Saturday, November 29, 2008

Immigration Pittsburgh Update

Riding the recent wave of Pittsburgh boosterism, Richard Herman paints an improving picture of immigration to the region. While the recent lack of immigration to Pittsburgh is remarkable, but the quality of the foreign born talent relocating here is without peer:

Six out of 10 immigrants to Pittsburgh now arrive here with college degrees. That's the largest proportion in the U.S.

While the presence of talented immigrants is a strength, Pittsburgh needs to do a better job of attraction:

One aspect of Boston versus Pittsburgh is the issue of diversity. Boston continues to attract immigrants. Pittsburgh hasn't done that. There's starting to be recognition that an immigrant population -- particularly professionals and the ability to retain graduates of Pitt and CMU -- can in fact be important to economic growth. I know Westinghouse Electric went through a rapid growth period and they're focusing on the immigrant populations as a target to satisfy their needs.

The ability to keep foreign born skilled labor is tough to do. Immigration law often stands in the way of graduates remaining in Pittsburgh. A recent amendment provides the foreign born with another way to stay: Create more jobs in the entertainment industry.

Other Pennsylvanian communities might note the geographic scope of the immigrant investment program. But Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned to attract this kind of financial (and intellectual) capital:

Takeo Kanade, pioneer in the field of robotics and vision, spoke at the Distinguished Lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar recently. He is the fourth speaker in lecture series aimed at bringing people from all over the world to Doha so students could meet successful professionals and see how they can take their education and apply it in the workplace.

Kanade, from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh spoke at length about his research Eye Vision, which involved shooting multiple video images from multiple cameras placed at different angles during the Super Bowl XXXV game. Computers combined the video streams from the state-of-the-art cameras, and the resulting images gave viewers the feel that they were flying through the scenes. This technique was used in the major motion picture The Matrix. The technology was proven to be more than just hi-tech entertainment when it was used to decide a crucial play near the end of the game.

He also spoke of his work on the analysis of facial images and video to recognize people and understanding human expressions. He showed dynamic videos of how he conducts his research, develops his projects and brings them to fruition. And also emphasized how much fun he has had over his long and unparalleled career.

He is also the director of Digital Human Research Center in Tokyo, Japan, which he founded in 2001. Kanade has won countless awards in his 30-year career, and has mentored hundreds of Carnegie Mellon students.

The combination of hi-tech entertainment innovation and a vibrant local film industry makes Pittsburgh an ideal location for Silicon Valley Bollywood wannabes:

"It's a confluence of capital, talent and population," observed Jeff Berg, head of Hollywood talent agency International Creative Management who is also an Oracle board member. "This is India's moment on the stage."

Investing in an Indian film allows geeks to get close to the glitter.

"They are all star-struck," said Vivek Wadhwa, who founded two successful startups and invested in a movie, "My Bollywood Bride." "It's really, really cool. There is Miss Universe here, Miss India there — all these gorgeous, gorgeous women."

This new immigrant opportunity can allow these geeks to live out their fantasy in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The current instability in Mumbai makes American-based film production more attractive. Right place, right time Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Emigration Services

Every once in a while, a link to my blog turns up in an unexpected place. Former Irish President Mary Robinson founded the Emigrant Advice Network, Éan for short, in 1996 to (among other things) "undertake projects of benefit to emigrants." The 2007 Annual Report lists the new objectives as questions that Éan should help answer:

Ireland can now redefine its role with the Irish abroad. What role can emigrants play in Irish society? How can Ireland best reach out to its emigrants? How can we better serve their needs and, at the same time, ensure that emigrants can make a contribution to their native country if they desire to? How can our experience as an emigrant nation inform our current status as an immigrant nation?

What role can emigrants play in Pittsburgh or Rust Belt society? Given the increased geographic mobility of talent and demographic trends, we should be considering the prospect of enhancing such a relationship. Like most shrinking cities, Pittsburgh's focus is on retention. Attracting more immigrants is a worthy goal, but emigrant services are not discussed as part of any regional talent management strategy.

One obvious upshot to such an initiative is facilitating homecoming. The Irish Diaspora is not a model for Pittsburgh. But I see many parallels with the Scottish Diaspora:

Advertisements for Homecoming Scotland are today unveiled in Edinburgh, before the St Andrew's Day celebrations. They are likely to highlight the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and 200 events to boost tourism.

Most grandiose is The Gathering, due to held in Edinburgh in July. Billed as “a celebration of one of Scotland's greatest traditions” it reaches out to North America, “where clan membership exceeds 100,000 and over 300 Highland Games and festivals are held annually”.

[Professor Tom Devine, director of the Scottish Centre of Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University], dismissed this “Highlandism” as a modern phenomenon. “American Scots have not retained the same level of expatriate ethnic identity as Irish Americans. They assimilated quickly,” he said. “This recent thing we have seen is an invention of the last quarter of a century, not the continuation of an ancient sense of identity dating back into the 19th century. It is new, the invention of tradition: Tartan Day, tartan week, the Highland games phenomenon - all of that is of recent vintage.”

Pittsburgh's global identity is also "of recent vintage." I don't see why there couldn't be Pittsburgh Center of Urban and Domestic Diaspora Studies. An expatriate ethnic identity could be constructed. The cultural phenomenon of Pittsburghese suggests that this is already happening.

Our understanding of labor mobility is in desperate need of an update. Current investments in human capital were fine for an industrial economy. From Éan, we can learn about the hometown benefits of emigrants services. We can also investigate best practices. The Pittsburgh Promise, like emigrant services, will help young talent leave. But the initiative will also entice expatriates to return:

While working on "very exciting things" in New York City with Teach for America, [Cate Reed, an East End native,] realized she wanted to make a difference in her hometown.

New York City public schools have more than 1 million students. Compare that with Pittsburgh's approximately 28,000 students, and the possibility for success becomes "very manageable," she said.

"We could be a model for this country to ... fundamentally change the way we think about urban school districts."

She cites the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program and a principal training program (also supported by Mr. Broad) that brings in teachers who are interested in leadership roles as reasons to believe in the schools.

"The Pittsburgh Promise is huge," she said, noting that it's not only a financial promise, but a promise from the district to prepare students for higher education.

We could be a model for this country to fundamentally change the way we think about brain drain.

Pittsburgh Foodie Diaspora

Journalist Andrea Weigl shares her Pittsburgh-cultivated tastes with North Carolina readers:

But Weigl has a passion for food. She says she's from "a family of eaters." Her parents, who are visiting her in Raleigh this weekend, are good cooks. As a teen, Weigl made chocolate souffle because it was difficult to make.

So a year and half ago, Weigl became our food writer. She is quickly becoming one of the best in the country. Reporting about food all week hasn't sated her interest in it. Not a bit. She's taking cooking classes and still reads every food magazine she can find.

She often feels an emotional connection to food. She grew up eating German food in Pittsburgh and recently bit into a Polish sausage at a Triangle restaurant.

"I'm not joking," Weigl said. "It brought tears of joy to my eyes."

