try to make life just a little easier for the Charlotte Transplant.

BTW, Im sure its important to at least introduce myself. Im Brian, I go to college at UNC Charlotte, I have written in the Charlotte Observer, Matthews News and Record, David W Butler Echo, and countless professional blogs. I am originally from Bufalo, NY and my family and I have never lost our sense of identity with the Rust Belt.

Does such a beast exist in Pittsburgh? If anyone reading this knows about a blog that covers the ups and downs of moving to Pittsburgh, then please provide the url in the comments feature. I'd also welcome a Pittsburgh newcomer starting up a blog about her or his experience if the niche is yet to be filled.

VC Nation?

I don't see any evidence of venture capital nation. The "PayPal Mafia" and "Google fraternity" discussed in the New York Times are highly localized networks. The common bond of nationality stretches well beyond the demands of proximity and rich face-to-face interactions. However, a Bay Area residence doesn't mean that bringing together the like-minded is easy:

“I am actually really impressed in how all of us are finding one another,” said Andrea Zurek, a former West Coast manager for Google’s AdWords advertising system. After more than seven years at Google, Ms. Zurek, 37, left in October to become an angel investor. Ms. Zurek said she has conferred with both Mr. Patel and Mr. Ullah, and is considering an investment in a company started by another Google alum.

To strengthen the Google alumni network, Mr. Senkut plans to hold a dinner for some of his former colleagues early next year. He said he hoped the group would start with about two dozen people and grow from there. “It will be unfortunate if all these great alumni didn’t get together regularly,” he said.

If finding one another is difficult within a given region, then you might imagine the barriers to organizing the Burgh Diaspora. However, nationalism is not bound by distance. Pittsburghers around the world should ring in the New Year and drink to Pittsburgh's 250th birthday when the clock strikes midnight in the Eastern Time Zone. That toast will signal the beginning of the first VC nation in the United States.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

IntoPittsburgh: Project Gumbanders

If you are wondering about the logistics of aiding the Diaspora's return to Pittsburgh, then take a gander at the El Paso Expatriate project. I even discovered a blog titled El Paso Diaspora:

I recently phoned a friend to ask her about her stance on the El Paso Downtown Revitalization Plan A year ago we would have had a friendly and polite conversation, but this time her words were cautious, as were they measured. I do not pretend to know the dynamics of present day El Paso, not having lived there since 1997. I now live in Bryan, Texas, and have formerly lived in Tucson and before that, in Buffalo, New York, but in the last ten years I have visited the El Paso more times than I can remember and I maintain close and deep ties with community persons, artists and writers there.

The above blogger seems to have lost interest in shouting into the void, but the El Paso Expatriate project is quite active and recently put a survey online to learn more about the El Paso Diaspora. You can read some of the responses here.

I'm impressed with the sophistication of the project and I think it would be a fine model for Pittsburgh to emulate. In fact, we can use the El Paso results to better focus our target demographic:

[El Paso Representative Susie Byrd] believes there are two types of expats: those who are looking to build a comfortable life with a clear career ladder and not much risk; and those who are entrepreneurs, the ones willing to take risks.

While she said she finds nothing wrong with those who have invested in their education and are looking for a stable career path, she feels that El Paso might not be the city to pursue those goals because the city’s wages are not competitive enough.

“But, hopefully, people like that (entrepreneurs) will see opportunity here,” she said. “We have a lot of folks like that in our economy right now, and we need even more of those.”

The survey results also reveal that established entrepreneurs are not likely to be interested in relocating their businesses to El Paso. Instead, people who are now exploring start-up or self-employment opportunities find the prospect of returning home appealing. Helping these types of boomerangers ("gumbanders" in Pittsburghese parlance) is how the Burgh Diaspora project can inform economic development in the Pittsburgh region. Pittsburgh is a great place to freelance and I've heard from those bold enough to start their own businesses that there is ample support to do so.

Ironically, beggars can be choosers in this migration game. The desire to become an economic pioneer is the kind of motivation necessary to make the most of the opportunity in Pittsburgh, where competition for venture capital isn't as stiff as it is in entrepreneurial hotspots. I imagine an ideas competition with a prize of funding for the start-up, moving costs, and even a job for your spouse (if applicable). IntoPittsburgh will help you move back if you are ready and willing to help Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rust Belt Bloggers Summit

A member of the IntoPittsburgh group recently told me about his experience organizing a high school reunion using, a social networking website. I should have more to report on that front soon enough, but I remember my promise to use this blog to promote action as well as ideas. The Rust Belt immigration initiative is moving forward, but I don't want the proposed bloggers summit to get lost in the policy discussion. Pittsburgh's own Justin Kownacki inquired about a website for the gathering:

There are many social media people in Pittsburgh who would be interested in an event like this. Is there a mailing list / wiki / Ning site in the works for such a venture?

Let's network Rust Belt bloggers. We can use the ning site to discuss policy collaboration and even the limits of the Rust Belt region. But the first thing we should do is settle on the date and place of the summit.

Steelers Fan in Jerusalem

My daily search for all things Pittsburgh outside of the Burgh, yielded this post:

I’ve been a part of the Steeler Diaspora for 14 years. I imagine there is something great about a Pittsburgh Monday morning after a win. In Jerusalem, as I set the alarm to get up for the game this week, there is something equally great about tuning in from afar. While I didn’t lose a job in the mill and I am too young to have first-hand recollections of Lambert and Mean Joe, following the Steelers is being part of a storied tradition that is associated with all the good things of home.

IntoPittsburgh: Burgh Diaspora Schmap

You might notice a third-party widget to the right of the blog posts. I've agreed to allow Schmap to test it here and I've also promised to send along any feedback I receive. I will get some publicity out of the deal, but I'm more interested in the potential utility. While Schmap can better connect businesses with Steelers Nation, I'd like to use this technology to better network the Burgh Diaspora.

