Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Diaspora Networking Made Easy

Wednesday morning usually means clicking through the all the Pop City stories. Two items grabbed my attention. One concerns another I Heart Pittsburgh story, notable because I didn't catch it when first published. The link is to Intelligent Life, an Economist newspaper production. I've never heard of the quarterly. Is it new? Of interest is the focus on Braddock and the developing artist community there. Definitely not your typical Pittsburgh puff piece.

The second Pop City offering acting as my muse today is the subject of this post. Native is a new social network in Pittsburgh. The introduction to the initiative reminds me of something I'm working on for Youngstown:

Brian Supler is a native of the Pittsburgh region, but like so many people he ventured to other cities and countries before deciding to return here. After a decade spent living in New York City, he returned to the region last year seeking challenge and opportunity.

Katherine Harrel belongs to that other demographic you hear so much about in Pittsburgh these days: She wasn't born in Pittsburgh, but she's adopted it as her home. It feels instinctively right to her, and it's the place she's chosen to put down roots.

After working in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds in various cities, Supler and Harrel have joined forces to create a new organization – still in its infancy – that's meant to connect the best and brightest of today's Pittsburgh to one another. Both believe strongly in the importance of mentoring and effective networking, and they're committed to helping develop and keep creative minds here in Pittsburgh.

Supler as boomerang migrant reinforces a dynamic I've been studying over the last few months while shepherding a pilot diaspora networking project. Given the Pittsburgh job market, you likely have to want to live there in order to manage a move to the region. That's a good thing, believe it or not. Many people often move to boomtowns such as Portland or Austin without a job in hand. Returning to a Rust Belt city would take even a bigger leap of faith. The embrace of risk is an entrepreneurial attribute. Supler would be Exhibit A.

Katherine Harrel might be Exhibit B, but I'm not sure if that is true at this time. It depends on why she moved to Pittsburgh. My idea is to network boomerang migrants living in shrinking cities. The evolution of this approach started with the El Paso suggestion to target members of the diaspora who are job creators, self-starters. The problem is finding these dynamic people and then facilitating a move back, if the expatriate is even interested in leaving her current residence.

A bit of good fortune brought to my attention an article in the Wall Street Journal. I've already referenced the Scranton renaissance and how boomerang migrants (primarily from New York City) were finding each other in their hometown. Imagine an initiative such as Native exclusively for boomerang migrants. The upside to doing this is tapping the connections these people have in their expatriate city. This approach gets around a couple of problems, including the need for the occasional face-to-face meeting. Primarily, it solves the needle-in-the-haystack operation I'm currently overseeing.

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