Now and again, I come across an article that indicates how Rust Belt refugees are transforming the cultural landscape of important Sun Belt destinations such as North Carolina. I remember geographer Pierce Lewis describing the influence of Pennsylvania throughout the United States resulting from robust out-migration. You would see it in the barns of Wisconsin and even the houses in Northern California. There is a long history of exodus, evidence of prosperity and ambition.

Updating the foodie angle: Via Brewed Fresh Daily, read about Home Grown Indiana. Can Home Grown Pittsburgh be far behind?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pittsburgh Energy Boom

While Pittsburgh South struggles under the weight of the financial crisis, business for Westinghouse couldn't be better (hat tip Null Space). But the impressive growth of the nuclear reactor industry isn't the biggest story. For that, we return to the Marcellus shale natural gas rush:

"It's in the middle of the best place in the world to sell gas," said John Pinkerton, chairman and chief executive of Range Resources Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas. ...

... "It's like having one of the giant gas fields from the Middle East under Pittsburgh," said Pete Stark, a geologist and vice president of Colorado-based energy consultant IHS Inc.

Exploration of Marcellus shale is in the early stages as companies work to identify the best drilling prospects. It could be five or 10 years until production is fully engaged because there is a relative dearth of gas pipelines, rigs and trained workers in Appalachia to support the deeper, horizontal wells needed to extract gas from shale.

Perhaps the biggest bet is being made by Range Resources. The company has invested $700 million in the formation already, including a processing station just outside Houston that it brought online in October.
Southwestern Pennsylvania could see a boom in the neighborhood of what is currently going on in Alberta, the Canadian province so starved for talent that it has scoured American cities for immigrant graduates unable to secure a Green Card or even an H-1B visa. Both the Marcellus shale project and Westinghouse's new digs in Cranberry (suburb north of Pittsburgh) are ramping up at about the same time. The labor shortage is already apparent.

Pittsburgh will have to import most of the skilled workers, which should reverse current population trends. Ironic how Charlotte is facing dark days ahead while Pittsburgh is beginning another renaissance. A great time to celebrate a homecoming, eh?

Mega-Regional Value Proposition

Thinking about the brain drain problem at different scales is instructive. Talent that moves from the city to the suburbs isn't an issue, save the eroding tax base for the municipality, because these workers will likely commute back in to where most of the jobs are located. We should be careful to consider that migration and natural decline when sounding the alarm about our shrinking cities.

Subsidies for public postsecondary education changed the brain drain game. As long as the human capital stays instate, the benefits outweigh the costs. There also exists a regional benefit. Going to high school in Vermont, I remember considering other colleges throughout New England because I was eligible for reduced tuition. But these carrots ultimately failed because graduates ranged well beyond the pale in search of opportunity. At least, if you buy the brain drain hype.

Domestic migration is a story of proximity. There is a surprising amount of churn between the cities of Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Columbus. Pittsburgh also enjoys considerable talent exchange with Philadelphia and Washington, DC. What is good for one city should be good for the entire network.

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is making just such a pitch:

"It would be far better for us to lose a deal to Charlotte than to lose it to Singapore or London," said Tad Leithead, a businessman who serves on the ARC committee that proposed the mega-region approach.

Richard Longworth makes a similar case for the Midwest mega and Brookings is pushing the concept of the Great Lakes. However, exactly how Atlanta losing a deal to Charlotte being the lesser of two evils is unclear. How might we convince the mega-regional skeptics that there are tangible benefits?

Shrink the distance between metros to that of a commute. Consider Simin Curtis' big idea for Pittsburgh:

Let's have our famous Pittsburgh Symphony go to the region and bring businesses along with them on a grand tour. Let's foster more forums to share knowledge about the Middle East. Let's increase our student exchanges. Let's have local businesses mentor students from the Middle East from the moment they arrive at our universities. Let's have businesses with operations in, say, Cairo or Dubai mentor other businesses contemplating doing business in the Middle East. And while we're at it, let's get a direct flight from Pittsburgh to the Middle East to accommodate all the increased exchanges.

While Pittsburgh might not generate enough ridership to justify that direct flight, Cleveburgh could. Already, Pittsburghers consider flying out of Akron/Canton or Cleveland as viable options. High-speed rail between the three airports would make it even more so. Better transportation links also increase the distance trust can travel. The pool of ideas and venture capital would grow (see Tech Belt Initiative). Also, Pittsburgh produces more talent than it can use. Increased Cleveburgh connectivity will alert graduates to opportunities in Akron, Youngstown, and Cleveland. If someone wants to stay in the region (or move back), there would be greater options.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Burghophilia

Business Week rates Pittsburgh as the best place to raise children in Pennsylvania. I wouldn't have noticed if Scranton didn't toot its own horn for coming in second:

Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce President Austin Burke said the ranking was about three decades in the making. He said it was no surprise Pittsburgh finished first.

“The people of Pittsburgh are very nice and I’ve said it time and again that Pittsburgh, with its neighborhoods and different ethnic groups, is a big Scranton,” Mr. Burke said. “I think our time has come. I think this started 30 years ago and, like Mayor Doherty has said, we’ve kept hitting singles, not home runs. We put men on base and moved them over and now we’re scoring.”

Count Scranton as another city hoping to mimic Pittsburgh's success.

Stoking the Rivalry Fires

Null Space has more on The Plain Dealer throwing Pittsburgh's successes in Cleveland's face. I just finished listening to the interview with the journalist who wrote the story that has all of Cleveburgh abuzz. Global Erie is also mulling over what Pittsburgh might teach Northwestern Pennsylvania. I still think that Cleveland's paper of record is engaging in some shock therapy.

Cleveburgh Cares: Youngstown

From Brooke Slanina:

Hi All:

Please help promote the benefit at Cedars this Sunday, November 30, at 7 pm. All proceeds will benefit a familiar Youngstown face.

Linsey Hosking suffered a brain aneurysm about 2 weeks back and has been in the hospital ever since, fighting through multiple surgeries, comas, fevers, and most recently a stroke. Her family has taken off work to be with her and she has been transferred to University Hospital in Cleveland. Lin's friends and family are praying for her, sening positive vibes, thinking good thoughts, and doing good deeds in hopes of aiding her recovery.

Mara Simon of Cedars has donated the venue for a benefit show featuring many local musicians plus a Chinese Auction. All proceeds from the door and the bar will benefit Lin and her family. Information and details can be found below.

Contact Mara at 330.746-7067 or Brooke at 330.718.5515 if that number is not answered. You may also email Chris Rutushin at finetunethemovie@gmail.com.