Dan Schultz continues to explore (here and here) the potential of geotagging as a way to better personalize information (something Schmap is doing), most importantly news of interest. Mr. Schultz puts together "where" the news happens with "what" is happening as a means to further filter the content we receive:

It's times like that where I would want a way to more effectively filter that news; readers should be able to get specific kinds of news for specific locations. Geotagging does the location side of things, but it doesn't help with "type." And so we see why Geotagging is not a substitute for topical tagging. As I always say in this kind of situation, the two are not mutually exclusive. For those of that don't speak nerd, that is just an obnoxious way of saying that you can (and probably should) use both options.

If news is also tagged by topic and those topics are categorized into broader groups, then we can still get all the benefits of traditional sections. Also, we can add topical filtering on top of the existent geo-filtering. The result is more powerful than the combination of its parts; it is much more powerful for a reader to be able to request news about "New York's garbage system" than it would be for that reader to say "I want to see news about New York" or "I want to see news about garbage systems."

One can do such a query, rather crudely, via Google News. I rather liked using LexisNexis when I had regular access. Scale is a bit of problem, thanks to the limits of geographic restriction (state level is the smallest scale), but I've found ample work-arounds by targeting the local news sources for a given city or town. However, my fine tuned search protocol is still quite labor intensive. I doubt refining geotagged news would save me much time.

I've turned the problem on its head wondering about the possibility of geotagging people interested in Pittsburgh economic development, migration, or immigration news. Where are the sources of the specific news queries located? Something that message board communities do well is socializing information exchange. I could ask people who don't live in or near Pittsburgh to post stories about the Burgh that appear in their local news sources. But finding the right people or even the most useful message board is also a time-suck.

Public databases, such as, are the solution Dan Schultz is seeking. Geotag the user and the links. I'd love to know who else out there obsesses Pittsburgh from beyond the pale of the Rust Belt. The trick is to get enough users to input the information and share their finds in a searchable format. The general idea to connect people interested in the same news and then share the workload, saving precious time.

Rust Belt 2.0: Immigration Initiative

Ed Morrison had the good sense to post Richard Herman's entreaty to all interested Rust Belt bloggers. I'll do the same here:

Dear Rustbelt Bloggers:

Thank you (particularly Chris Varley, Ed Morrison, Jim Russell, Norm Roulet) for spreading the word on the proposal for new immigration law that would create “High Skill Immigration Zones” in the most distressed cities in the U.S. Jim (Pittsburgh Diaspora) has re-framed the issue as an opportunity to encourage Rustbelt economic development collaboration around immigration. Voices are now jumping into the fray from Youngstown, Erie, Buffalo, etc.

Five days ago, Chris Briem at Nullspace posted the following under the title “Rust Belt Globalization”: ”There is a blogosphere buzz over the impact new immigrants could have on rust belt regions.” I am inspired by this blogosphere buzz, the ideas that it generates, its potent network, and the potential is has to catalyze a movement. To hopefully keep the buzz ringing, I offer the following for further discussion, feedback, etc.
Considering the economic situation in the Rustbelt, and in light of the immigration waves that the Rustbelt previously attracted, there clearly is an opportunity for the Rustbelt Region to collaborate and drive a federal lobbying strategy to create immigration incentives that would attract companies to co-locate, remain, and grow within the zone.

Why would companies come? Because they would be free of many of the business-crushing immigration restrictions that severely limit their ability to hire foreign-born talent within U.S. borders --- the same talent demographic that is driving much of U.S.-based technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

Increasing number of U.S. high-tech companies are publicly stating that the primary reason they are off-shoring R&D and high-tech jobs is because U.S. immigration law prevents them from hiring immigrant talent within the U.S. due to archaic visa quotas that have NO relationship to market realities and the globalization of talent (the current H1B visa cap of 65,000 was established in 1990!).

For more on the economic development opportunities that are being suppressed due to unsound immigration policy on H1B visas, please see December, 2007 Policy Brief from the National Foundation for American Policy (which includes Ohio University Economist Richard Vedder), entitled “Driving Jobs & Innovation Offshore: The Impact of High Skill Immigration Restrictions on America”:

As several of you have eloquently stated, the proposal is intended to attract companies to locate and grow within the zone by reducing the barriers to hiring foreign talent. The hope would be that companies, some of whom are already outsourcing jobs due to immigration restrictions, would now consider “in-sourcing” those same jobs to U.S. based High Skill Immigration Zones.

Such new or expanded company operations within the Zone would clearly include the creation of new jobs for local workers. The cumulative effect of the Zone would hopefully be the accelerated creation of deep pools of talent (innovators, researchers, technology entrepreneurs, global business professionals, etc.), which in turn would attract other companies (even those not interested in the immigration incentives), stimulate the creation of new businesses and industries, help globalize the region, and create new opportunities that would serve as a magnet for people of all backgrounds to relocate or return to the Rustbelt.

A regional collaboration between Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Erie, Youngstown, Detroit/Ann Arbor, Buffalo, etc., may create a critical mass sufficient for successful H1B reform. In partnership with some of the largest non-Rustbelt technology companies in the world, a collaboration between Rustbelt technology companies, economic development orgs, foundations, and congressional leaders, might provide enough juice for a successful D.C. lobbying effort for 2009.

Thanks to Ed Morrison for informing us of Ann Arbor's recent High Skill Immigration Efforts:

For those who are interested, a bit of background on the Zone may help. First, we started to shop this idea of a "high skill immigration zone" to technology business leaders around the country this past spring while immigration law reform was hot in D.C

This proposal has received enthusiastic support from immigrant billionaire Michael Moritz (immigrant from Scotland), principal of Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley, who was personally an early funder of immigrant-founded companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Paypal. The proposal also received interest from general counsels of Cisco and Infosys Technologies Ltd., the Director of the Software and Information Industry Association, Audrey Singer of Brookings, Joel Kotkin, Ellen Gallagher (Special Counsel, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service), and others.

The idea to create a Rust Belt Technology Playground for Immigrant Scientists, Engineers and Technology Entrepreneurs (high skill immigration zone) is based on existing law that creates incentives for immigrant talent and capital to locate in struggling or under-served geographic regions.

While the Investor Green Card Program creates incentives to attract foreign capital to distressed regions, we are similarly advocating for special incentives to attract foreign talent to distressed regions.

