The gist is that living abroad and creativity are positively correlated. This observation ties in nicely with the links between immigration and entrepreneurship. Part of the magic in Silicon Valley is the vibrant community of foreign-born innovators. (Note: The sidebar of the linked article describes how the H-1B visa program creates a captive labor market.) Mike's point isn't that Pittsburgh needs more immigrants. At issue is the potential economic benefits of boomerang migration of those who tend to be creatively inclined.
A good example is the Israeli startup economy:
Sharon Rechter, an Israeli entrepreneur who founded a successful company in Los Angeles, sees different business strengths in the two countries. “Israeli companies are great at innovation, while American managers understand strategy and scale, the kind of knowledge you need in a big market like this,” Ms. Rechter said.
She is co-founder and executive vice president of BabyFirstTV, a cable and satellite television channel devoted to programs for parents of children 6 months to 3 years old. Ms. Rechter said she came to the United States in 2003 to start a Hebrew language channel, which operates from New York, before coming to Los Angeles to start BabyFirstTV with her partner, Guy Oranim, who headed major advertising agencies in Israel.
For programming, Ms. Rechter relies on child development experts in the United States as well as Hollywood writing talent while animation and postproduction work is done in Israel. Now four years old, BabyFirstTV is in 35 countries, in 13 languages and, Ms. Rechter estimated, “has 120 million viewers worldwide.”
Israel is trying to leverage the successes of its expatriate entrepreneurs to spur innovation and job creation in the homeland. This strategy has worked passively for India and actively for China. Eventually, the export of talent can pay dividends for the regional economy. Australia, home to a prolific diaspora, is dabbling in this approach. Instead of lamenting those who leave, the adventures abroad are increasingly celebrated as a point of pride.
The application of the above international migration narrative to the Great Pittsburgh exodus of the 1980s is the "imaginative leap". Pittsburghers in exile are drivers of innovation who could be put to work for the homeland. Since in-migration is so poor, new ideas must come from somewhere.
No fresh perspective, no renaissance.