I realize this is short notice but in hopes for a Holiday Miracle we would appreciate any coverage you could donate to this very worthy cause. Lindsey and her family would appreciate it very much. We will keep you posted on additional upcoming events as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rust Belt Rail

Another initiative worth tracking:

The bill would provide money for tax-exempt bonds to finance rail projects which reach a speed of at least 110 miles per hour. It would include $10 billion over 10 years to fund improvements in the Northeast and California, and $5.4 billion over a six-year period for 10 rail corridors, including connecting the cities of the Midwest through Chicago, connecting the cities of the Northwest, connecting the major cities within Texas and Florida, and connecting all the cities along the East Coast.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spencer is a co-sponsor of the bill. Blogger Ryan Avent ponders the possibilities:

Economic geography tells us that market potential is important. If you want to be a rich place, it helps to be close to other rich places. This is one of the problems with the Rust Belt. Individually, Rust Belt cities are weaker than cities on the east coast — they have smaller economies and less human capital. This is complicated by the fact that they’re fairly isolated. The rich cities of the northeast corridor are squeezed together, while Rust Belt cities are far apart — from each other and from the rich cities of the east coast. This means that they have less to work with, and they’re less able to leverage that strength in a regional economy. For this reason, I’ve argued that it’s important to invest in individual cities in the Rust Belt, but it’s also important to improve connections between the cities. To effectively bring them closer together.

Go here for some debate on the subject.

Raining on Pittsburgh's Parade

In an article at New Geography (full disclosure: I have two pieces published there as well), Bill Steigerwald puts all the recent Burgh boosterism in perspective. Mr. Steigerwald rightly tempers our enthusiasm, remarking upon the boondoggles and crushing civic debt. Indeed, Pittsburgh has plenty of warts. But that's no reason to propogate myths:

So if the place is so great why are people – especially young people – leaving in droves? For one thing pay scales are low and the general populace, though friendly and unassuming, fully embraces not risk-taking but the two unofficial regional religions – unionism and Steelerism.

At this point, the critique transforms into Burgh bashing. I gather that naysayers are dependent on the falsehood that young people are leaving the region "in droves." The City of Pittsburgh isn't above reproach, but invoking the red herring of an exodus some 25 years past is unnecessary. In doing so, Mr. Steigerwald does his city a grave disservice.

For all its problems, Pittsburgh is doing relatively well. We're not talking Seattle-great or Chicago-boom, but the postindustrial transformation is worth celebrating. The successes, as modest as they are, are even more impressive when you consider the drag that Mr. Steigerwald lists. And Pittsburgh is far from alone. Almost every Rust Belt city is afflicted with the same malaise. The common thread is the industrial political geography, which has far more explanatory power than a libertarian lament.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Burghophobia

Don't believe me that there is a sibling rivalry between Pittsburgh and Cleveland?

This is just more bad news from Cleveland. I fear that Pittsburgh will continue to dominate Cleveland, this just gets worse. Pittsburgh is booming, while Cleveland continues to hault construction or drop projects all together. This project is currently haulted, but in typical Cleveland fashion, it will get canceled and not go through.

I think above comment puts the anxiety about the PNC buyout of National City into its proper context.

Burgh-on-the-Cuyahoga

More Burgh lust in Cleveland:

Civic leaders from as far away as Israel have expressed strong interest in replicating the program, the brainchild of Bill Strickland. The Pittsburgh native began working on the Manchester Bidwell model while a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh.

The model already has been copied in San Francisco, Cincinnati and Grand Rapids, Mich. Cleveland appears to be next: The Cleveland Foundation in September approved a grant of $450,000 for support and planning for the Cleveland Center for Arts and Technology.

Is The Plain Dealer attempting to shame its readership into action?

Cleveburgh Mentors New Orleans

What Pittsburgh can teach Cleveland isn't playing well in Northeast Ohio. But shrinking cities have plenty to impart to New Orleans, including more than just Pittsburgh. Down on the bayou, Cleveland is a model:

Much like the strategy of 17 target zones put forth by New Orleans recovery chief Ed Blakely, the Cleveland plan is built on the premise that investment in and around stable areas will snowball. Ohio City, now counted as a success, is no longer a target area, but two other neighborhoods on its fringes are.

Too bad more people in Cleveland don't see what New Orleans sees. Instead, they obsess the sibling rivalry with Pittsburgh. The fate of Pittsburgh and Cleveland are increasingly intertwined. This is not a time for overblown civic pride. Of course, there is nothing wrong with celebrating the success of Ohio City.

New Orleans is also turning to Youngstown for a template of redevelopment:

If Youngstown's acceptance of its decline is unusual, it was also a long time in the making. The city's collapse began in 1977, and for a couple of decades, men would still gather in taverns and talk of the day the mills would reopen.

In the words of Hunter Morrison, an urban planning professor at Youngstown State University who helped shape the blueprint, Youngstown's new plan reflects a consensus that it was time to "turn granny's picture to the wall" and rethink the city radically.

Ironically, the Rust Belt is full of cities radically rethinking themselves. The Urbanophile thinks that Detroit should take the same plunge. Again, Youngstown is the exemplar of urban triage:

Other cities, Youngstown among them, decided against an all-or-nothing approach in decommissioning failed neighborhoods. Even in ramshackle Oak Hill, not every block had failed. The goal: Bolster what can be saved, but try to pull back from what cannot.

In other words, if one block has five occupied houses on it, the city might be able to justify plowing the street in winter and repairing it in summer. Not so for the block with a lone family remaining.

Although the Unified New Orleans Plan called for "clustering" residents in neighborhoods with a better chance for rebuilding, city leaders did little to entice residents to avoid hard-hit neighborhoods. But some of those who pushed hardest for a complete rebuilding of the city now say they think buyouts should be made available to those who regret their decision to rebuild.

Cleveland is the least forward looking part of Cleveburgh. The entire Rust Belt suffers from omphaloskepsis, meditating on the days that used to be. New Orleans is beginning to grapple with the burial of its past. Cleveland could easily fall behind, losing sight of its own transformation already taking place. Cleveland could learn a few things from New Orleans.

Big Ideas Pittsburgh: Global City

This weekend the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette solicited ideas about regional progress from some fresh thinkers. GLUE co-founder Abby Wilson headlined the opinion piece, which has a strong thread of connectivity running through all the contributions. While the call to be more open to the various immigrant communities is one of the running themes of my blog, the comments of Simin Curtis (president of the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute) are inspirational:

Why shouldn't Pittsburgh's outreach to that part of the world serve as the template for how an industrious, forward-thinking American city can create partnerships, collaborations and exchanges on a broad scale?

Connections that create mutual economic and social benefit -- employing what's sometimes called "soft diplomacy" or "smart power" -- have no equal when it comes to building trust and understanding.

Let's have our famous Pittsburgh Symphony go to the region and bring businesses along with them on a grand tour. Let's foster more forums to share knowledge about the Middle East. Let's increase our student exchanges. Let's have local businesses mentor students from the Middle East from the moment they arrive at our universities. Let's have businesses with operations in, say, Cairo or Dubai mentor other businesses contemplating doing business in the Middle East. And while we're at it, let's get a direct flight from Pittsburgh to the Middle East to accommodate all the increased exchanges.

