Thursday, May 21, 2009

Expatriate Gazelles: Pittsburghers in Exile

Mike Madison (Pittsblog) has a post about a recent article in the Economist that is of great interest to me. Actually, I intended to refer to it in a long post of my own providing an update on Rust Belt immigration. Since I don't know when I'll have time to write it, I thought I would take Mike's challenge to connect the dots ("[make] a few imaginative leaps") between the story and Pittsburgh.

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.

15 comments:

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

On the contrary, academic elites make many of the same arguments you make. Joel Kotkin rails against yuppie subsidies. Neil Smith decries gentrification. Localism is currently en vogue across the board. When I was in graduate school, using the lens of social justice was the dominant paradigm.

I must have spent too much time drinking with economists.

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

And when one is poor, desperate and powerless; it's easier to think like a xenophobe.

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

No, that's not my thesis. You've made a number of erroneous assumptions about me and what I've written.

We're not having an argument. And until you stop imposing a position on me, we won't have one. Your bitterness is the problem here.

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

I applied xenophobe to a generic group of people, not you specifically. I agree with you that it is easier to think like an economist given the situation you described. Were you taking a potshot at me with that comment? I didn't take it that way.

Xenophobia goes up when the economy gets bad. Protectionism tends to prevail and "outsiders" are often scapegoated as the source of the problem. The Rodney King riots in LA are a good example. Disenfranchised African-Americans burned down Korean-American stores and attacked the store owners. Read about the conscription riots in NYC during 1863. African-Americans and recent immigrants have, historically, been at odds. But the real problem was with the ruling class, the folks who can afford to think economically.

My thesis is as follows: The greater the geographic mobility of labor, the more bargaining power labor has.

I'm advocating for labor-centric workforce development. Show me a neighborhood with the least amount of geographic mobility, I'll show the greatest amount of poverty.

My goal is to align the interests of labor with that of communities (at any scale) and business. My blog is about exploring that possibility.

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

Mobility is a consequence of economic vitality. And, economic vitality is a consequence of better education. Moving up and out is common enough, but so is moving out an up.

Do you agree that the least geographically mobile are the most economically vulnerable?

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

Do you agree that the those with the lowest educational attainment tend to be the most economically vulnerable?

Mark Winston said...
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Jim Russell said...

I'm looking for a common premise so we might explore how our views diverge. So, I'll follow up on my last question so I might better understand your most recent comment.

In terms of economic prosperity, are neighborhood high school drop out rates a concern?

Mark Winston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.