Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pittsburgh Plugs Brain Drain

Sorting through the early media returns, I expect the G-20 publicity to provide Pittsburgh with quite a boost. My eye tends to wander to the reports outside of the grand narrative packaged for the world's consumption. I'm still looking for an unusual critique, but the cranks are only interested in recycling the same venting pieces they have aired before. Even the more balanced approaches are beginning to blur together. But get a load of this gem from Connecticut:

Not so long ago, Pittsburgh was a place young people were fleeing, a city with a once proud manufacturing history saddled with an aging population. Does this sound like Connecticut? We are learning -- again -- this week that we are one of the oldest states in the nation.

We are a place where young people leave, where newly retired wealthy residents can't wait to get out, where we are left with an older population that has few options -- except to remain.

Gov. Rell and the legislature don't get what a serious crisis this is. They don't understand that we must be investing in the industries of the future -- medical technology, biomedical research and public education -- if we want to a place where young people stay and where business wants to expand.

Can you picture me rubbing my hands together as I read this? The author promises more:

My column tomorrow looks at what awaits us if we don't do something about the disasterous loss of young people.

Tomorrow can't come fast enough. Putting my feet back on the ground of today, I don't think I've ever seen or heard Pittsburgh held up as a model for plugging the brain drain. However, I do think that Pittsburgh is a model of how brain drain can be an indicator of a region heading in the right direction. (Warning! Gratuitous "hell with the lid off" reference if you click on the link.)

I argue that the exodus of young adults in the 1980s is the Pittsburgh success story. Go ahead and invest in human capital like Pittsburgh did, Connecticut. Just understand that the brain drain will get worse before it gets better. Furthermore, talent that leaves is not lost to the region forever:

Those demographics have Pittsburgh struggling to fill positions in fast-expanding industries, said Bill Flanagan, head of the Allegheny Conference, an economic development group.

"We still don't have enough restaurants or bars to attract young people," he said. "We've got 30,500 open jobs and we can't fill them."

Flanagan hopes the "boomerang effect" -- where the children of families who left Pittsburgh decades ago come back -- will bolster the workforce.

Flanagan needn't turn to the Burgh Diaspora to fill those positions. Connecticut has Pittsburgh covered. Given the G-20 coverage there, every young adult now knows where to go when she or he graduates from one of the many colleges and universities in the state. That's how Pittsburgh will "plug" the brain drain.


LJR said...

There is absolutely no immigration by young people into Pittsburgh, and as the aging population ages and the healthcare-medical industry is slowly dismantled, there will be another crisis. Both demographics and healthcare reform make this inevitable...for some reason people in the city are ignoring this inevitability. Returnees have great difficulty coming back to start and grow businesses, and they are essentially the only people coming back because they have a reason to do so. The city cannot rely only on these returnees and competing with other states, regions for talent...with the current bureaucracy in place which repels rather than attracts talented people. The city"s two largest industries are non, medical and universities. Both are in a bubble right now in the US...both will be drastically scaled down over the next decade. The question is...what will Pittsburgh become without the non profit crutch that has aided it over the past several decades?

Jim Russell said...

There is absolutely no immigration by young people into Pittsburgh


LJR said...

Cite the statistics that show a positive trend in immigration and I would also be interested as to where these new (young) people are coming from. Show the percentage of those returnees as opposed to people from other states, countries. The main "immigrants" are students arriving to attend CMU and Pitt and those numbers will surely decrease, especially from Asia, a critical source of science and engineering graduate and post-graduates. Even with occassional wins for the univ. (like the recent Gate's funded computer science center), the number of foreign students coming to the US will decrease and cities like Pittsburgh, that do not maintain real opportunities for new grads, will suffer more than other cities. Its open knowledge that most graduates want to leave the city....highlighting and glorifying the few that stay instead of really changing to make sure more do is...pure Pittsburgh.

The comment "untrue" does nothing to address my claim. For the first time ever the region started to maintain reasonably reliable economic statistics (Pittsburgh Today) may want to ask them for help....

Jim Russell said...

You ought to take your own advice and cite some statistics. Your claim is baseless. You fired the first salvo. Now back it up.

LJR said...

Note that the Pittsburgh region has the least amount of diversity in terms of ethinicity as well. This helps to ensure limited numbers of new people from very important regions in the world that are experiencing growth, such as Asia. The numbers of hispanics and Asians in the region are extremely low and have been that way for a long time and will not change anytime soon....especially if they ....are not actually welcome..

Jim Russell said...

Okay, adding some commentary to the link helps. But I don't see the support for your assertion that I called untrue. Dazzle us with your analysis.

LJR said...

You were just given US Census information that is specifically tailored to Pittsburgh in comparison with other regions. Did you look at the data? Are you claiming that its wrong and there has been an increase in population into the city?

For those who are seriously looking at this issue, including people following these indicators for a living, your comments would be appreciated..

Jim Russell said...

I looked at the data. The population numbers don't support your assertion. That's not a serious look at the issue.