At a time when most American cities would shrink from such a bold proposal, Pittsburgh should embrace this opportunity. Cultivating a unique relationship with a region of the world is a useful comparative advantage. CMU already has a strong presence in the Middle East and Pittsburgh could be a key player in the rapid advance of globalization in that part of the world. I think that Detroit is a more natural choice for this task, but Southeastern Michigan is on the brink of economic collapse. Pittsburgh is in a much better position to aggressively court a relationship with the Middle East.

Pittsburgh Homecoming

Pittsburgh-based Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti chimes in with her take on the upcoming homecoming weekend:

And then there are the tens of thousands who make up the "Pittsburgh diaspora," created by the exodus that drained the city of its population when steel collapsed in the 1980s and jobs were scarce. Since 1990, the city's population has dropped from nearly 380,000 to just over 311,000 in 2007.

Many who have left are scattered nationwide, and even across the globe.

They long for their hometown, and remain fiercely loyal not only to the city, but to its sports teams. On game days, you can find these fans donning their black-and-gold jerseys at Steelers' bars in places as far-flung as Ireland and London.

For now, they impart their love of Pittsburgh to their children and their grandchildren, promising the city's three sports teams—the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins—a strong fan base for decades.

"There's an almost biblical story here of people who were thrown out of their homeland, which they had a great attachment to," said Carl Kurlander, who grew up in Pittsburgh, went to Los Angeles to write movies like "St. Elmo's Fire," but came home in 2001 with his wife and young daughter.

There is even a blog dedicated to this Diaspora phenomenon. No, I'm not referencing my own blog. I'm celebrating a newcomer to the scene, Burgh Sightings and Odd Bits:

New and Improved!!! Still featuring documentation of the Pittsburgh Diaspora. It now includes, Odd Bits. Simply put, anything I find wierd or interesting enough to write about will end up here. Enjoy!

Perhaps he didn't unearth enough "Burgh Sightings" and tossed in some "Odd Bits" to keep his post count up. Most of the photos document a passion for Pittsburgh's professional sports teams, which you can see just about anywhere in the United States. However, many fans who follow the Steelers never have been to Pittsburgh, but curiously maintain a love for the city. As to why that is, watch this video (a little under 23 minutes in length and who knows how long it will remain at the designated url).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pittsburgh Calling

"India Calling" is the title of this article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times:

My firsthand impression of India seemed to confirm the rearview immigrant myth of it: a land of impossibilities. But history bends and swerves, and sometimes swivels fully around.

India, having fruitlessly pursued command economics, tried something new: It liberalized, privatized, globalized. The economy boomed, and hope began to course through towns and villages shackled by fatalism and low expectations.

Many second generation Indian immigrants to the United States are returning to their ancestral homeland, a place of surprising possibility. The irony is that this tale of two countries is undergoing a role reversal. India is a promising example of the good that can come of brain drain.

Pittsburgh is "A Tale of Two Cities":

"I think the two lines that are the takeaway for the city -- that we need an infusion of dreamers but dreaming is contagious, and then Franco saying, it's great that people went out there to explore but we've got to find a way to bring that talent back to Pittsburgh. Talent, come on back to Pittsburgh."

It's no coincidence, says [Carl Kurlander], that the movie is being screened during Thanksgiving weekend. It's the perfect time to say come on home for more than a harried visit. After all, the filmmaker says, Time magazine just headlined a story about Pittsburgh, "Finding One Economic Bright Spot on Main Street."

More than a century ago, Pittsburgh was fertile ground for dreamers and inventors, from 22-year-old George Westinghouse and his air brake to a young inventor named Charles Martin Hall who helped to found Alcoa. "He was 22 years old, he decided to come to Pittsburgh because it said, if you have talent, if you have ideas, we will back you, we will take a risk. Pittsburgh, now is the opportunity and time and, again, the opportunity is there for Pittsburgh, it's got to grab it."

The analogy between India and Pittsburgh is far from perfect. But both homelands are beacons of opportunity during an economic crisis. Generation X, my generation, are the Rust Belt's children. Our parents left the region seeking work in the wake of the industrial collapse. We aren't "shackled by fatalism and low expectations." I can look at Pittsburgh in the light of what it might become, not how far it has fallen. I see possibility where others see hopeless parochialism and the paralysis of an outdated political machine clinging desperately to power.

Pittsburgh and India do face many of the same challenges. And, as Vivek Wadhwa has recommended, the United States should now learn from its protégé. Return to India (R2I in geek parlance) is a template for Rust Belt expatriates. Pittsburgh in particular is the disciple turned guru. Cities across the country we need to learn how to recover from economic collapse. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is getting younger while just about everywhere else is getting older. The housing market is secure, not in freefall. Pittsburgh is a port in the current storm.

Pittsburgh is calling.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Charlotte Nativism

A common complaint about Pittsburgh I've heard is that the long-term locals are not always warm to newcomers. I don't find the critique of parochialism all that compelling. All cities have their own provincial snobs. An observation from a Pittsburgh expatriate now living in Seattle:

We’ve also gotten another, more entertaining reaction: a kind of hip/urban reverse snootiness about Seattle relative to Bellevue and the whole East Side (Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, and Renton). It didn’t take long for us to learn that, in the minds of many Seattleites, the East Side is not Seattle. One day while we were still living in our temp housing in the city, I told a woman I met that we were moving to Bellevue, and she replied “well I hope you enjoyed Seattle while you were here.”

I lived in Olympia, WA for a few years and I've spent a lot of time in different Seattle neighborhoods. Washington natives were (probably still are) aggressively anti-Californication. I can write from firsthand experience that the locals were not welcoming to newcomers. I didn't much care for the winters, but the open antipathy made me long for taciturn New England.

Outsiders who flock to the most desirable cities drive up real estate prices and dilute the regional culture. Colorado natives aren't riding on the welcome wagon when you arrive in Denver. My city of Longmont is divided between the old guard and a rapidly growing number of outsiders. I've lived here five years and it still seems like half the people I encounter would rather I go back to from whence I came.

Charlotte, NC isn't any different. Frost Belt refugees continue to move there, but not for the southern hospitality:

Charlotte's expatriates were lured -- not chased -- to N.C.. They seem to have unpacked their political baggage for a long stay.

This is a lament that the Charlotte identity is under siege. The city would like to grow up as the as another Atlanta, but instead is becoming the next Miami (described in less than flattering terms). Immigrants and neo-carpetbaggers: North Carolina would rather you not move there if you aren't going to properly assimilate.

Seeing Pittsburgh Project

I might have stumbled upon this blog before, but it would seem to be in the same vein as OMGPittsburgh. Any of you social media types involved in the Seeing Pittsburgh Project?

Rust Belt Chic: Hamilton, Ontario

Artists are one of the most geographically fickle demographics. Acting as urban pioneers, they seem to migrate from one gentrification project to the next. Usually, this talent flow is from one neighborhood to the next within the same city. But there is some indication coming from Toronto that cool cities may be tapped out of diamond-in-the-rough opportunity, opening the door to Rust Belt Chic:

But how far will artists go for large, bright, cheap studio space? Will they stick to the romance of subway and streetcar lines or will they board buses, too?

