Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Expatriate Economic Development

Regions invest considerable resources into human capital. That communities do little to nothing to reap some returns from talent that moves somewhere else is bizarre. On an international scale (hat tip Richard Herman), the opposite is true:

More than ever, diasporas — the "scattered seeds" most governments previously ignored and in some cases even maligned — are increasingly seen as agents of development.

Aware of this potential, some developing countries have established institutions to more systematically facilitate ties with their diasporas, defined here as emigrants and their descendants who have maintained strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin.

Perhaps American sub-national governments are just behind the curve. That's still no excuse for ignoring best practices. Developing countries have already assumed most of the risk associated with a novel initiative. We needn't remake the wheel.

For communities heavily dependent upon eds and meds (such as Pittsburgh), a rethinking of out-migration is critical. Talent churn will only increase. The lack of policy innovation on this front is glaring, particularly for shrinking cities. A tuition tax? That's myopic. Pittsburgh can and should do better.


Mark Arsenal said...

[some developing countries have established institutions to more systematically facilitate ties with their diasporas]

You mean like this?


(What do you call a big rural country that exports tons of primary products but is still very rich and urban? developeding?)

Canada is a good case-study of a nation that has learned to flourish under very heavy population turn-over. Being next to a $12Trn economy with liberal Visa-free travel sucks skilled workers out, but some quite genious cultural and immigration policies suck them back in from tons of other places, and by many measures it's one of the strongest polities on the planet despite this flux.

And to top it all off, much of its diaspora still consider themselves Canadian, something I bet much of the Midwest diaspora fails to replicate upon successful transplanting... Hmmm...

Jim Russell said...

Canada's attempts to leverage its diaspora are poor at best. Not a week goes by without some hand-wringing in the press about talent leaving the country, usually for the United States.

The Connect 2 Canada website is nothing more than a Facebook for expats living in the United States. You as well as anyone should appreciate that this connection doesn't mean much.

Mark Arsenal said...

Hmm, maybe I'm just a Polyanna about it coz I'm so immersed in Canadiana myself. I watch like 10 Canadian news shows and listen to a dozen or so podcasts per week from RCI and CBC and so I get an impression that Canadians are pretty happy with the immigration/emigration balance...

Maybe my penchant for self-selected media does my perception an injustice, but with my PR app still out, I have to convince myself that they want me :P

Jim Russell said...

I think Canada would welcome your talent. I suggest targeting Atlantic Canada (e.g. Halifax):


Relatively speaking, Canada does a great job with attracting foreign born talent. But the brain drain anxiety is obvious and might be worse than what you'll find in the Rust Belt. But fretting about talent leaving the country is par for the course.