I was talking to a soon-to-be college graduate the other day — a small-town, Southern guy — and he was not exactly embracing his upcoming move to the real world.
It seems that he had landed a job with a company based in Pittsburgh. His only trip to the Steel City was for an interview and it hadn't left a very good impression.
And before you ask, no, he's not a Titans fan. He has nothing against the Terrible Towel or those who wave it.
"It's not really where I ever saw myself living, but I'm lucky to get a job like this right out of college," he said. "If that's where my job is, I guess that's where I'll be living."
Great article in the Asia-Pacific Journal about the recent brain drain from the United States to countries such as India and China. And here is a story of the boomerang migration to Poland given the depth of the recession in the United Kingdom. Guess what Pittsburgh has in common with Poland and India?
As I spent some time walking around my old city, I realized Arnold wasn't alone. In Pittsburgh's Strip District — a popular neighborhood of warehouses, ethnic shops and eateries — I found Luke Wholey selling fish on the sidewalk.
"Moving back to Pittsburgh has been the best thing that's happened to me," he said.
For the last six years, Wholey had been working as a carpenter in the wilds of Montana.
"I'd work four 10-hour shifts, and then three days off — I'd either go hunting or fishing," he said. "I was living the dream for a while, until it all came to an end."
The dream ended when the contractor he was working for folded.
"I tried to stretch it out as long as I could, but when I finally, completely ran out of money, I had to come home," Wholey said.
In Pittsburgh, it certainly doesn't hurt to have Luke's last name, Wholey. The family runs the landmark Wholey's fish market in the Strip District. They've been in business almost 100 years.
The recession has brought Luke back to the family trade. He's opened his own seafood grill, and he's been making money selling plates of fish or shrimp outside the family market.
"Got this Wild Alaskan Grill started," he said. "This is my ninth day of business and we've been through 240 pounds of grilled salmon."
Not only did a twentysomething return to Pittsburgh and find gainful employment; he started a business during a recession. The dense networks of home make the boomerang migration in tough times a practical decision. It is also indicative of how difficult the move to Pittsburgh would be for an outsider looking for a relatively better labor market.
Unless there is a dramatic increase in job creation, I don't see how Pittsburgh or any other shrinking city could attract a substantial number of outsiders. Harvesting expatriates would seem to be the best bet, particularly concerning entrepreneurship. The blog cincinnati imports voices the considerable difficulty non-natives experience when trying to fit into a Rust Belt city. The migration alternative is between postindustrial regions. When Gov. Jennifer Granholm mulls over what to do about Michigan brain drain, she should consider channelling out-migration to states that have traditionally exported talent to her state. Losing graduates to Chicago is a much lesser evil than a relocation to Seattle.