It depends on the type of art they're creating, Adam Thom says.

"Sculpture can't travel very easily," explains the architect, who started his professional life creating large, kinetic metal sculpture. While those engaged in "quiet" art, such as painting, can work in an apartment or house given enough space and light, the hammering, cutting, grinding and welding necessary to shape and connect metal would wake the neighbours should inspiration strike at 3 a.m. So sculptors may travel a little further for the privilege of isolation and the practicality of concrete floors (a must over hardwood floors for safety reasons, Mr. Thom points out).

And while artists need the city for "cross-pollination," it's also possible that certain groups may see value in Scarborough's Kingston Road strip between Fallingbrook Road and Warden Avenue, Mr. Thom says. "They have keener noses about these things.

"Artists see rich urban grit before developers and gentrifiers can; they're often the ones that find cool bars."

Perhaps, in years to come, other pockets of inner-ring, 1950s suburbia — Caledonia Road, north and south of Lawrence Avenue West, Scarborough's former "golden mile of industry" along Eglinton Avenue East, or Progress Avenue near Highway 401 — will become viable options. And because these areas aren't subway-adjacent with spectacular views of the downtown skyline, they may resist gentrification for decades … perhaps forever.

Some artists may abandon Toronto altogether and head for what could become our version of Brooklyn. Hamilton, with its city amenities, expansive industrial areas and incredibly low real estate prices may blossom, says Mr. Thom. Unfortunately, since it's doubtful StatsCan will ever be able to track a massive art-brain-drain to Steeltown, Toronto may not notice until it's too late.

When it comes to "rich urban grit," the Rust Belt is king. Artists and other creative types who come to Pittsburgh often complain that this urban backwater just doesn't have all the amenities they have come to love and found in their previous location (e.g. NYC). But as the community grows, needs are soon filled:

Pittsburgh’s local writers are no exception. Its art community is steadily growing, and new venues for the artsy, eclectic, and uber-talented are popping up all over the City of Steel. Where there once was a shortage of places the aforementioned creative bohemian crowd could gather and get inspired, share and discuss books and art, and write and create, there are now a number of establishments to choose from. Below are two of Pittsburgh’s best kept secrets.

Pittsburgh is a difficult city to get to know. That is a big part of its charm. Artists from other places are just beginning to discover these mysteries. "Developers and gentrifiers" are sure to follow. If you are eying Lawrenceville, then you are too late. The neighborhood hopscotch has already begun (Greenfield seems to be the new hot spot).

As Pittsburgh goes down the road Toronto has already traveled, what might emerge as the next Hamilton? Youngstown.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blog Release: TiE Ohio Launch Event

Date: Monday, December 8, 2008

Location: House of Blues - 308 Euclid Avenue

Cost: Per Person: $20.00

After nearly a year of planning, TiE Ohio has officially been launched!

TiE is a global organization, focused on mentoring entrepreneurs, especially those from immigrant and minority backgrounds. TiE Ohio becomes the 50th chapter of the TiE Global organization, which has locations throughout North America as well as Europe, Asia, and Australia. Development of the TiE Ohio Chapter is being led by a group of Cleveland-area entrepreneurs and executives to identify and mentor emerging entrepreneurs in Ohio.

TiE is the world's largest not-for-profit, non-political, and secular organization fostering entrepreneurship globally across 52 cities in 11 countries through mentoring, networking, and educating. TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. TiE currently has over 12,000 members and more than 1,800 charter members. TiE members are entrepreneurs and professionals with an interest in entrepreneurship, either in a start-up context or within a large company. TiE charter members are successful entrepreneurs who have reached a stage in their professional lives where they are ready, willing, and able to contribute to fellow members, and give back to the society.

Lt. Governor Lee Fisher will help us kick-off this historic event with opening remarks.

The launch of TiE Ohio gives us quite a reason to celebrate! Please help us mark this occasion by joining us for the TiE Ohio Launch Event!

Date:
Monday, December 8, 2008

Agenda:
4:00pm - 5:00pm Registration, Networking, Cash Bar, Hors d'oeuvres
5:15pm - 5:45pm Introduction of TiE:
Lt. Governor and Director, Ohio Department of Development,
Lee Fisher
TiE Ohio Co-Chairman and President, BioEnterprise,
Baiju R. Shah
5:45pm - 8:00pm Reception, Networking, Cash Bar, Hors d'oeuvres

Venue:
House of Blues - Cleveland
308 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
Directions

Registration for Event:
This event costs $20 to attend.

Register below! (MasterCard and Visa Only)
https://www.jumpstartinc.org/JSExchange/EventRegistration.aspx?EventID=483

Please contact Annette if you have any questions regarding this event at aballou@bioenterprise.com or at 216.658.4525.

Parking:
Valet parking is available on Euclid Avenue for $8.00 per vehicle.


Mapping Talent Flows

The Kauffman Foundation recently published its annual State New Economy Index. One of the metrics is the net migration of knowledge workers (culled form US Census data). Aggregating numbers at the state level isn't all that helpful (metropolitan data would be more useful) and I'd like to know the geography of this talent flow. Where are your region's brains going?

In most places, particularly the Rust Belt, the number of young minds to shape is shrinking:

"Being a school that has recruited heavily in Allegheny (County), the decreases we're going to see through 2016 are dramatic," said Thomas Schaefer, director of admissions at La Roche College in McCandless. Its enrollment dropped by 74 students.

In response, schools are casting their nets wider -- going west and, in some cases, fishing overseas for students. Schools are luring them with alumni who live in those areas, online tools and fatter financial aid packages.

"We're targeting states that we've never gone to before," said Sherri Bett, director of admissions at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. "We're going to California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada."

The paradigm of cultivating local human capital is out-dated, a relic of the industrial economy. But Pittsburgh is just catching up with the times. The good news is that the area will attract plenty of new blood. The bad news is that Southwestern Pennsylvania can't support the current number of graduates from area colleges and universities. Pittsburgh's strength will continue to be the export of talent.

In order to generate any dividend from the above investment, Pittsburgh must track its talent flows:

Just as passionate Steelers fans still follow the career of wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, devoted Pittsburgh diners-out don't lose interest in talented chefs just because they move to more distant kitchens. Fans of Chris Jackson were sad to see him leave Six Penn Kitchen, but he's not forgotten -- and he can be tracked down easily at his new cafe in Brooklyn, New York, the fulfillment of a long-time dream that he shared with his sister, Michelle.

Kudos to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for following the out-migration of such a notable chef. However, this newspaper is also a relic of an industrial geography. It is ill-suited to the task of helping to connect the region with its expatriates. Pittsburgh has been, for a while, much more than a point on a map. The more novel forms of social media should be employed to service this geographically mobile demographic.