Creative Class guru Richard Florida has dismissed the proposal of a High Skill Immigration Zone as elitist, as inefficient, and as a undue limitation on an immigrant’s freedom to live where they wish. While I agree with Dr. Florida that is critical to promote a more open/welcoming attitude to all talent (regardless of education, economic strata, national origin, sexual orientation, etc.), I think that he underestimates the boost that high skill immigration legislation could have on rustbelt economies if tied to regional market indicators. I think that efforts to create a more tolerant attitude towards immigrants (see below) AND create new immigration law that reflects those attitudes and the special needs of struggling post-industrial cities, is a combination that needs to be aggressively pursued.

Many high skill immigrants are leaving the U.S. period, not just Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Youngstown, etc. for other U.S. cities. Upon graduation from our universities, international students are left with few opportunities to stay and work in the U.S. because of virtual non-existence of h1b professional worker visas. 65,000 H1b visas for 2007-2008 were exhausted on 1st day of application period; government received 115,000 applications on 4/1/07.

And this not even mentioning the chilling effect that low H1b numbers are having on those outside the U.S. contemplating a move to u.s. to study or work. A high-skill immigration zone would not restrain an immigrant’s choice on where to reside in the U.S., it would provide an opportunity for the immigrant to reside in the U.S. period AND provide necessary talent to a struggling region.

The focus of the proposal, however, is to attract companies with jobs to the Rustbelt and similarly situated regions. These jobs are already being outsourced from the U.S. because of the unavailability of U.S.-born talent, and the near-impossibility of U.S. companies to import those workers into the U.S. Just see the reasons give by Microsoft in setting up new R&D in Vancouver this summer.

Companies which are currently outsourcing these jobs overseas, would be very interested in a High Skill Immigration Zone that would allow them to establish operations in the zone without concern over immigration restrictions.

Thousands of high-tech jobs are going unfilled in the rustbelt due to talent shortage, and this shortage is negatively impacting company growth, expansion and retention.

As to criticism that a high-skill immigration proposal is elitist, one only has to glance at the violent and grossly intolerant national discourse in the U.S. this year on immigration to understand a political strategy that advocates first for high skill immigrants (trying to minimize the toxic political discourse associated with “lower skilled” immigrants who may compete with lower-skilled Americans for jobs). Even the relatively innocuous Dream Act was recently defeated in Congress, which would have granted immigration status to those who immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and are now unable to enroll in college due to their immigration status.

While the fed govt is a highly suspect and at times immoral partner, the fed govt can not simply be dismissed as a non-resource. When it works, it can really change the game. They control the spigot, and can turn it on, off, and direct the flow, whenever it chooses. In my personal view, the #1 issue for high skill immigrant talent is right to work (visas) at high paying, high-challenge, cutting-edge jobs in their field, located near high-value educational opportunities for their young children, low cost of living, etc. Down the list, but still a priority, is how the general community embraces immigrant diversity.

We need a comprehensive fix to the myriad of immigration challenges that exist (particularly crafting an immigration legal system that is designed to fill U.S. workforce gaps and is in-synch with global market realities). But this void created by Congress' refusal to act does create an opportunity for cities to voice new policy ideas that could be "gamechangers" for rustbelt, shrinking economies, as a stand-alone pilot, or as part of a larger comprehensive fix (which has no chance until at least 2009, and possibly 2010) A geographic-specific and geographic-limited immigration fix on high-end talent (the High Skill Immigration Zone) is likely to be more politically viable than a wholesale national amelerioration of immigration restrictions on immigrant talent. I wish this were not the case.
Aside from new legislation, much can be done to create a more welcoming and open culture for new immigrants. I like approaches that marry immigrant integration/assistance initiatives with programs that help educate the mainstream community on the economic and cultural benefits of new immigration. See: a.) Pennsylvania: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is a great example that could be emulated in Ohio.

Other examples of welcoming initiatives include the following:

b.) New York City

c.) Boston

d.) Toronto

e.) Louisville

f.) Columbus

g.) Schenectady

h.) St. Paul

i.) minneapolis

j.) Pittsburgh

k.) San Francisco & NYC

l.) Knight Foundation Immigrant Initiative

m.) Halifax
While only a 5 hour drive away, Cleveland (3 or 4% foreign born) and Toronto (50% foreign born) are worlds- apart in terms of attracting international talent, entrepreneurship and capital.

Toronto is a global city, prosperous and growing, in large measure because of its attitude and policy of global inclusion. In contrast, Halifax is a City Striving to Be Immigrant-Rich Cities like Toronto and Vancouver (40% foreign born) attract the lion's share of immigrant newcomers to Canada.

Infused with new entrepreneurship, innovation, and global diversity, those cities are thriving. On the other hand, only 7% of Halifax's population is foreign-born. Halifax and Nova Scotia are not thriving and not receiving the boost that immigrant newcomers bring to the economy. The leadership in Halifax and Nova Scotia have concluded that without a steady flow of new immigrant arrivals, the region will continue to suffer from depopulation, workforce shortages, and economic decline. Check out regional/state effort in Canada to attract immigrants to boost population, entrepreneurship, innovation in Halifax/Nova Scotia. The Mayor of Halifax is a leader on the transformative powers of immigrant influx:

A toolkit has been prepared to help small communities develop an immigrant-attraction strategy. It started out as a small effort a couple of years ago, but is gaining critical mass through immigrant leadership coalition, govt. funding, media campaign, etc.

Halifax has about 270,000 residents; the regional area of Halifax and surrounding cities has a population of 360,000. Nova Scotia has a population of about 950,0000. With govt, business, and grassroots leaders, they built, funded, and executed an immigration strategy that is working. See Halifax immigration print campaign & The Immigrant Experience Video Testimonials feature employers who have hired immigrants/international employees, immigrant/international employees themselves, and immigrant entrepreneurs.

n.) Cleveland/Akron:
Northeast Ohio has much work to do on this front. But the situation is improving. Rob Briggs, President of Gar Foundation in Akron, CEO of Fund for Our Economic Future, and Co-Chair of Knight Foundation, is overseeing a group of international, university, and immigrant leadership to explore discuss the creation of regional immigration strategy designed for growth.

