Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shrinking Cities Talent

Update: Searching my own archive revealed a couple other posts worth noting. First, I found the Federal Reserve Bank reports about brain drain. They came from the Minneapolis branch. Second, that sweep netted an interesting story about the brain drain in Minneapolis as worse than the one in Cleveland. In other words, more talented people left Minneapolis than Cleveland. Chew on that for a spell.

I've linked to a large number of reports in this blog and now I'm in danger of losing track of some very useful data. The following is not an exhaustive list. I've searched for the key documents that serve as the foundation for my suggested boomerang migration initiative.

The first step involved debunking the dominant brain drain narrative that is behind most plans for workforce development. There is a lot of useful analysis coming out of Michigan aimed at a better understanding of talent migration. Here is a blog post I wrote about geographic mobility of doctoral graduates. The link to the report is now broken, but a Growthology post has the 411. That's a good place to start if you want to track it down. Of note is the acute brain drain problem in Indiana. More brain drain numbers can be found here.

Over my three years of blogging, I've seen much more interest in talent migration. (Check out the latest American Community Survey publication.) A good example comes from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. I posted about their report, but that's another dead link. Using the information stashed there, I'm confident I could dig it up with a few Google search tricks.

I've got a polished piece over at New Geography that details Pittsburgh's unexpected brain gain. I've properly attributed my ideas to Chris Briem, who has labored to debunk the persistent brain drain myths plaguing SW PA. Check out his website for links to his work. Briem's analysis has provided me with the confidence to challenge the dominant policy narratives in play throughout the Rust Belt. I'm still seeking an active talent management initiative that makes sense. And before I forget, I link to a few important reports in the NG article that helped me to better understand Pittsburgh's prescient investment in human capital. The stuff from the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank is obvious enough, but more on the Brookings data here.

Finally, I can think of no clearer rebuke of brain drain hysteria than the report from Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Buffalo Branch. The problem is talent attraction, not talent retention. Whenever I read about another retention initiative, I roll my eyes largely as a result of the Fed's groundbreaking analysis. The Federal Reserve Bank system is a treasure trove of useful data. I still have to find the post that references the study, but I need to track down the FRB critique of brain drain policies as untested. A lot of money and effort is spent with no idea if it will work. Thus, I cry "boondoggle" or "red herring" when politicians make claims that they will plug the brain drain.


joe said...

That's an interesting piece at New Geography Jim.

It's not necessary to reinforce your point, but is it possible to quantify relative education quality post-1970 by some measure other than college attainment? Did we really have better schools back in the day? (Better as compared to other places?)

Is the relative rise in college attainment an artifact of low base rates of college attainment (only one way to go - up)?

Does Chris or anyone else have any data on the education status of the Mysterious Order of the Yinzerati? Were they high school graduates in search of work elsewhere, or college grads going elsewhere (or unable to return after education elsewhere). All of the above, I'm sure, just curious about the distribution...different implications for the boomerang back.

I still think one mechanism for engaging the diaspora in some meaningful way lies in re-activating existing networks (e.g., local 20th high school reunions organized via online social networks). There's an entire generation of local Eighties high school grads who are reconnecting on Facebook etc after 20+ yrs. The Bethel Park Class of '88 planned our entire reunion on a Ning network - rented out the Hard Rock on a Saturday night last fall. The site has since gone mostly dormant because most are on now connected on Facebook.

Jim Russell said...


Great questions that I don't know enough to answer. If it hasn't been done, it would be a great study. Chris Briem would know the extent of the numbers available. At the very least, my hypothesis deserves some further testing.

My wife (North Allegheny H.S.) is active on Facebook. She has an impressive network, but I notice that these weak ties don't result in much action. It is one of the data points that caused me to rethink my diaspora networking strategy for Greater Youngstown.