Traditional media is full of the kind of stories that stretch the beat beyond recognition. Thanks to Chris Briem, I read a story about the musical talent churn between Pittsburgh and Western North Carolina:

Dilshad Posnock is a native of Mumbai, India, who completed her undergraduate studies in flute performance at the Royal College of Music. After meeting and marrying Jason during his London year, Dilshad came to the United States, where she received a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon, studying with Jeanne Baxtresser, the former principal flute of the New York Philharmonic. Having a particular interest in flute instruction, Dilshad has published with Baxtresser, and is now, as joint author with famous flute virtuoso James Galway, writing a book describing teaching methods for flute. Dilshad also plays when needed with the Asheville Symphony. When I recently interviewed her, she was hoping her child would take a long nap so she could practice for the Copland Third Symphony.

Both Posnocks are strong musicians and an asset to have in our community. It is good to have them at this end of the “traffic flow,” only occasionally returning to Pittsburgh to grace the ensembles of that city with their presence but making their home here as part of a growing community of talented young musicians in Western North Carolina.

Pittsburgh is a major hub for talent migration. The region is failing to take advantage of this asset because of the industrial legacy still in operation. Posnock is considered to be a loss, brain drain. The most successful cities have high out-migration rates and Pittsburgh's talent exports put it on par with these global urban powerhouses. Demography demands that shrinking cities figure out how to squeeze value out of "exodus." Geographic mobility is normal for highly educated people, but we need a new conception of community if we are going to tap that flow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blog Release: My Tale of Two Cities

Join us for a special screening of "My Tale of Two Cities" to benefit the Youth & Media Initiative of Steeltown Entertainment Project and Holy Family Institute.

Pittsburghers everywhere are invited to come home this Thanksgiving weekend for a special red-carpet screening of the film “My Tale of Two Cities,” a comeback story starring the city of Pittsburgh, on Friday, November 28, 2008 at the Byham Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh as part of the city’s Homecoming Weekend and 250th birthday celebration. The evening will benefit the Youth and Media Initiative of the nonprofit Steeltown Entertainment Project in conjunction with Holy Family Institute. Join some of the movie’s cast including Franco Harris and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s “Mr. McFeely” in blowing out the candles and singing the city’s unofficial theme song: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Tickets are being sold in combination packages that can include the VIP Cast Reception, the Special Homecoming Screening and Pittsburgh’s Homecoming Party. Ticket prices range from $10-$150.

For more information, please see: www.Steeltown.org ; www.hfi-pgh.org ; www.imaginepittsburgh.com/HomecomingWeekend.asp ; www.mytaleoftwocities.com

DETAILED TICKET AND EVENT INFORMATION:
5:30 pm-6:30 PM, Fifth Avenue Place: VIP CAST RECEPTION
Meet some members of the cast and enjoy special outtakes from the film!

7:00 PM, Byham Theater, HOMECOMING SCREENING
"MY TALE OF TWO CITIES," Carl Kurlander's poignant and funny film about 'coming home' and one of America's great cities reinventing itself for a new age.

9:00 PM, Fifth Avenue Place: PITTSBURGH'S "HOMECOMING" PARTY
Enjoy traditional Pittsburgh cuisine with a new twist and celebrate coming home! Featuring music from the band DONORA and former Rusted Root band member JIM DISPIRITO with DAVE HANNER, CAROL LEE ESPY and friends!

Ticket packages can be purchased at http://www.pgharts.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=16785 ( www.pgharts.org ), by calling 412.456.6666, or by visiting the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Theater Square Box Office.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Swarthmore Migration Project

In the process of digesting the deluge of information about Philadelphia's resurgent immigration numbers, I stumbled upon The Swarthmore Migration Project:

The Swarthmore Migration Project is an online multimedia project started by a group of students at Swarthmore College. It aims to increase awareness of migration issues by giving a voice to people whose stories have been ignored, underreported, or misunderstood. It weaves these stories together using text, audio, photography, and video to provide new insights on multiculturalism and globalization. It intends to foster discussion by creating a portal for those those who are looking for a basic understanding of migration as a phenomenon, as well as who seek an in-depth understanding of the issues.

I'd like to see OMGPittsburgh, which has received some press of late (here and here), evolve into something like the above. What are the trials and tribulations of any new arrival to Pittsburgh? How did they find their way to the city? My idea is to unearth the pathways that lead people to Pittsburgh and then work to enhance those flows.

Reading the Brookings report, I found a few opportunities for increasing immigration to Pittsburgh. Philadelphia, like Pittsburgh, attracts a fair number of foreign born talent to its colleges and universities. But once the education immigrants graduate, most of them leave the area. That secondary migration is inevitable, but the destination for employment isn't set in stone. Philadelphia is a good place for Pittsburgh to mine in order to improve its own demography.

Anyone interested in starting a Burgh Migration Project?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Erie Canal Regionalism

Thanks to NYCO's Blog for picking up on my half-baked idea about Western New York going all in on Buffalo. Reading the comments, I'd say my suggestion is a dud. But I blog in hopes of engaging other blogs I value and the response of NYCO's readership is instructive.

The negative reactions range from antipathy for Buffalo to alternative suggestions, including a larger mega-regional geography known as Atlantica. Overall, the consensus would seem to be that Buffalo's time was in the past and some other city might better lift up the economic corridor. I am encouraged that this region seems to be coherent enough to support the requisite connectivity.

The main reason I advocate for Buffalo as the anchor is its relationship to other economic corridors. As I've blogged about in the past, Buffalo has its own diaspora that rivals that of Pittsburgh, thus allowing it to claim a similar brain drain asset. There are advantages from suffering a dramatic fall from economic grace. My own blogging adventure reveals only approximately one half-dozen cities capable of cultivating a successful diaspora network, Buffalo being one of them. Buffalo's parochialism is impressive and travels well. Western New York would be wise to employ it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cleveburgh Immigration Initiative

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Northeast Ohio's understanding of promoting entrepreneurship and weighing pro-immigration policies, Richard Herman has churned out a steady diet of links to studies that conclude that immigrants are instrumental to a healthy regional economy. A recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal provides more support for Mr. Herman's position:

Immigrants fueled nearly 75 percent of Greater Philadelphia’s labor growth since 2000 and it appears the area is re-emerging as an important destination for the population, a study released Thursday morning said.

The integration of the population, which has helped counter population losses and fill and create jobs, should become a shared regional goal, according to the study, “Recent Immigration to Philadelphia: Regional Change in a Re-Emerging Gateway.”

I think the study referenced is the one that is available at the Brookings website.

I'm of the opinion that we are beyond debating whether or not to actively promote immigration. Cleveburgh desperately needs to increase the number of foreign born in the Tech Belt. What we need to work on is the best (i.e. cost effective) way to achieve that end.