A welcoming center for immigrant talent, entrepreneurship and capital was center stage. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and other rustbelt governors would be well served to design an economic development model that recruits and integrates immigrant talent into the region (international students, immigrant technologists, immigrant technology entrepreneurs, immigrant small business owners). (Currently Ohio’s Third Frontier program designed to stimulate new technology industries in Ohio expressly prohibits non-citizens from participating in its internship program.

Despite the program’s website which shows an Asian face, the program’s exclusionary position --- likely unconstitutional as applied to U.S. Permanent Residents --- sends a strong “Not Welcome” signal to immigrant talent considering studying or working in Ohio) For more on the transformative power that immigrant tech entrepreneurs and innovators have in the knowledge-based economy, please see attached articles from:

Inside Business magazine(Northeast Ohio):

Cleveland Bar Association:

For a view on global diversity and inclusion, see CoolCleveland:

The focus of the global talent movement in Northeast Ohio is being led by Mark Santo, President of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. An international business lawyer and venture capitalist by trade, Mark has created "The Talent Blueprint" which outlines 6 key strategies to helping a region attract, integrate and retain global talent.

The legislative lobby front on high skill immigration zones is just one piece of the puzzle. Mark is hosting Vivek Wadhwa in Cleveland in January, for a presentation at the City Club of Cleveland, as well as the honored guest at the Immigrant & Minority Entrepreneur Networking Event (a prelude to forming a Northeast Ohio TiE Chapter, see ) -----

Sorry for the length of the rant. Thanks for your support of global talent, and i look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can develop a network of like-minded individiuals and organizations throughout the Rustbelt.

richard herman

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The IntoPittsburgh Exchange

There are two ways to deal with a world fraught with imperfect information. Trust, a popular subject of my blog posts, helps to facilitate transactions in the face of great uncertainty. However, the power of globalization is that markets offer a better means of managing risk. A good example of this Flat World economy is online poker gaming. The Economist puts a serious face on the popular American pastime:

It might seem a bit of a leap to go from here to putting poker on the curriculum. But some academics see it as a worthy subject of study. Chief among them is Charles Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School. Earlier this year he founded the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (GPSTS), whose awkward name belies a clear set of goals: to highlight poker's role in teaching patience, strategy and money management, and in improving cognitive skills. “Poker offers metaphors for a range of life skills and could be a wonderful educational tool,” says Mr Nesson, who plays a regular game with other law professors, including Alan Dershowitz—though he has yet to play with Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice known to have a fondness for poker.

Poker is, first and foremost, a game of managing resources, argues Mr Nesson, teaching a cautious approach to risk-taking, not recklessness. There is some evidence for this. One study, comparing experienced poker players with financial- market traders, found the players less likely to exhibit over-confidence.

That poker might help teach people how to thrive in a world with diminishing amounts of social capital spells opportunity for Pittsburgh. The debate about the regional startup climate indicates the problem with risk aversion. Too bad the local casino won't feature "games of chance" that could sharpen valuable skills. Jay Kadane is a local expert who could help guide such an initiative and the innovation cluster of computer gaming provides the perfect vehicle to promote an "entrepreneurial culture" in and around Pittsburgh.

Poker players, much like immigrants, make great entrepreneurs. Failing a bit less than the average person is the definition of success. The definition of failure is never taking a risk in the first place. More Pittsburghers should belly up to the poker table.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Old Pittsburgh, New San Francisco

When considering how regional economies have changed over time, the song remains the same. At least, I see a number of similarities between the geographies of the early 20th century Pittsburgh regional industrial economy and the early 21st century Bay Area knowledge economy. Before you dismiss my comparison, consider how diverse the economic landscape is from San Francisco south to San Jose:

Silicon Valley, the wellspring of the digital technologies fueling globalization, is itself a collection of remarkably local clusters based on industry niches, skills, school ties, traffic patterns, ethnic groups and even weekend sports teams.

“Here, we have microclimates for wines and microclimates for companies,” said John F. Shoch, a longtime venture capitalist.

Silicon Valley, home of Stanford and other universities, has long been the model of success for a modern regional economy, and policy makers worldwide have tried to emulate it by nurturing high-tech companies around universities. There have been a few winners, like the semiconductor manufacturing hub in and around Hsinchu Science Park in Taiwan.

Yet a look at the microclusters within Silicon Valley demonstrates the business relationships, the social connections and the seamless communication that animate the region’s economy. It also suggests the human nuance behind the Valley’s success and shows why that success is not easy to copy, export or outsource.

“These microclusters turn out to be a very efficient way to innovate, to see what works and what fails, and do it extremely rapidly,” said AnnaLee Saxenian, an expert in regional economies and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

The kind of trust and specialization needed to rapidly innovate demands a close proximity of like-minded human capital. The result is a mosaic of industry clusters, not unlike the heyday of steel in Pittsburgh. The physical geography plays a big role, with water and hilly terrain frustrating the ebb and flow of workers.

But the reasons for labor and employment being in such close quarters couldn't be more different. In the case of Pittsburgh, workers lived close to their jobs. In the Bay Area, jobs locate close to the workers. The problem in the Bay Area develops when you need to dip into more than one talent pool. The rub in Pittsburgh was the inability of labor to find employment at another company, effectively tying a person to one company.

The prevailing geographic logic in Pittsburgh changed with better connections to the suburbs and improving incomes among workers. Increasing geographic and labor mobility would soon make unions vestigial, the diffusion of people putting industry at a disadvantage. The lesson of Pittsburgh's demise signals two opportunities stemming from the locational issues in the Bay Area:

1) A place sporting substantially less opportunity costs could attract a large migration of talent and the associated industry.

2) An innovator who can solve the proximity problem would spark the diffusion of human capital in the Bay Area region, unleashing another round of tremendous economic growth.

