Monday, February 18, 2008

Sushi Diaspora

Survey says talent nomads are attracted to superior sushi. Is the competition for knowledge workers so fierce that the cuisine opportunities would privilege one city over another? The marketing battles between Seattle and Silicon Valley indicate that the sushi variable very well could tip the scales. More seriously, the economic development these valuable migrants can help instigate is a vexing policy debate:

Pittsburgh has deep-seated economic problems that can be cured -- if they can be cured, and that's a very big "if" -- only with sustained growth. It is doubtful that Pittsburgh's growth can come entirely or even largely from within -- from local material and knowledge resources, local investment, local labor. What will it take to bring those resources, investment, and labor from outside the region? "Sushi" is a semi-serious proposed answer to that question.

Human capital is only part of the quest for extra-regional resources, but it is the heart of my ruminations about building New Pittsburgh. If the economic benefits are marginal, then the quality and quantity of information should make the difference. Pittsburgh's relative isolation has hurt the region in the quest for new human capital. Even if the city did harbor world-class sushi, putting the Burgh on the mental maps of footloose talent is a tall order.

Mike Madison includes an anecdote in his post about economic development that exemplifies the kind of tacit knowledge barriers that can impede capital (human, venture, investment, etcetera...) migration:

Find outside investors willing to put money into local businesses, that is, to compete with local firms. Right now, I'm talking with a friend who invests in small manufacturing enterprises. He's not based in Pittsburgh, but he's intrigued by my general description of the strength of manufacturing here.

There are a number of cities sporting strong manufacturing opportunities, but the marketplace where these parties might come together doesn't exist. The surrogate is hard data, such as tax rates. But tacit knowledge is what moves people and dollars. That's the kind of infrastructure I think Pittsburgh needs.


Chal said...

So is this "superior sushi" to be considered part of the infrastructure?

kenneth Thompson said...

hi all,

since my wife and i only agreed to move to pgh from nyc 15 yrs ago when we found sushi 2 in shadyside, i guess i have to agree with the superior sushi notion. (at least my wife has talent)

two thoughts on globalizing pittsburgh..

1) jane jacobs in "cities and the wealth of nations" makes the clear point that cities/regions do best when they trade with cities in similar circumstances. she doesnt subscribe to the idea that the only places that can grow are the high intensity world cities. rather, she suggests that cities at similar levels of development need to organize networks of exchange. we need a hanseatic league of post-industrial cities. we dont need to be in awe of nyc and la etc.. we need to find products and markets in places that need what we can produce and have what we need to buy

2) the notion of the global city is something we might benefit from examining. a good source is the work of the world cities and globalization site from the uk