If certain key stakeholders still need convincing, then they must be pushed aside because they are holding the region back. Figuring out how to attract more immigrants is hard enough without adding ignorance or xenophobia to the mix. I'm curious to find out if any Philadelphia initiatives proved to be successful in selling the region to immigrants.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Columbus-Pittsburgh Corridor

I'm just thinking out loud. Via Brewed Fresh Daily, I see a strong synergy between Columbus and Pittsburgh:


Rust Belt Chic: Buffalo

Most Rust Belt cities offer the same value proposition: Inexpensive housing, frontier-like opportunities, and a valuable historical legacy. However, not every shrinking city can turnaround its fortune. There will be winners and losers, probably more of the latter. Urban development strategies must settle in different niches, not compete for the same economic cluster. For some cities, such as Buffalo, a distinctive selling point is obvious:

Buffalo was founded on a rich tradition of architectural experimentation. The architects who worked here were among the first to break with European traditions to create an aesthetic of their own, rooted in American ideals about individualism, commerce and social mobility. And today its grass-roots preservation movement is driven not by Disney-inspired developers but by a vibrant coalition of part-time preservationists, amateur historians and third-generation residents who have made reclaiming the city’s history a deeply personal mission.

At a time when oil prices and oil dependence are forcing us to rethink the wisdom of suburban and exurban living, Buffalo could eventually offer a blueprint for repairing America’s other shrinking postindustrial cities.

Each economic corridor, such as the Tech Belt Initiative, needs an anchor city. I suppose Richard Florida would offer up Toronto, but no one knows how international mega-regional spillovers are supposed to work. Interstate regional collaboration is hard enough. I don't know what would be the economic engine of Western New York. Regardless, any revitalization should start with Defend Buffalo:

But how these projects will be forged into a cohesive vision for the city’s future is less certain. The best-intentioned preservationists, however determined, can accomplish only so much. Often developers co-opt the achievements of these trailblazing individuals and nonprofit groups by dolling up historic neighborhoods for private gain. The city’s rough edges are smoothed over to satisfy the hunger for more tourist dollars. Shiny new convention centers and generic boutiques follow. Yet schools, roads, bridges and electrical and power lines continue to crumble.

Buffalo is an ideal testing ground for rethinking that depressing model. Its architectural heritage embodies an America that thought boldly about the future, but believed deeply in the city as a democratic forum. What’s needed now is to revive that experimental tradition.

Again, I would ask residents and boosters of nearby cities such as Rochester, Syracuse, and Ithaca to take up Buffalo's cause. Defend Buffalo first and provide the economic corridor with the economic anchor it sorely needs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Faster, Rustbelt! Die! Die!

Blogger Megan McArdle lays down her Rust Belt cred:

I love western New York, which may be the most beautiful place on earth. I love the old cities, the Victorian shells that whisper of much happier days, and the broad, rolling hills, and the broad flat accents of the people who live on them. I love waterfalls softly falling downtown and the Buffalo City Hall. I love the place as you can only love somewhere that your family has been living for 200 years. I would save it if I could.

But I can't save it. Pouring government money in has been tried . . . and tried, and tried, and tried. It props up the local construction business, or some company, for a few more years, and then slowly drains away. Western New York has been the lucky recipient of largesse from a generous federal government, a flush state government, and not a few self-made men with happy memories of a childhood there. And still, it dies.

On the contrary, Ms. McArdle, you could save it. But Big Government bailouts and subsidies cannot. Western New York calls ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distance Trust Technologies: London

Building on my previous post about distance trust technologies, London is in a social capital recession:

The City’s woes are contributing to Britain’s economic downturn too. Over all, the number of people in Britain receiving jobless payments increased at the fastest pace in 16 years in October, reaching 980,900.

“This is the toughest we have seen it,” said Stuart Fraser, an official with the City of London. “There is now a loss of trust in financial services. We have to rebuild our reputation.”

Before that, though, there is the matter of the growing number of out-of-work bankers to deal with — a task that each day seems to grow in difficulty.

Historically, London has been through many booms and busts of distance trust technologies. The British Empire was built on such an innovation, cartography. And maps are an early form of social media. Through these works of art a common view of place is cultivated. It is a powerful narrative that most people swallow wholesale because of perceived objectivity.

I figure London will cycle through this downturn and reassert its global dominance with the next generation of distance trust technologies. The talent that once toiled in the financial district has the expertise to fuel this rebirth, as long as they don't scatter to the four corners of the earth in search of employment. I think they would be well placed in Pittsburgh and its growing niche for solving the proximity problem.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rust Belt Chic: Captain Cleveburgh

Advance Northeast Ohio takes a more expansive view of the NEO regional project, perhaps suggesting a warm embrace of the Tech Belt Initiative. I've contended that stopping at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border was another example of the parochialism holding back the Rust Belt. Consider Spain:

In some ways, localism is one of its strengths: for example, the attachment of Spaniards to the folklore and festivals of their home towns is an attractive part of their culture. But exaggerated localism is becoming a weakness. In the past teachers and other public servants would move around the country. Now they stay in their own region. Some companies find it difficult to recruit managers who are prepared to work abroad.

"Localism" is also a strength and a weakness in Northeast Ohio. A good example is this piece about Cleveland's supposed misplaced Youngstown-envy:

Cleveland and Youngstown are more alike than any Clevelander is willing to admit. Both are Rust Belt cities with dying economies. Both are looking for heroes anywhere they can find them - in government, the arts, in sports. What has engendered such a worshipful response to Pavlik is not just the tangible things that he does for Youngstown - keeping his business there, staying at the same gym he grew up practicing in, drinking at the local dive bar - but also the fact that he looks like Captain Youngstown. He's the living symbol of a dead past that everyone hopes will come back. We do that here too. We like to believe Cleveland can be saved by puffing out its chest and isolating itself from the globalizing effects of capitalism, somehow saying, "We have everything we need here."

What Pavlik means to Youngstown and what the Steelers mean to Pittsburgh can be both a blessing and a curse. The critique is that this nostalgia keeps the region from moving forward. Read the comments for this blog post and you might agree that Erie, PA is plagued by the same nemisis. Cleveland has a different kind of hero in LeBron James, a global icon, but the residents would rather have their own Pavlik (or a better Browns team).

I can understand why a writer would lament the lack of love for Mr. James. On a national stage, both Pavlik and the Pittsburgh Steelers reinforce the negative stereotypes of their respective cities. The blue collar iconography represents a time long since gone.

I see Pavlik in a different light. He could be Captain Cleveburgh. People throughout the Tech Belt can claim him as their own. Pavlik is a symbol of resilience and passion, the power of home. He is also the face of America's urban frontier and the intriguing irony of Rust Belt Chic. He is a hero of localism, not parochialism.

Finding a strong sense of place is not easy to do in McWorld. Check out the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Erie. Could someone in Cleveland take pride in Youngstown's Mill Creek Park? Pavlik represents that possibility.

Defend Cleveburgh!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Distance-Trust Technologies: Risk Modeling

A few Rust Belt Bloggers have already posted their Neighborhood Walk. Our idea is to communicate the splendors of our respective communities to people who have never have the opportunity to visit. The heart of the challenge is what I call the "proximity problem." Information can stream almost instantly to your desktop, but knowledge and trust don't come along for the ride.