Instead of replicating Silicon Valley, try to fix what is wrong with it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

IntoPittsburgh: Domestic Migration Pittsburgh

With this post, I have listed all four IntoPittsburgh projects: Pittsburgh 2.0 (Pittsburgh2.0), InsideOut Pittsburgh (Diaspora), International Migration Pittsburgh (Immigration), and Domestic Migration Pittsburgh (Migration). In parentheses are the corresponding tags. IntoPittsburgh is also a tag for posts discussing two or more of the projects. The goal of each project is job creation, which is the mission of IntoPittsburgh.

How can domestic migration to Pittsburgh create jobs? While we are happy to help people who want to move to Pittsburgh do so, our ideal candidate is someone willing to create her or his own employment opportunity. We know that there are members of the Burgh Diaspora who are highly motivated to boomerang and that drive can inform a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

Jessica Trybus is an exemplar boomerang migrant:

With the end of graduate school approaching, Jessica Trybus, didn't have a job, so she created not one, but two for herself.

The director of "edutainment" at her alma mater Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) the past two years, Ms. Trybus at the same time launched her own gaming start-up, Etcetera Edutainment.

The 28-year-old Trybus embodies the Pittsburgh "boomeranger" the region is hoping to lure back.

After growing up in North Park, Ms. Trybus left for college at Cornell in the late 1990s and after graduation, moved to the West Coast to satisfy her life-long acting bug.

But Ms. Trybus soon discovered she loved the business side of the entertainment industry, and after jobs at Drew Barrymore's production company Flower Films and at Alta Vista, she and her now-husband, fellow entrepreneur and Pittsburgh-native Anthony Lacenere, returned in 2002 in search of a "better quality of life."

I've told Jess and other members of IntoPittsburgh that we can replicate her experience, helping both expatriates and the region at the same time. We also recognize that there are not enough jobs to lure back all the people who would like to return. Instead, we are seeking expatriates who are exceptionally interested in Pittsburgh's future and wouldn't rather live anywhere else.

IntoPittsburgh: International Immigration

Pittsburgh 2.0 is one of four IntoPittsburgh projects. Continuing in no particular order, International Immigration Pittsburgh is also important for improving regional entrepreneurship and spurring job creation. Ironically, Pittsburgh does well in attracting both international and domestic talent. The rub is that most of these newcomers are students, who tend to leave after graduation.

In a recent article, we learn that Pittsburgh's dilemma is also a shared concern of Cleveland. Even if international students wanted to stay, doing so isn't easy:

After graduation an international student may obtain OPT (Optional Practical Training), a one-year work authorization that is not employer specific, therefore allowing the graduate to work anywhere as long as it is in their field. But once that year is up, an international student is required to obtain a H1B visa — and that's where problems begin.

The H1B is a non-immigrant classification for foreigners who are employed by U.S. companies. Each year only 65,000 H1B visas are issued, a significantly lower number compared to the mid-90s when the cap was as high as 195,000. "[The 65,000] are exhausted the first day that we're allowed to apply for them," [says Richard Herman, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney and activist]. "On that first day, April 1, the government received 115,000 applications."

Once OPT runs out, immigrant graduates must find positions with companies that are willing to act as a sponsor for the H1B. But many companies end up turning away such candidates for fear that time and training will be wasted if one of the coveted visas cannot be obtained. So although Northeast Ohio's universities hold a tremendous amount of international talent in their classrooms, regional companies avoid recruiting these individuals because of H1B issues that follow. Some foreign graduates reenroll in school; others are forced to return home.

"The H1B cap is creating a huge problem for tech companies," Herman says. The issue is raising national concern. In 2005 Microsoft-founder Bill Gates testified before Congress on the need to do away with the H1B cap and allow foreign talent to prosper within U.S. companies.

Richard Herman contacted me after my posts touting his policy innovation. Now, I'm even more confident that Rust Belt cities should support Mr. Herman's initiative. But I doubt Northeast Ohio or Southwestern Pennsylvania can go it alone. We should move on the bloggers summit in Erie and advance a pro-Rust Belt immigration agenda, among other things. I even have a few ideas about how smaller cities could benefit given the increasing demand for talent throughout the megaregion.

One way or another, we at IntoPittsburgh intend to move this lobbying effort along. I hope other shrinking cities will join the cause and expect updates on progress in the near future.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chi-Pitts Globalization

I send thanks to Brendan Crain, the blogger behind Where, for agreeing to engage in a blog duel over Chicago-Pittsburgh urban connectivity. Our third and last installment attempts to draw some conclusions from our exchange. What have I learned about the linkages between the two cities?

Our dependency controversy is a conceit for a better understanding of contemporary inter-urban relationships. Richard Florida picked up Brendan's description of the connectivity geography in play, sounding a warning about Chicago's dependency on its megaregional hinterland:

But, as Brendan adds, the real question is that competition is growing throughout the global city-system. In other words, the same kind of dynamics that have confronted Pittsburgh and Detroit in the past several decades may some day come home to roost for Chicago. My team's analysis suggests that Chicago may have some real vulnerabilities. In contrast to New York, LA and San Francisco, which have real locational advantages in key economic sectors, our analysis of occupational clusters suggests that Chicago has few if any, other than those associated with O'Hare and air transport. For the time being, it has found a reasonably comfortable niche, providing regional services to its mega-region and serving as a regional talent magnet. But the laws of motion of global capitalism leave little doubt that sooner or later the ante on both of these fronts will be upped.

Pittsburgh's bet on Chicago might be a bad one. The network economy springing from the migration of human capital could result in a cul-de-sac for global connectivity. The Rust Belt club is only good for so long. You might think of each city on its own, making the best of whatever talent opportunities are available. In other words, place dependency is bad policy.

Public intellectuals are fond of polemics and we shouldn't overreact to suggested vulnerabilities. The ties between Chicago and Pittsburgh still represent considerable opportunity. To further the conceit, both cities should seek to diversify their connectivity portfolios. No city is a standalone cash cow. Chicago is not a world onto Pittsburgh, nor should it be.