International collaboration is a bit like maintaining a long distance love affair in that it rarely works. However, certain technological advances (e.g. e-mail) can improve the relationship, making it a bit more functional. GlobalHigherEd points to HUBzero as just such a tool, allowing "geographically dispersed researchers" to build knowledge. The international migration of scholars is big business, as well as the most visible part of brain drain hysteria. That Purdue University, ground zero for Rust Belt talent out-migration, deveoped HUBzero is likely no coincidence. HUBzero could allow the Postindustrial Heartland reclaim some of its investment in human capital because knowledge is becoming de-localized.

More difficult than exporting/importing knowledge without exporting/importing people is the long distance tranfer of trust. This is why the First National Bank of Orwell (Vermont) is booming while bigger financial institutions are on the rocks:

First National, whose main branch is next to a village store where local residents sit on the porch, drink coffee and chew the fat, has stayed successful because its employees know the area and their customers.

“Having the borrower sit in front of us is very meaningful,” [Bank vice president Bryan Young] said. “We’re not massive brokers, trying to underwrite a loan from the 55th floor of an office somewhere. There’s serious value in looking someone in the eye and understanding what their drive is, where they’re coming from and how serious they are about the project.”

The employees at the branches here and in neighboring Shoreham also know where a building project is and what it looks like.

“We benefit from knowing what house they’re talking about, what shape it’s in and what neighborhood,” Mr. Young said. “We benefit from a very detailed knowledge of our community, its people and its geography.”

In other words, a local presence improves risk assessment. This should sound familiar to any venture capitalist or entrepreneur. Startups do not fall far from the money tree.

Today's financial crisis can be understood as a failure of distance-trust technologies that allow large banks to assess the risk of lending money to a client whom you can't look in the eye. Risk models failed to capture the kind of knowledge that seems to only come from face-to-face interaction:

“Complexity, transparency, liquidity and leverage have all played a huge role in this crisis,” said Leslie Rahl, president of Capital Market Risk Advisors, a risk-management consulting firm. “And these are things that are not generally modeled as a quantifiable risk.”

Math, statistics and computer modeling, it seems, also fell short in calibrating the lending risk on individual mortgage loans. In recent years, the securitization of the mortgage market, with loans sold off and mixed into large pools of mortgage securities, has prompted lenders to move increasingly to automated underwriting systems, relying mainly on computerized credit-scoring models instead of human judgment.

So lenders had scant incentive to spend much time scrutinizing the creditworthiness of individual borrowers. “If the incentives and the systems change, the hard data can mean less than it did or something else than it did,” said Raghuram G. Rajan, a professor at the University of Chicago. “The danger is that the modeling becomes too mechanical.”

The above shortcomings bring me back to Theodore Porter's book, "Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity." One of the case studies is the story of actuaries in 19th century England. Life insurance agents based in London would have a difficult time competing with a small company in a village, who knew the local families intimately. Statistical innovations were used to empower the economies of scale advantage, putting the parochial institutions out of business. The system was far from perfect and these distance-trust technologies often failed.

Any scholar (such as Porter) dedicated to the sociology or history of science wasn't all too surprised by the subprime market meltdown. All of them studied how the lack of transparency often frustrated the transfer of knowledge. In fact, market deregulation stems from the realization that we can't know enough to effectively tweak transactions in a productive manner. Our risk models are not sophisticated enough.

I contend that there is a middle ground between universal risk modeling and a world with silos of local knowledge. The Tech Belt Initiative is a functional geography that can combine the best of social media technologies with the occasional face-to-face meeting to build the necessary trust. Bringing this post back full circle, the Neighborhood Walk is the first of the Rust Belt Bloggers to scale up local knowledge.

Rust Belt Financial Capital

Monday, November 10, 2008

Neighborhood Walk Diaspora

Both i will shout youngstown and Brewed Fresh Daily put out the call for the Rust Belt Bloggers Neighborhood Walk social media extravaganza. Post the wonders of your neighborhood tomorrow, November 11th. By way of inspiration, check out these photos of Syracuse. Also, I ran into the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Narratives blog today, which is a clever attempt at capturing the essence of a place using film and a fictional narrative. Some of you Pittsburgh natives may know about Randyland (video here). Finally, I'm trying to track down a short film about Lower Murray Avenue that I discovered at Alan Paul's blog. I realized only today that YouTube no longer hosts the video. The documentary is one of the finest examples of articulating the soul of a neighborhood I've ever encountered.

Update: I tracked down the information on the documentary in question. Sheila Chamovitz is the filmmaker and the title is "Murray Avenue: A Pittsburgh Community in Transition." I suspect the YouTube version was removed because it violated copyright. If your library has it or you can find a copy some other way, I highly recommend viewing the film.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Rust Belt Voices

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) some good press, interviewing co-founder Abby Wilson (Pittsburgh boomerang migrant):

The exchange has three main initiatives -- community building, storytelling and blogging, and advocacy. GLUE is currently focusing on multimedia blogging and citizen journalism, and its second conference, to be held in February in Milwaukee, will train people as citizen journalists to help Rust Belt cities come up with solutions to things they encounter in their communities.

I've been following GLUE's trajectory, trying to figure out how Rust Belt Bloggers might compliment Abby's (and Sarah's) efforts. Cynthia Closkey, guest blogging at Keystone Edge, articulates our new direction:

In Pittsburgh and throughout western Pennsylvania we spend a lot of time fretting that we're still thought to be worn out, our best days behind us--and we spend a lot of time wondering how to change perceptions. The no-fail method seems to be bringing people here to see for themselves, but until we find a way to get everyone to come in for a big old slumber party, we need an alternative.

Here it is: We're having a Neighborhood Walk. Everyone is invited. And everyone's hosting too, if they want to.

The idea came up at PodCamp, in fact. I think it was Janko of I Will Shout Youngstown who suggested it, at a session that functioned as the second Rust Belt Bloggers meeting. We are looking for ways to use social media to help "promote the urban frontier"--most specifically, the post-industrial cities in the rust belt of the U.S. and Canada.

This isn't just about Pittsburgh. The same concerns apply to other rust belt cities: Johnstown, Youngstown, Erie, Cleveland, Buffalo. We want everyone to get involved.

The Neighborhood Walk will happen Nov. 11. On that day, everyone is encouraged to take a walk around their neighborhood and to photograph or video or draw or sculpt or somehow to document it, and then to share the media they create online.

The idea is to show others where you live--the good and the bad of it, and maybe your hopes and plans for its future.

The Neighborhood Walk is in the same spirit of another PodCamp Pittsburgh spinoff: OMGPittsburgh. I would frame that project as an attempt to better communicate the Pittsburgh sense of place and its value proposition. I hope Rust Belt Bloggers can do something similar, but on a mega-regional scale. My goal is to attract more newcomers to the area because they appreciate what Pittsburgh, Cleveburgh, or the Postindustrial Heartland has to offer. In these cities are unique opportunities for ambitious young adults to make a substantial impact, but that message is difficult to impart. Both Neighborhood Walk and OMGPittsburgh, along with Rust Belt Bloggers, are trying to address that shortcoming.