IntoPittsburgh: Locating Pittsburgh 2.0

One of the goals of IntoPittsburgh is to improve the innovation infrastructure of the region. Taking a cue from Mike Madison, I'm calling this project Pittsburgh 2.0. Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland are asking Santa Claus to bring them venture capitalists for Christmas. The idea is that an economic revival for our shrinking cities is a bottom-up endeavor.

I hope I haven't bastardized Madison's more eloquent use of the sloppy and much maligned 2.0 concept. I'm beginning to better understand the theme expressed clearly in two Pittsblog posts tagged "if you don't like the news go out and make some of your own." For example, Madison notes the lack of coverage for entrepreneurship news. I'm also aware of local start-ups who are making news, just not in the local press. What we need is a blogger and blog dedicated to covering the innovation beat. I think Mike has enough blogs to manage and I'm a bit removed (by two time zones) from the doings about Pittsburgh. Someone should step up and start blogging.

I want to retract my Building Pittsburgh 2.0 post because of the top-down approach inherent in the narrative. We don't need government or other public institutions to connect the innovation dots. What we need are more Aldo Coffee houses:

Professor Mike Madison, Mt. Lebanon's most famous blogger (or infamous, depending on your POV), has some free time on his hands this Saturday and he wants to use it hearing from you.

As many of you know, Mike is the founder and author (with Joe Polk, who may also be on hand) of Blog-Lebo, which reports on everything that's too hot for The Almanac and too locally complicated for the P-G and Trib.

Blog-Lebo has never been shy about offering thoughtful opinions on local politics and issues affecting our town. Mike also authors Pittsblog, which covers the greater Allegheny area and a much broader range of issues, often centering on how to make the "Pittsburgh diaspora" an asset instead of a liability.

So stop by, grab a cup and give Mike an earful of whatever, whether it's about local stuff or blogging stuff or anything else.

Who knows, this may be the start of a "Voltaire for a Day" program or something.

I'm not making a shameless plug for Aldo Coffee Company or Mike Madison's appearance there. I'm remarking upon the kind of bottom-up innovation geography that would benefit Pittsburgh entrepreneurial culture. You needn't wait for the City, County or State to do something. Don't hold your breath for Pitt and CMU to save the day. As for the public-private partnerships dominating Pittsburgh's history of urban and economic development, don't be afraid to show them the way. That's the Pittsburgh 2.0 Promise, no funding necessary (but we always welcome venture capital).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Picking Up Where the Post-Gazette Leaves Off

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is well aware of its expatriate readership. However, the Burgh Diaspora deserves better and the newspaper cannot serve two masters. Local media sources can and should cater to residents. Meanwhile, an underserved dislocated demographic is waiting for a social information innovation:

When I enter "look at the news" mode I have two main desires. The first is to find out what is going on that I might care about. The second is to do this as efficiently as possible so I can get on with my life. There are some other more minor goals - entertainment, knowledge of about a specific topic - but I'll ignore those for now. So what do I do?

I can visit an aggregation system like Digg or Google News. This saves me a lot of trouble by bringing information to me under one roof. I can also visit a large media organization site which offers a similar service in a different way. The problem with these sites, as you might expect, is that they are tailored to a global audience and don't do a good job of handling niche interests like a specific physical community. I go to them anyway though, since I have been hearing about the "Global Community" all my life and I feel that I need to be at least somewhat aware of these wider issues. Plus it is easy enough to browse a few headlines.

If I want to read local news, I can visit a local paper's website or a hyper-local blog. This will tell me plenty about my back yard and fill some of the informational gaps from the existing aggregation and mainstream sites. Unfortunately, finding that kind of content takes time and prior knowledge about where to look. I'm sure some people have a list of sites they check for updates on local news or they are simply willing to spend time looking, but these sources are too spread out for my liking and local aggregation systems leave a lot to be desired. This means that I end up living with my global/partial picture and assume that someone will let me know if anything interesting happens nearby.

With this setup the global usually wins out while the local is underutilized, but that doesn't mean I don't care, it's just that that caring isn't all that counts. Even if I did decide to take the time to sniff out and read about the latest Pittsburgh news, what about my home town of Cheltenham where my family lives, or the cities of my friends from high school? Heck, I wouldn't have a chance at finding everything that matters even if I had all day; information overload at its best.

Dan Schultz, a student a Carnegie Mellon University, is the author of the above problem. You can follow his attempts to deal with too-much-news-but-not-enough-time here. I think Mr. Schultz and I, along with Jon Udell, are trying to crack the same code. As I understand Mr. Udell, he thinks we require a social innovation. On the other hand, Mr. Schultz is seeking the best tool or possibly the creation of a new piece of technology to enable us to more efficiently manage information/news.

I agree with Mr. Udell that we do NOT need better software. The media innovations (like the printing press or radio) necessary for a new form of community already exist. But Mr. Schultz reminds me that we haven't begun to think of our community in such novel terms. Well, that's not entirely true.

Diaspora information networks and transnational identities already collapse the global and local scales, the geographic divide confounding Mr. Schultz. These are local news sources for a global audience. Alumni newsletters and magazines provide a good example of the kind of information people scattered hither and yon are interested in reading. Former students don't need to know the changes in the holiday bus schedule.

The blind spot of social software is its archaic geographic orientation, using the landscape of older (and sometimes outdated) media. I look at Yelp and figure the creators of that social network don't understand translocal identities. Then again, Yelp does understand how our nomadic lifestyles erode important deep local knowledge. Or, take a look at Outside.In for my Burgh Diaspora blog. Perhaps best illustrating my point is the geographic restrictions of Pittsburgh Bloggers:

Second, the author of the blog must reside in southwestern Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh and the surrounding area) or spend an overwhelming majority of time in the Pittsburgh metro area. There currently is no hard and fast rule around what is acceptable, but (for example) State College would be too far. If someone is simply temporarily away but still has Pittsburgh as a residence would be OK. Ultimately, the maintainers of the website have final determination for listing/inclusion.

As someone who doesn't qualify but blogs obsessively about Pittsburgh, I could tease out the hyper-local blogs that best serve the interests of the Burgh Diaspora. I fully intend to do that, once IntoPittsburgh launches its website. To put the onus squarely on the shoulders of Doug Heuck, Pittsburgh Quarterly already serves the dislocated demographic of Pittsburgh. What is left to do is to offer the Burgh Diaspora more of the information it wants and needs. All of that and more in January of 2008...

IntoPittsburgh: Chicago II

Today, I respond to Where's contention that Chicago is more dependent on Pittsburgh than the other way around. The crux of the argument is as follows:

Without Pittsburgh, in the literal sense, Chicago would not crumble and blow away; to think so would be naive. But Pittsburgh is a part of a group of cities that, together, have allowed Chicago to experience its recent -- and rather stunning -- revival over the past two decades. As post-industrial Western megacities like Chicago, New York, or London began to try to pick themselves up after losing manufacturing jobs in the 1970s and 80s, they began to rely on what you could call innovation-intensive fields like biomedicine, design, information technology, and (of course) the arts. These are highly specialized fields, and ones that many traditional middle class workers were not trained or educated to particpate in. Megacities, then, needed to draw in new talent from surrounding smaller cities.

Chicago needs the talent developed in Pittsburgh. I concede this point and would add that the demand for labor is why so many Pittsburghers have moved to Chicago. However, Chicago is also an impressive producer of human capital. If Chicago retained all of its local graduates, then would the city need Pittsburgh at all? Like Pittsburgh, Chicago's research universities are world class. Furthermore, Chicago attracts global human capital in ways Pittsburgh has not, at least over the last few decades. Chicago does not actively seek Pittsburgh talent, but Pittsburghers still move there as a result of established migration patterns (more chain migration).

Where does not consider Chicago's global impact, as compared to that of Pittsburgh's. The economic travails of shrinking cities such as Pittsburgh stands in stark contrast to Chicago's recent renaissance. Chicago is one of the exceptions to the Rust Belt rule. In fact, many are looking to Chicago to raise other Midwestern cities out of the doldrums:

Turn the Midwest lemon into lemonade by thinking big. If Chicago is stuck being the capital of the Midwest, it will have to lead the Midwest revival effort. Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," says that what he calls "Chi-Pitts" — the swath of North America running from Pittsburgh through Chicago to Minneapolis — is the third-largest producer on the planet.

Chicago is on the right track by building its high-end service sectors, argues Brookings Institution's Bruce Katz. "Boston and New York were left for dead 30 years ago" but rebuilt their economies around one or two fast-growing sectors, he says.

The economic impact arrow points to Pittsburgh, not to Chicago. Connectivity with Chicago is crucial for Pittsburgh's future success. That hierarchy is unlikely to change in my lifetime. Chicago will remain one of Pittsburgh's main gateways to the rest of the world, short of concentrating on other global cities such as Toronto. When considering the urban dependency between these two cities, Pittsburgh is along for the ride.

Monday, December 17, 2007

IntoPittsburgh: Chicago

I'm starting my profile of major Burgh Diaspora cities with Chicago. Where is co-blogging with me about the connections between our two cities. I'll be looking for other partners in crime for this tour, so e-mail me if you are interested in a blog collaboration.

Any Burgh Diaspora tale starts with migration. I've mused about the Chicago-Pittsburgh connection before and Chicago was a key destination for Pittsburghers fleeing the collapse of the regional economy. The exodus is over (go ahead and exhale, Pittsburgh) and the geography of out-migration has shifted (Warning: .pdf file).

On page 9 you can find where Pittsburghers are heading thanks to IRS data for the period of 2000-2006. I'll list the top 20 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSA):
  1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria
  2. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington
  3. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island
  4. Indiana (PA)
  5. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman
  6. New Castle
  7. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater
  8. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor
  9. Columbus
  10. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta
  11. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach
  12. Baltimore-Towson
  13. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet
  14. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale
  15. Erie
  16. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
  17. Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord
  18. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy
  19. Harrisburg-Carlisle
  20. Orlando-Kissimmee
Pittsburghers are still making the journey to Chicago, but perhaps not as often as in the past. At a minimum, the two cities share food and football. More importantly, Chicago keeps tabs on Pittsburgh business dealings:

No matter how hard Meakem Becker Venture Capital aims to steer clear of the spotlight until "they're ready," as founder and principal Glen Meakem has said, it nevertheless seems to always get attention. Now the group is on the radar screen of Chicago bloggers and tech media.

According to regulatory filings, the young private equity firm, launched last year by the Sewickley-based former FreeMarkets Inc. chairman and its one-time chief operating officer David Becker recently poured $2.3 million into Chicago-based LiquidTalk Inc., which provides "new ways for businesses to create, organize and distribute" information to employees on mobile devices, such as "smartphones" and iPods.

Pittsburgh is always the last to know. Chicago is an important market for Pittsburgh-based corporations. I doubt the feelings are mutual. The migration to Chicago planted the seeds for future deals. Pittsburghers are using their extended network and doing all the heavy lifting concerning the connectivity between the two cities. On the other hand, I suspect that a Chicago located firm looking for opportunity discovers Pittsburgh through Pittsburghers, not via transplants to the City of Bridges.

IntoPittsburgh: Globalscot Model

Anyone curious about what IntoPittsburgh proposes to do for Pittsburgh, check out the latest news about Globalscot. An older story about Globalscot is similar to IntoPittsburgh's Gumbander initiative:

"Our message to the Scottish Diaspora this New Year should be to come home to Scotland," said justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill.

"While we must do what we can to make Scotland a welcoming place for those wishing to come here to work, we should not forget that many Scots have left our shores to pursue a better economic future."

The [Scottish National Party] said Ireland had attracted 280,000 new workers in four years by targeting its ex-pat communities.

"It's not so much the successful Scottish ex-pat in Canada who has put down firm roots in foreign communities who we need to target, but the bus driver in Manchester and the oil workers in the Gulf," added Mr MacAskill.

"These groups of workers are the educated and talented who have not been presented with the opportunities to stay and work at home.

"We should be setting out a specific plan to provide the support needed to bring these workers home."

Also like Globalscot, IntoPittsburgh is interested in more than helping expatriates return home. As I've labored to point out in this blog, human capital can still help Pittsburgh even if it resides in China. In that light, I think now is a good time for me to voice my support for Mike Madison's suggested motto for IntoPittsburgh:

What you have as heritage, Now take as task, / For thus you will make it your own

If you care about Pittsburgh, for whatever reason and no matter where you live, then we ask you to help shape Pittsburgh's future in the way you feel is most appropriate.

Lake Erie 2.0

Outside Erie is both wary and intrigued concerning the benefits of Rust Belt cities "pooling their resources" for purposes of economic development. Might smaller cities such as "Erie, Youngstown, and Jamestown" get lost in the shuffle?

The boundaries of any regional initiative are difficult to draw. We could split Youngstown in two between the pull of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. I would argue that is why Cleveburgh makes sense and respective efforts for each big city does not. On the other hand, I'm not sure that a Buffalo-Birmingham collaboration is worth the investment. There is a great deal of value in tapping into a strong cultural coherence, which is the lesson informing the networking of the Burgh Diaspora or the success of Globalscot.

Where there is shared interest, there is trust. Where there is trust, there is economic value. Erie has much in common with other Great Lakes cities. Erie also sits on the same shoreline as Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo. The large bodies of water serve as a political, cultural and economic touchstone for the future of a large region:

One of America’s top shoreline experts, Duke University’s Orrin Pilkey, told me last year he’s stunned by the Great Lakes region’s lack of beach access.

Same goes for the nation’s oldest think tank, the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

A $200,000 study Brookings released in 2006, funded by major businesses, universities, and philanthropic groups, said the region will re-emerge as an economic powerhouse only if it rallies around the Great Lakes. It suggested becoming more appealing to “outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, and those seeking health lifestyles.”

I believe in private property rights. I respect some zoning laws, disdain others, and believe in the freedom to do as I please with the turf I own, within reason and without excessive government intrusion.

But the formula’s simple: If you can see the water and touch the water, you’re more likely to protect the water.

What is news in Buffalo is news in Erie, a collaboration waiting to happen. Pittsburgh can boast a similar connectivity, the rivers of northern Appalachia. The Appalachian Regional Commission takes a more expansive view of the region, and you might be surprised to see that Erie makes the cut. But the shared waterways are more useful for informing a strong partnership.

Just the same, Cleveburgh is a work in progress. We can build on that connectivity as a model for new urban networks. I'm not sure what Pittsburgh's stake is in the Great Lakes or Lake Erie, but that doesn't mean there isn't a shared interest. What is good for Erie can be good for Pittsburgh. Let's explore those possibilities.

IntoPittsburgh: LinkedIn

We have formed an IntoPittsburgh group at the social networking website LinkedIn.

Join IntoPittsburgh

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rust Belt Archipelago

Located in the Sun Belt or Deep South, whichever you prefer, Birmingham belongs in the Rust Belt cohort of shrinking cities. As most of you likely know, the reason a major city in Alabama has more in common with Pittsburgh than Atlanta is the steel industry. The problems that shrinking cities share reminds me that the climate variable isn't that important:

Over the past year, The Birmingham News has explored critical challenges that face metropolitan Birmingham-Hoover -- race and trust, fragmented government, inner-city crime, blight in our industrial core, uneven economic growth, disparities between urban and suburban classrooms. People across the area agree: On each of those fronts, leadership is key to progress. Can someone or some group craft a vision that leads our communities forward?

The legacy of the urban industrial political economy is the reason shrinking cities are struggling. The tired refrain consists of superficial policy ("We should be more like Austin!") and the longing for leadership. Instead of asking for someone or something to follow (beware of the Music Man), more shrinking city citizens need to step up and take the initiative. There is no magic solution in the pipeline.

Most of the dynamos we are seeking have left our regions. In fact, the best of any area tend to leave. Thus, immigration is crucial to urban vibrancy. Trying to keep human capital from leaving is a waste of resources. The game is one of attraction, not retention. However, I suspect that ample immigration tends to gloss over the many inefficiencies of a given city. All the policy geniuses of Sun Belt boomtowns can't solve the problems of Rust Belt shrinking cities. The lot of them stands on top of good fortune. Akin to fast growing companies, you find out who has a good business model when the economy turns sour.

Benchmarking The Real Pittsburgh

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary and retired Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neill and former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editor John G. Craig Jr., among the founders of the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators Consortium, will give a detailed presentation on the need for area business and government decision-makers to better understand the dynamics of an expansively defined metropolitan Pittsburgh.

The December 18th Breakfast Briefing, titled "Benchmarking The Real Pittsburgh" and organized by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, begins at 7:30 a.m. at the Omni William Penn Hotel downtown. (Details:

"We're delighted to be working with the Indicators Consortium to offer this important and timely presentation," said Audrey Russo, Pittsburgh Technology Council president and CEO. "As Pittsburgh prepares for our 250th anniversary, Paul's and John's presentation will serve as a backdrop for fact-based decision-making that will be required in facing the region's future."

The PRI's Web site ( features detailed and continuously updated decision-support statistics on nine key components -- called "indicators" -- of the region's life: Arts, Demographics, Economy, Education, Environment, Government, Health, Safety and Transportation.

The group defines the metropolitan Pittsburgh region as the twenty-two counties surrounding the city, including those in West Virginia and Ohio. Traditional definitions of the Pittsburgh area do not include such an expansive geographical zone.

Elected officials and working media from the twenty-two county area are invited to attend the December 18th event as guests of the Technology Council.

Reservations may be made by contacting the Technology Council by e-mail to or by calling 412.918.4229.

MEDIA CONTACTS For the Pittsburgh Technology Council: Kevin Lane Director, Public Relations 412.687.0200 ext. 247 For the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators Consortium: John Buckman Buckman Communications 412.381.2900

CONTACT: Kevin Lane, Director, Public Relations of the Pittsburgh jbuckman@buckman.bizTechnology Council, +1-412-687-0200, ext. 247; or John Buckman of BuckmanCommunications, +1-412-381-2900, , for the PittsburghRegional Indicators Consortium

Web site: