Saturday, February 28, 2009

Understanding Pittsburgh Resiliency

Demography is destiny. Age, along with a healthy dose of eds and meds, can explain the geography of the economic crisis in California. The Economist explains:

California’s youngest regions are in its hot interior. In the middle years of this decade hundreds of thousands of families moved there in search of big, affordable houses. Unfortunately, many took on big, unaffordable mortgages to do it. Last month one in every 87 households in youthful, formerly fast-growing San Bernardino County received a foreclosure filing, according to California-based RealtyTrac. The housing crash has led such areas into an economic tailspin.

Santa Barbara has watched all this from the sidelines. In this slow-growth stronghold, anything other than a glacial pace of development is anathema. Mr Cushman says that only one block of flats for rent has been built in the region in the past 30 years. And some want to curtail growth further. Later this year the city will decide whether to reduce the maximum height of downtown buildings from 60ft to 40ft (18 metres to 12 metres). “We like Santa Barbara the way it is,” says Marty Blum, the mayor.

This stuffy attitude has saved the city, together with others along the Pacific coast. Last month Santa Barbara County’s foreclosure rate was just one in 298, well below the state average. Nor did the city build huge office parks which might now be vacant. As for industry, there was never much in the first place, “so there’s just not much to lose,” says Bill Watkins, an economist at the local branch of the University of California.

The diciest part of Santa Barbara’s economy is the tourism business. Hotel receipts have dipped slightly this fiscal year as day-trippers from Los Angeles fasten their wallets. But much of the local economy is recession-proof. As well as the university, Santa Barbara has a large community college. It also has Cottage Hospital, which is being rebuilt—a job that will eventually employ up to 500 workers.

Health care is the only private-sector industry in California that accounted for job growth in 2008. Here, too, places benefit from having a fairly old population. The median age of people admitted to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital is 55—eight years older than UCLA Hospital in Los Angeles. Although hospitals complain it is too stingy, few sources of revenue are more stable than Medicare, which paid for 44% of Santa Barbara’s patients in 2008.

In the past ten years, obedient to the findings of urban sociologists, American cities have tripped over themselves vying for young, creative people. They have revitalised downtowns and sponsored gay-pride parades. They might have been better off building retirement homes.

The Santa Barbara story reminds me of Pittsburgh. There is the history of modest growth and, of course, a population much older than the rest of the country. I picture the more mature tortoise winning the economic race.

While the similarities are striking, the demographic picture of Southwestern PA is poised to get younger. Pittsburgh is in perfect position to streak out of the downturn and become one of the urban engines driving the country's economic recovery. While Santa Barbara continues its steady plodding, I'm hoping that the Tech Belt can embrace a new way of doing things and take full advantage of the opportunity.

Update: New Geography offers a compelling counterpoint to the Economist narrative:

High concentrations of older people and declining incomes are often associated with deteriorating schools, amenities and increasing crime. The aged wealthy are not in Ventura County to invest in its future. They are there to consume it. They will not invest in the future – particularly if their children and relatives have gone elsewhere.

Ventura County is not unique. It is fairly representative of Coastal California. Communities like Ventura, Goleta, and San Luis Obispo used to be middle-class communities that valued opportunity. Things are even more extreme in California’s elite playgrounds: Monterey, Malibu, and Santa Barbara. Populations in Monterey and Santa Barbara have actually declined over the past several years. Similar phenomena may be noticeable in other formerly elite suburbs within our most favored metropolitan areas.

I highly recommend reading the entire article.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Earth To Ohio: What Brain Drain?

I've been thinking about the numbers that Rick Batyko of Cleveland Plus posted here:

For bachelor’s degrees, university main campuses in NEO range from 79-83% (state average is 76%). For bachelor’s degrees at private colleges, there is a bigger range in this report: from 37% for Oberlin to 53% for Case to 83% for Ursuline. Most are in the 70%-80% range (state average is 72%).

The above is the retention of undergraduates. Not considered are the bachelor's degrees that migrate to Ohio from other states. Also missing are where the graduates go when they do leave the state. How many migrate to neighboring states such as Pennsylvania or Michigan? Are the numbers leaving the Rust Belt altogether really worth the concern?

Vexing me is the in-migration of non-Rust Belt graduates. We're splitting hairs when we roll out one brain drain initiative after another. Without a doubt, the issue is getting on the map for the talent coming out of UCLA, Stanford, or Berkeley (to get California-centric). On that score, how is your shrinking city doing?

Domestic Freedom Index

The thinking is that personal and economic freedom help to drive domestic migration. One of the first things you learn about modeling people flows is that the most powerful variable is economic. Lumping personal freedom into the equation is dubious, but economic liberalism might yield some interesting results:

The authors, William Ruger, of Texas, and Jason Sorens, of New York, are both political science professors affiliated with the university center in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“The idea is really that policymakers will take a look at the data we’ve compiled, take a look at the individual policies, and the fact that citizens are leaving states that are less free for states that are more free, and figure out ways to improve their state,” Sorens said during a National Press Club panel Thursday, where the report was discussed. ...

... Sorens said both economic and personal freedom are factors in where people decide to live. The out-migration in “less free” states from 2000 to 2007 was 4 to 5 percentage points greater than other states, he said.

Ruger and Sorens would benefit from a few economic geography classes. I suspect a research design seminar wouldn't hurt, either. Claiming causality instead of correlation almost always raises a red flag. Perhaps the Louisiana newspaper misunderstood Sorens, but the narrative is familiar.

The primary problem is the unit of analysis. State policy is important, but cities are the economic engines. New York State is the least free, but New York City's ability to attract people is beyond question. At least control for the Spiky World paradigm before touting the power of your perscription. Did Ruger and Sorens bother to control for proximity? I doubt it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shrinking Pittsburgh

Is Pittsburgh on board with the Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act of 2009? I ask because the planned use of stimulus funding to tear down condemned buildings sounds in line with what Youngstown is promoting:

City council has approved more than $3 million to hire private contractors to demolish condemned buildings as part of Ravenstahl's $5 million budget to take down at least 500 structures this year.

Ravenstahl said he may consider making a pitch for stimulus funds to add as much as another $1 million to the effort.

In the meantime, the city has opened another round of bids to tear down 29 problem structures.

I'm curious about the nature of the relationship between the mayors of Youngstown and Pittsburgh.

Naked Cleveburgh

Is the frustration with the lack of leadership in Cleveland about to boil over? Ed Morrison, as usual, pulls no punches:

I just spent the afternoon with Holly Harlan. It’s amazing how little funding the foundations provide to E4S. Here’s a national model of open innovation sitting under their noses, and they can’t even see it. Instead, they waste money hiring consultants to tell them what a sustainable economy supposed to look like.

Social media is changing the policy landscape. Now, more than ever, transparency is paramount (hat tip GLUE). Is the brain drain in Northeast Ohio really that bad? Let's get those numbers out in the open and have a debate about what to do next.

Both the Tech Belt initiative and Imagine Greater Pittsburgh talk about a grassroots campaign. At least as far as the IGP is concerned, Mike Madison is skeptical:

That's a lot of money to spend on what a cynic might dismiss as an effort by Pittsburgh's usual political and cultural elites (the ACCD and the Institute of Politics in particular) to identify and mobilize the social capital associated with the region's past, present, and future. To give that capital a name and make it easier to find, let's make up a name. Say, "Steeler Nation." Does it exist? Can it be identified? Mobilized? Most important, marketed? Let's spend $2 mm to find out!

That's the cynic's view. Despite the expense and the "usual suspects" character of the initiative, I'm going to be guardedly optimistic here. When I posted before about "the vision thing," I wrote, "Is Pittsburgh's traditional leadership elite ready to open source regional renewal?" What I meant was that Pittsburgh's economic and cultural momentum needs to build on grass roots resources, coming from both inside and outside the region. Out the door goes the idea that the Allegheny Conference knows what's best for Pittsburgh and all of us should get in line. Out the door goes the idea that "visioning" means marketing. "Visioning" means "building," not marketing.

Concerning the Tech Belt, I suspect that addressing the City Club in Cleveland isn't the kind of "open source regional renewal" that either Madison or Morrison has in mind. The Cleveburgh social media community should be driving the development of the economic corridor, not the usual suspects. Time for the bloggers to grab the bull by the horns.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Alive!

Recent speculation about the demise of the Mon-Fayette Expressway may be premature, at least as far as Morgantown is concerned:

According to a list presented to state lawmakers Tuesday, Monongalia County will receive more than $17 million to pay for road construction and paving projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

One of the largest portion, $14.9 million, will pay for projects with the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Right now the bridge is complete and when the expressway opens it will create a 65 mile connector between Monongalia County and Pittsburgh.

Since a connection into Pittsburgh is unlikely, if not impossible, might the leg to the airport get new life?

Kudos For cityLIVE!

From CEO for Cities:

Last week, a standing room only crowd of 500 gathered at a cityLIVE! event called "Building Blocks for Urban Education," which sought answers to tow very important questions: Why doesn’t every child in urban America today have access to the best education possible? How can we bring about the transformation? Leading the discussion were Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Marian Heard, President and CEO of Oxen Hill Partners, and founder of the national organization MENTOR, and Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Each panelist made this critical point: although an excellent school system is ideal, it will never be enough. The community must engage itself in such a way as to wrap each child in all that they need, inside and outside the school system. This has been the key factor in the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone, where Mr. Canada has been recognized for this pioneering work in education reform.

The Pittsburgh CEOs for Cities cluster, which has grown to 28 organizations, co-hosted this event. This group also helped kick off a Kidsburgh page on the e-zine Pop City in conjunction with the event. This will become a place where educational mentoring, volunteering and donating opportunities will be posted.

500 people?! I get regular e-mail updates about cityLIVE! events. Their forums are a great civic asset and I recommend attending, getting involved.

Tech Belt Champion: Kelly Pavlik

The Pavlik Diaspora is growing:

Friday and Saturday, downtown Youngstown took on the kind of supercharged atmosphere of a tailgate party. Cleveland residents, out-of-town media and Pittsburgh boxing fans (including members of the Steelers) helped create what hotel managers and restaurant owners called "a good night." Rooms weren't sold out, but most of the Pavlik Nation was already home. Most important, it was certainly the town's biggest night since early in the Reagan presidency.

"The atmosphere was explosive," says Lori Greenwalt, a lifelong Youngstown resident, one of Pavlik's merchandise managers and owner of Civics social club, the unofficial Shrine of All Things Pavlik. "Everybody was there. It was the biggest night I can remember, ever."

Cleveburgh Chic?

Cleveland Plus Responds

I'm putting front and center the comment from Cleveland Plus about my post criticizing the Plus College initiative because I think doing so will help advance the policy discussion:

Good day, all:
I think you may be giving Plus College a little too much credit. Northeast Ohio (NEO) already retains a high number of graduates compared to the state’s average. Of course, retention rates vary widely by type of institution and type of degree. For example, for associate degrees, the Ohio Board of Regents March 2008 report shows that NEO community and technical colleges retain graduates between 85-91% and university regional campuses from 80-93% (state average is 88% for both). For bachelor’s degrees, university main campuses in NEO range from 79-83% (state average is 76%). For bachelor’s degrees at private colleges, there is a bigger range in this report: from 37% for Oberlin to 53% for Case to 83% for Ursuline. Most are in the 70%-80% range (state average is 72%).

The Plus College effort simply wants to engage more of the region's 180,000 students in our region so that they have a better understanding of what we have to offer. Some will be too busy, some already know and some won't care, but we think (and our experience shows) given the opportunity many will take advantage of it. It's not intended as a silver bullet for retention.

You'll note the site not only offers "incentives" to influence students to visit our many attractions and events; it also connects them with internship opportunities provided through the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education. As you know, internships can lead to jobs, which is the ultimate form of retention.

Thanks for the opportunity to chime in.
Rick Batyko
Cleveland Plus

All Eyes On Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh South is in the economic doldrums, the horse latitudes. But as bad as Charlotte looks, Detroit is worse. Eschewing the Sun Belt boomtown model, Southeastern Michigan wants to become the next Pittsburgh:

If Diego Rivera was drawing frescoes for the Detroit Institute of Arts today, he'd probably be drawing robots, not men.

That's the picture of a blended manufaturing and knowledge economy painted Tuesday by Wayne State University's still relatively new president, Jay Noren, at the Detroit Economic Club. ...

... Noren was to have appeared with the presidents of the other two universities in the Michigan University Research Corridor, but University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was called away. So Noren was introduced by, and appeared at a press conference after his speech, by only Michigan State University President Lou Anna K Simon.

Noren used the example of Pittsburgh, written off for dead following the collapse of its steel industry in the 1980s. But the city has transformed itself into a thriving center of software, biotechnology, health care and medical research. ...

... Noren said the URC has a crucial role to play. He said research shows the URC is already ahead of some of its competition -- six other regional university-tech industry collaborations in Boston, Northern California, North Carolina, Chicago, Southern California and Pittsburgh.

As you likely expect, Pittsburghers aren't buying the hype. Locals seem to lack perspective when it comes to leadership. Somehow, no other place could possibly as incompetent as the buffoons screwing things up in your backyard. Where, exactly, is the grass so much greener? Los Angeles?

Think about the benchmarking cohort Noren lists:

The report measures the Research Corridor universities against six comparable clusters in regions known as knowledge economy leaders: Boston’s 128 Corridor: Harvard University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tufts University; Silicon Valley/Northern California: Stanford University, University of California-Berkley and UC-San Francisco; the Research Triangle: University of North Carolina, Duke University and N.C. State University; Chicago/Illinois: University of Chicago, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Southern California: UCLA, University of Southern California and UC-San Diego; and Pennsylvania: Penn State University (all campuses), University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

Let Pittsburgh as a "knowledge economy leader" sink in and mull that over for a spell. That's how the region looks to outsiders. This isn't another case of blind civic boosterism. This is an exciting time for Greater Pittsburgh and significant opportunities are on the horizon:

Some at the meeting expressed concern for environmental issues, as well as alternate transport, including better use of the rivers and high-speed rail. While [Congressman Jason Altmire] said these were off-topic for this meeting, he declared himself as a supporter of rebuilding the Montgomery Dock and Dam, a Mag-Lev train from the Airport to downtown Pittsburgh and out to Monroeville, and high-speed rail linking Cleveland and Pittsburgh as part of his wider “Tech Belt” development project.

“I’m a big fan of high speed rail,” state Altmire, “and I sit on the railroad committee, where we’ll deal the billions Obama has designated for it. Likewise with Mag-Lev and the rivers. These are the key to longer range development that also helps the environment.

I can't stress enough the throwing of your support behind the Tech Belt initiative. I'm particularly impressed with the leadership in Youngstown. Continue taking potshots at Mayor Steelerstahl, if you must. But don't paint the entire region with such broad brushstrokes. There are successes that should be celebrated and good ideas that should be promoted.

Update: More news about the possibility of a reborn Maglev project for Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pittsburgh Ho!

This week, I've been implementing blogging tips from social media guru Chris Brogan ... I mean, Justin Kownacki. I don't track website statistics, so I won't know if I get The Kownacki Bump or not. What's a retweet? I digress.

Some geographic mobility yumminess has been going around the past few days. CEOs for Cities echoes Richard Florida's call for an end to the dream of homeownership in America. I already touched upon Ryan Avent's migratory stimulus package. Chris Briem, not to be confused with Chris Brogan, comes tantalizing close to claiming that the rush to Pittsburgh is on:

But another reason has to be an artifact of how well the region has been doing relative to many other regions. Has to be some new people in the region impacting rental rates. In the past I explained the connection between regional economic conditions and migration into Pittsburgh. At the time, most of the regions we typically exchange population with were doing far worse than we were by most economic metrics. The only big exception at the time was the Washington, DC area. That may still be the case broadly speaking, but the Washington Post had a decent series of articles yesterday on the state of the regional economy down there. They do not paint a rosy picture for how DC is expected to fare as the recession continuees. You may need a (free) registration to read the articles but one of the main ones is here for those who are interested. But if DC is no longer the exception than nearly every region which is a major destination of Pittsburgh migrants is faring worse than we are and that will have bigger impacts on migration flows.

I'm glad I got wind of the WaPo series before babbling on about a BuisnessWeek article concerning how Washington is expected to thrive. Actually, either scenario bodes well for Pittsburgh. I would expect a relative boom in DC to spillover into Pittsburgh. A bust would send talent streaming back to Roboburgh. But what to do about that house you have in Fairfax? Rent it out. That's what I'm going to do with my domicile in Colorado, which is another region expected to do well in the short and long term.

Robotics Corridor

I keep a daily eye on the posts at TECHburgher, but something else usually comes up and pushes some relevant information back into the blog queue. Since the usual blog fodder is scarce today and workforce development is a recent theme obsession, I'll make good on some recent reading about the Robotics Corridor:

Building, installing and maintaining these rapidly advancing systems will require technologists who not only are computer literate, but also are trained to be lifelong learners, [said Robin Shoop, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy and director of the Robotics Corridor project]. To that end, the [Robotics Corridor] received input from 25 area industries about the types of technical and learning skills that needed to be incorporated into the new degree program.

Credits from the associate degree program are transferrable to four-year bachelor’s degree programs in electrical, computer and manufacturing engineering. The University of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris University, Youngstown State University and the Community College of Allegheny County are among the partners who have developed the Robotics Engineering Technology associate degree.

I'll start with what I like about the initiative, the geographic scope. Pittsburgh and Youngstown are becoming increasingly intertwined. Imagine Greater Pittsburgh includes Mahoning County and the Ryan-Altmire Tech Belt collaboration seems to be minus an analgous political partner in Cleveland. Somewhere between Akron and Youngstown is where Cleveland's pull gives way to Pittsburgh's, which is surprising to me. I suspect that Cleveland Plus, as currently envisioned, is dead because of the unwillingness to cross state borders.

What bothers me is the industry-centric approach to workforce development. Investment in human capital should be labor-centric. Local employment opportunities should be considered, but I would also survey business leaders around the world. I'm supportive of the Robotics Corridor, but interested students should be aware of jobs wherever they may be. And if there is a burgeoning demand for talent outside of Greater Pittsburgh, then local higher education should be able to help students learn what they need in order to gain access to that growing market.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Urban Success Story Pittsburgh

Count Newark among the admirers of Pittsburgh's redevelopment:

"We are pleased to be advancing our partnership with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. This project will strengthen our downtown, add hundreds of new housing units and create construction jobs in our city," Mayor Cory A. Booker says in a statement. "In partnership with NJPAC and Dranoff Properties, we pledge to move this project forward intensively this year--securing the resources we need to make it a go for construction in the coming years." ...

... "This is a huge vote of confidence and a milestone as Newark re-emerges as a viable and attractive destination for downtown residential living," says Lawrence P. Goldman, NJPAC’s president and CEO. "The Scorecard process was thoughtful, tough and comprehensive and it made us think even more carefully about the kind of neighborhood we want to create around the Arts Center’s Theater Square." He adds that a complex, mixed-use urban redevelopment project like this can only be done though a partnership of public and private entities. ...

... "Newark needs people living downtown to realize fully its burgeoning revitalization," Goldman tells "Throughout the country and the world--in places like London, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh--arts centers have led the way in transforming cities. There is every reason to believe that Newark can be the next major urban success story."

For better or for worse, Pittsburgh is clearly a best-practice model for a number of struggling cities throughout the country.

Brain Dead Cleveland Plus

The long list of failed efforts to keep college graduates in the region hasn't stopped Northeast Ohio (NEO) from recycling brain drain policy. All NEO needs is a fresh rebranding effort:

One way to hang onto the college students is to show them the great assets of Northeast Ohio and engage them in the life and vibrancy of our region. That is the idea behind the latest piece of the Cleveland Plus marketing campaign. The Plus College web site connects college students with arts, recreational, job and other opportunities in the region. Check out the possibilities at

Trying to keep young adults from relocating is a bad idea. A more worthwhile campaign would target nearby talent pools, such as the one in Pittsburgh. Burgh twentysomethings have little to no clue as to the opportunities in Youngstown or other parts of NEO. Tech Belt champion Jason Altimire made his first ever trip to Cleveland in January of 2009 in order to speak to the City Club about the initiative. The audience was somewhat amazed by his confession.

Graduates know more about the scenes in Seattle, Los Angeles, or Austin than they do about nightlife in neighboring Rust Belt cities. This mega-regional churn is highly undervalued. We need to rethink our labor market orientation and retool our workforce development strategies. A sharp looking website touting the cultural assets of the region to its student population does neither.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Urban Vacation

Forbes lists America's 16 emptiest cities:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Detroit
  3. Atlanta
  4. Greensboro
  5. Dayton
  6. Phoenix
  7. Orlando
  8. Kansas City
  9. Jacksonville (tie)
  10. Indianapolis (tie)
  11. Miami
  12. Chicago
  13. Tampa
  14. Bakersfield
  15. Cincinnati (tie)
  16. Charlotte (tie)
No shock that Pittsburgh isn't listed.

Move or Die

Ryan Avent weighs a "migratory stimulus":

Basically, when everyone stays where they are, there’s lots of slack everywhere. But if we moved some people to new markets, such that those markets had no slack, then the local economies would get moving, leading to national recovery. Of course, the hard question is how to produce the migrations. It could be the case, however, that a very narrowly targeted stimulus, geographically speaking, could do the job.

I think NYC Mayor Bloomberg is suggesting just such an approach, though the Big Apple isn't a "new market." President Obama symbolically offered up Denver as a destination for economic recovery. Of course, I'm sticking with Greater Pittsburgh.

But engineering migration is notoriously difficult and Americans are becoming less geographically mobile. As far as I can tell, people aren't leaving bust-towns such as Phoenix so much as economic migrants have stopped moving there. I'm beginning to doubt we are going to see anything like the population shifts of the early 1980s when Pittsburgh emptied out in dramatic fashion. Any migratory stimulus must start with the home ownership crisis. Much of the best talent is saddled with too much debt.

My best guess is that we will see a dramatic rise in boomerang migration, allowing opportunists to leverage strong social networks and thus mitigate relocation costs. This pattern of labor movement could be enhanced, but that will take time and money. Youngstown State University's Grow Home campaign is a good model. Since I doubt anything is forthcoming from the Federal Government, localities and regions should take the initiative and explore Avent's idea a bit further.

Brain Drain Bailout

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is crying wolf. To the tune of $45 million, financial industry talent would be retrained so they won't leave the Big Apple. However, this grand brain drain boondoggle deserves consideration. Bloomberg is trying to take advantage of the economic meltdown and grab a greater share of innovative human capital from around the world:

The city is offering fledgling entrepreneurs cheap rent, and assistance in getting their businesses off the ground.

It is also targeting 25 companies, in places like China and Qatar, to get them to relocate here, using $30 million in federal aid for incentives.

The plan is to turn the recently unemployed into job creators, subsidizing their efforts to make entrepreneurship more attractive. In many regards, the Youngstown Business Incubator is already engaged in such a project. The Tech Belt is ideally suited for a large scale initiative akin to what Bloomberg is proposing:

The mayor was scheduled to announce the 11-part program at a building in SoHo that will house an incubator for start-up companies that might employ laid-off professionals. A second business incubator is scheduled to open in the spring in Lower Manhattan, according to Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

NYC is following YBI's lead. The Cleveburgh advantage is that a robust innovation economy is already in place and cheap rent is readily available without the need for gobs of federal dollars. Why invest in a dinosaur when you can piggyback on a gazelle?

The Tech Belt could take a page from Bloomberg's book and aggressively court talent from around the world. Imagine Cleveburgh as a Green Card haven for foreign-born entrepreneurs. The mix of creative legislation and better use of stimulus money could build an economic powerhouse like Bloomberg envisions for his city.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Geography of Outsourcing

Continuing yesterday's theme of a talent export economy, consider the attributes of new hot spots for outsourcing:

Belfast makes the grade for its strong schools and universities, its young population, high number of IT graduates and cheap operating costs, while Brisbane has a large talent pool, a multilingual workforce and employee costs that are 10 to 15 per cent cheaper than other Australian cities.

Cities in the United States and Canada predicted to be excellent locations for outsourcing activities: Boise, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Indianapolis. Indianapolis is worth highlighting because it is an indicator of the Rust Belt's potential for corporations looking to cut operating costs while maintaining ample access to an educated workforce. But Indy is also relatively good at attracting in-migration, which sets that city apart from its urban economic cohort.

By all appearances, a glut of talent is important. The Rust Belt is full of cities producing more graduates than the local economy can absorb. Relocation strategies of enterprise keen on exploiting new outsourcing opportunities suggest a different approach to workforce development. Instead of pushing students towards regional labor shortages, we should prepare them to thrive in a global market. Targeting the most geographically mobile employers is a good idea, but the local economy will need to mature as operating costs inevitably rise and the demand for labor shifts to other sectors. Area post-secondary education will need to be flexible and on top of global labor market trends.

Update: The Urbanophile posts about Indianapolis acting as an outsourcing hub for Chicago businesses.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Steal This Graduate

My kindred spirit in Atlantic Canada dabbles in the talent export paradigm of workforce development:

Astute readers will point out that I am being inconsistent. They will say I have strenuously advised against offering training programs for jobs that aren’t in New Brunswick. I called this being the labour market incubator for Ontario’s workforce.

And I still hold to that view - except in the area of migrant work. The large project construction industry is transient. It moves from project to project and the workers have a home base. That home base could be New Brunswick and they could be sending six figure salaries back here to be spent in the local economy. If there is going to be a migrant nuclear construction industry workforce, why not have some of it based out of New Brunswick?

Color me not-so-astute. I'll have to search his archives and discover the rationale against servicing other labor markets. I'm beginning to better understand how workforce development and economic development are often at odds. However, I contend that there is substantial interest overlap and that policy should cater to that common ground.

Energy is the "area of migrant work" in question, specifically the nuclear industry. The perceived benefit from educating people in New Brunswick to work at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh is a remittance flow. I have another model in mind: Denver.

Near Denver, in Golden (where Coors Brewing doesn't really tap the Rockies, but an aquifer underneath the plant), is the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). The analogy isn't perfect because Colorado has a vibrant energy economy, such as along the Western Slope and the school itself is a legacy of the mining boom that built many of the cities in the state. But there shouldn't be any doubt that CSM is more about building a global workforce than servicing the Colorado labor market.

Not coincidentally, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is also located in Golden. Colorado isn't banking on the remittance economy. Instead, the CSM spillovers (e.g. NREL) laid the groundwork for the attraction of the ConocoPhillips alternative-energy campus to the Front Range. The resulting green energy cluster should greatly benefit Colorado over the next few decades.

As I see it, the problem is just being a "labour market incubator" for one place, whether it be your backyard or Toronto. Train the local workforce to fill worldwide shortages. The fierce competition for talent will inevitably drive companies to, at a minimum, to co-locate near the source of the highly sought after graduates.

Pennsylvania colleges and universities shouldn't aim to serve only Pennsylvania enterprise. In today's world, that doesn't make any sense.

Migration to Cities Overstated

The rise of urbanism is more aesthetically-driven than fact-based. Emotional attachments to certain geographies drive policy, sometimes for the worse. Social scientists tend to see what they want to see. I appreciate the wisdom of encouraging higher density, but I'm also curious about the possibilities of a flatter world (another version of the same bit of news can be found here):

Martin Ellis, Halifax economist, said: "There have been significant population movements across England and Wales during recent years. Coastal areas have proved to be popular destinations for people to move to as many people have sought to take advantage of the benefits of living near the sea.

"The figures also highlight the transient nature of the population in many of our major cities. Birmingham, for example, recorded both the highest level of internal immigration and emigration in England and Wales."

When considering domestic migration, global cities (in the above case, London) are often net losers. Talent may move from one city to another, but this relocation decision doesn't support the Spiky World thesis. The Flat World is what makes utopia hunting possible. Plenty of people would escape New York City if they knew how to maintain their current line of work.

On the other hand, international migration is decidedly spiky. The costs of crossing borders demands a big return on the investment. If you are going move halfway around the world, then you might as well land in London. The move to the coast (or Pittsburgh) can come later.

Where Pittsburgh Meets DC

Fully indulging in the self-service nature of my blog, more mapping of Pittsburgh-DC connectivity:

Long heralded for its healing waters and restorative environs, the Omni Bedford Springs Resort’s origins date back to 1796 when its seven original mineral springs lured guests for a healing cure. A classic “springs resort” with many of the original buildings and architectural elements still in place, the restored and expanded Omni Bedford Springs Resort features the 30,000 square foot Springs Eternal Spa, five restaurants, meeting and banquet space, retail shops and a variety of recreational activities. The resort is three miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a scenic drive from many major metropolitan areas: Pittsburgh (90 minutes), Washington, DC (two hours), Baltimore (two hours), Philadelphia (three hours) and New York City (four hours). Several major airports are also within a two-hour drive: Pittsburgh International, Reagan National, Dulles International and Baltimore/Washington International (BWI).

If you are inclined to think at the scale of mega-regions, then is there any doubt about the geographic advantage Pittsburgh possesses?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ghost of Rust Belt Past

I think a lot of Rust Belt expatriates are skeptical of the news touting the positive changes going on in America's Urban Frontier. The reason you left in the first place is a lasting image:

I thought, gee, it'll take more than a few successful businesses to get me to move back here for real. It might take less small-mindedness and more diversity. It might take a better outlook for my career niche and better schools for my future son or daughter. And maybe, it'd take a decent Thai restaurant.

Returning home doesn't suit most people. The boomerang migration isn't about finding a bit of big city experience in the flyover zone. You should be looking for something that you can't have in Boston, Austin, or DC.

My goal of leaving Denver and moving to Pittsburgh entails the search for opportunities I can't find where I'm currently living. A diaspora project for the Front Range? Don't be ridiculous. Cleveburgh is where it is at.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Ohio Homestead Act

The GOP in Ohio is looking for a fresh serving of pork:

Senate Bill No. 5, which was introduced by state Sen. Steve Buehrer, R-Delta, has a measure that would allow anyone who has attended college in Ohio or who graduated high school in the state and attended college out-of-state to apply for the grant. The bill was introduced to the Senate as a lottery where 300 applicants will be chosen to receive the grant.

"We continue to hear about the great 'brain drain' here in Ohio and how our best and our brightest, which are basically our college graduates, are fleeing the state at an alarming rate," Buehrer said. "That tells me they are seeing better opportunities somewhere else." ...

... Buehrer said he is looking for $2 million dollars in funding. He said he understands if all 300 applicants have post-graduate degrees it would cost more than the funding allocated, but that would be a problem he would like to have. He said more funding would be found if that were the case, and no eligible lottery winners would be turned down.

Kim Wheeler, Buehrer's legislative aide, said a similar bill has been passed in Louisiana to promote people to return after Hurricane Katrina.

I'll have to do some digging to find out how the Louisiana program is progressing and if it is stopping brain drain. Regardless, how does Buehrer know how much of the $2 million would go to people who would reside in Ohio without the funding? I'd bet even those Ohio high school graduates who went to college outside of the state and are eligible for the money would demonstrate the same dynamic of self-selection.

Which Ohio-based corporate realtor thought up this scheme? Try some labor market incentives next time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Epicenter of US Economic Recovery

US President Barack Obama signs his economic stimulus bill in Denver at the Museum of Nature and Science. I'll let the Washington Post decipher the symbolism:

Obama signed the massive, nearly 1,100-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act before an audience of 250 business and community leaders seated on folding chairs in an atrium of Denver's Museum of Nature and Science. The setting was intended to underscore the new law's role in creating clean-energy jobs. Before the signing, the president toured a solar panel installation on the museum's roof.

The latest David Brooks column, "I Dream of Denver", piles on the love. The Colorado Front Range is where it is at. Looking out my own window:

Longmont-based data-storage company Copan Systems has secured $18.5 million in new venture capital financing.

The company said the funding will help it expand its product development, sales, marketing and distribution efforts globally.

“It’s great news,” said Mark Ward, president and CEO. “It’s really just an emotional and financial lift. Obviously there’s a lot of companies out there that are struggling.”

Copan moved to Longmont in 2003 after it was founded in Texas a year earlier. The $18.5 million is the first influx of VC money since September 2007, when the company raised $32.4 million.

Why move to Pittsburgh?

New Geography of Innovation: Youngstown

This morning, an economic success story coming out of Youngstown, Ohio captivated National Public Radio listeners. Youngstown is likened to Silicon Valley. The geographic reference is useful for explaining the Mahoning Valley Miracle, but something more significant is going on throughout America's Urban Frontier.

When I think of Silicon Valley, I imagine farmland converted into a startup landscape par excellence. But the creative spaces emerging in the Postindustrial Heartland are downtown, a high-density cauldron of knowledge. The spillover potential is much greater than you would find at a suburban tech park or among the balkanized entrepreneurial niches scattered between San Jose and San Francisco.

Reactions to the NPR broadcast also reveal a curious concept of "home". Youngstown natives aren't the only people feeling a sense of pride about the success of the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI). Folks all over the country from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania are reaching out to YBI Chief Evangelist Jim Cossler. Cleveburgh makes sense when you talk to its Diaspora.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Art of a Brain Drain Boondoggle

Are you looking for funding for your prized program? Just push the brain drain hysteria button:

Two weeks ago, [PA Governor Ed Rendell] proposed cutting the $3.2 million Governor’s School programs from the next fiscal year’s budget as part of his effort to offset a projected $2.3 billion state deficit, resulting from the recession now crippling the nation’s economy. ...

... Joseph D’Angelo, principal of the high school at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in the Villanova section of Radnor, feels it would be a mistake to eliminate the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools.

Before becoming high school principal at Notre Dame in September, D’Angelo spent 22 years on the faculty of LaSalle College High School in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, where students regularly won scholarships to the Governor’s Schools.

“Universally, they’ve found it worthwhile. I think it’s a shame they’re pulling the plug on it. They can find a million dollars for this. Even if they make it smaller, they should do it,” said D’Angelo.

He noted that it gives high school students an opportunity to experience life on a college campus and to see if their areas of interest are really what they want to pursue as careers.

“It would be a colossal shame. I hope someone comes out of the woodwork with money for this,” said D’Angelo. “It also keeps kids in Pennsylvania. Everyone talks about a brain drain.”

I'm not saying that the program should be cut, but I'll need to see a more convincing argument.

Revisiting Geographic Immobility

I must have ruffled a few feathers with my post about libertarian ideology and brain drain boondoggles. I confused the issue because I didn't bother to disaggregate the migration data, thus leading one of my readers to call for clarification. New Geography (sort of) did the work for me and came to the following conclusions:

High inmigration, low native born states tend to be high in natural amenities (read: mountains) or recent boom states in the west - many of which may have capitalized on the exodus from California. Note that North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee have similar numbers.

Most interesting is the grouping towards the upper right: states with both above average number of those born in state and positive or near positive migration. Could this signal a return of the diaspora to states like Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Utah, or even Wisconsin and Pennsylvania?

I should add that the New Geography blogger looked at net domestic migration rate and geographic immobility. The scatter plot is a little misleading, like my original post on the subject. A more robust comparison would look at out-migration rates and in-migration rates relative to geographic immobility. On the balance, the state may be losing people. But is that the result of waning in-migration or growing out-migration?

Most Rust Belt states suffer from decreasing rates of in-migration. The talent problem is a lack of brain gain, not brain drain. Furthermore, are natural amenities or low taxes the primary attraction benefiting states such as Colorado? I don't think I've seen a libertarian migration analysis that controls for variables such as climate. But that doesn't seem to stop small government advocates from making baseless claims and fueling brain drain hysteria.

Blog Release: GLUE Conference 2009 in Milwaukee

From Sarah Szurpicki,

GLUE Coalition of "Rust Belt" Activists, Artists, and Urbanists Descends on Milwaukee for Second Annual Conference

February 16. Spring Break in Milwaukee has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? From March 12 through March 14, 2009, roughly 75 residents of at least a dozen cities from Buffalo to Minneapolis will convene in the Cream City to share stories, best practices, and highest aspirations about living in older industrial cities of the Upper Midwest as part of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange's second annual conference.

GLUE ( seeks to connect constructive, entrepreneurial, and solutions-oriented young leaders across the region, and the conference is an invaluable opportunity for some real-life connecting, learning, and planning.

GLUE co-founders Sarah Szurpicki and Abby Wilson visited Milwaukee in April of '08 for a four-day whirlwind tour of the city's redeveloped brownfields, art spaces, waterfronts, and neighborhood treasures. And they fell in love. Thanks to the hard work of local denizens Juli Kaufman ( and Megan Carr (, a local team is hard at work planning a series of experiences and site visits that will give conference attendees authentic and varied experiences throughout the city.

Speakers and activities are still being added to the agenda, but some of the conference highlights will include:

Thursday, 3/12:
  • A tour of MacArthur Genius Grant Awarded Will Allen's Growing Power, a nationally renowned land trust that develops the Community Food Systems all our cities need (
  • A locally-sourced dinner, catered by Kathy Papineau, and tour at Sprecher Brewery.
  • Remarks from Common Council President, Alderman Willie Hines, and Carol Coletta, Host of Smart City, the Nationally syndicated radio program, and CEO of CEO's for Cities (
Friday, 3/13:
  • A panel on the major policy challenges and innovations facing our mega-region, featuring Tom Wolfe, Executive Director of the Northeast-Midwest Institute, Kate Rube, Policy Director of Smart Growth America, and Dick Longworth, journalist, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and author of Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Era of Globalism.
  • Education and brainstorming around transit infrastructure with the Transportation for America Campaign (
  • Tours of some of Milwaukee's most exciting success stories.
  • A discussion with Dave Wetzel, President of the Land Labour Campaign, on local funding strategies for public transit (
Saturday, 3/14:
  • A presentation on social exclusion in public policy by Lynn Todman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Adler School's Institute on Social Exclusion (
  • An exploration of the range of action needed, from the local to the region-wide level, with John Austin, non-resident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and Executive Director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (
  • Words of wisdom and documentation throughout by YERT's Mark Dixon, a sustainability expert with a passion for new media and community journalism (
  • Issues research and advocacy strategies with the Northeast-Midwest Institute and Smart Growth America ( and
  • Community journalism training with the Allied Media Project (
  • Movement-building strategies with experienced GLUEsters.
  • Opportunities for all participants to share their work and ideas for equitable and sustainable urban revitalization.
For more information about the conference, visit Limited travel scholarships are available.

The conference has been funded by the generous support of the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the Surdna Foundation ( and

GLUE, a project of the Tides Center (, is a coalition comprised of post-boomer urbanists located in the "Rust Belt," held its inaugural conference in January of 2008 in Buffalo, NY. The organization was founded to promote the power, aide in the positive transformation, and address the shared challenges of similarly-storied older industrial cities situated in the Great Lakes watershed. Among the ranks of GLUE coalition members are community organizers, urban planners, artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and students living and working in over twenty cities in ten states. GLUE operates on four guiding principles:
  • Urbanism: Cities are our world's economic drivers. Decision makers cannot afford to underestimate their value nor overlook their needs.
  • Regionalism: Great Lakes urban centers need to overcome outlooks of despair and isolation by forging a shared perspective and developing strength in numbers.
  • Storytelling: White papers alone cannot propel an agenda, particularly for the emerging generation of leadership. No need is expressed more powerfully than via human narrative.
  • Building Networks: Connecting people and institutions who share challenges and objectives will foster regional collaboration and transfer examples of success throughout the basin.
To learn more about the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, visit

Rust Wire

There is a new Rust Belt blog on the scene, Rust Wire:

This site is intended to consolidate and develop news and information about post-industrial Great Lakes cities. It was developed by two former newspaper reporters with ties to Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown, Ohio and Erie and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We’ve noted that there is a lot of good information about Rust Belt issues coming from blogs and the mainstream media. We hope to sort out the good stuff and summarize it for problem solvers and concerned citizens from Buffalo to St. Louis.

We also intend to develop some original stories and photography. Any writers, videographers or photographers that are willing to contribute please contact us at Also, if there’s any thing we’ve overlooked, or any exciting initiatives that might be worth featuring, please let us know.


Angie Schmitt & Kate Giammarise

The more Rust Belt voices, the better. Welcome Angie and Kate.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Urban Pairs: Cincinnati-Dayton

Continuing my dialog with Pittsblog, Chris Briem sees a lot of similarities between Cincinnati's Regional Action Plan and the visioning currently going on in Pittsburgh. Two of the geographic analogs are the multi-state influence of Cincinnati and a nearby urban partner for innovation:

Although Agenda 360 was designed to focus on the four counties of Southwest Ohio, its scope is by nature much broader reaching across the river into Kentucky and Indiana as well as north into Dayton. ...

... Population has exploded along the Interstate 75 corridor in the last decade. From 2002-2007, Butler County saw a 28 percent increase in its population and Warren County saw 17 percent growth. And businesses are following the people. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the 15-county Cincinnati/Middletown/Northern Kentucky metropolitan statistical area will merge with the Dayton MSA by 2013.

From this growth comes opportunity. The Cincinnati-Dayton region has the potential to be a nationwide leader in commercializing technology, due in large part to the state of Ohio's Third Frontier Program.

The work of Agenda 360 suggests that Cincinnati and Dayton create an "innovation hub" centered in Warren and Butler counties. Such a hub would accelerate the collaboration between Cincinnati and Dayton and foster technology-led economic development by attracting and retaining investment, entrepreneurs and innovative companies.

Before The Urbanophile accuses me of supporting the mating of two urban economic dinosaurs, I think Cincinnati's plan is lacking a clear connection to the world city network. At least, I didn't notice any express mention of such in the "expanding of the circle." Conceivably, Cincinnati-Dayton could connect to Chicago via Indianapolis or DC/NYC through Pittsburgh. I suspect that a direct link to a global urban power is unfeasible. An interesting debate would be figuring which second-tier Rust Belt city would be the better go-between.

Briem asks if Cincinnati is "a competitor, collaborator, both, or neither?" I'd say it is a kindred spirit, a place that could be studied in order to inform better policy for Cleveburgh. There are possible synergies to explore and any increasing connectivity between these two urban riparian treasures would benefit both regions.

Economic Myopia

If you are banking on the economic stimulus package, then you better hire Americans:

As a result of the conference agreement, [US Senator Bernie Sanders] said in a statement Friday that he expects the H-1B provisions to be adopted along with the rest of the stimulus bill. He added that what may have prompted the negotiators to keep the H-1B restrictions in the bill were all of the ongoing layoffs and other job losses. "With thousands of financial services workers unemployed, it is absurd for banks to claim they can't find qualified American workers," Sanders said.

Given the preference for US workers in the H-1B visa provisions, Sanders makes a good point. However, additional language in the bailout bill is also redundant and sends protectionist signals to the rest of the world. Furthermore, local labor market shortages may result in the inabilit to find qualified American workers.

But the real problem with the Sanders-Grassley crusade is that it is shortsighted. Consider the trip Alberta government officials are taking to Germany next month:

Alberta's slumping economy --pummelled by low commodity prices and a global credit crunch -- didn't dissuade the province from returning to the job fairs. Instead, Employment and Immigration spokeswoman Janice Schroeder said the government has altered its message from previous years, when many Alberta employers were desperately short of workers.

"We'll be talking about keeping Alberta on the radar. If you're thinking of moving for work, maybe not this year, certainly keep us in mind." ...

... [Evelyn Ackah, an immigration lawyer at the Calgary firm of Fraser Milner Casgrain,] also suggested mandatory layoffs could discourage some foreigners from coming to Canada, which in the long-term needs new immigrants, and some argue temporary workers, to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers.

The looming talent shortage is very real and established migration patterns will be critical once the economy begins to recover. Certainly, oil prices can skyrocket once again and spark another boom in Alberta. Now is a good time to aggressively court foreign-born workers who are also coping with layoffs and a collapsing real estate market.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How Will the Crash Reshape Pittsburgh?

Mike Madison (Pittsblog) asks his readers to weigh in on Richard Florida's recent article from a Pittsburgh-centric point of view:

Former Pittsburgher and CMU professor Richard Florida, of "Rise of the Creative Class" fame, has an essay in The Atlantic titled "How the Crash Will Reshape America." He doesn't address Pittsburgh much (thus the title of the post), so I'm curious about how Pittsblog readers think that the Floridian theme reads on the future of the Steel City. Is he right? Wrong? Much more important than a yes/no answer to each of these question is the "how?" and "why?" that should follow.

I'm posting my answer here because I'm a proponent of inter-blog conversations and I'm hoping that anyone who reads what I have to say will take the time to chip in her or his two cents.

According to Florida, we can expect this crisis to accelerate the predominant geographic trend: Globalization driving a greater concentration of economic activity into fewer places. Those cities or regions that have acted as talent magnets will, in the long run, only get stronger. That's not good news for most of the Rust Belt, including Pittsburgh.

We should also see the continued decline of suburbs and a renaissance for urban living. Globalization demands a critical mass of ideas in close proximity and that economic growth is dependent on high-densities of a well-educated workforce. That would be good news for Pittsburgh since the city would benefit from a population shift to, instead of away from, Allegheny County.

While I think the existence of a Spiky World is undeniable, the coming Golden Era of Urbanity is controversial. Unless an onslaught of outsiders decides to cram into Oakland or Uptown, I don't see an urban boom on Pittsburgh's horizon (save the schools dramatically improving). Just because more and more jobs are clustering in the city doesn't mean that people will move there. Also, we could see increasing densities in the suburbs and more employers relocating to where the talent is living. Westinghouse isn't going to suddenly abandon its campus in Cranberry for a brownfield near CMU/Pitt. It makes more sense for an innovation cluster to grow in that northern burb. Cranberry could be the hub of Pittsburgh energy technologies. (consider that tip carefully, Youngstown and Erie)

That leaves the question about the fate of the Rust Belt and "second-tier midwestern cities". This economic collapse will probably finish the job started by the last round of globalization. I think we are on the cusp of a new era of globalization, which almost makes prognostication useless. However, Pittsburgh's near-term prospects look excellent.

Eds and meds, the current centerpiece of the Pittsburgh economy, is expected to have a shallow and short contraction. Pittsburgh's economy should bounce back quickly and the region will be on the vaguard of the nation's recovery. What will Pittsburgh do with this running start?

Eds and meds won't sustain the coming growth, but Pittsburgh is positioned to take advantage of a surprisingly diverse portfolio of economic development. I've mentioned the coming energy boom. The financial sector looks relatively promising. Florida touched upon the tech scene. I'd add to that laundry list social media innovation and distance trust economics. I'm more sure now than ever that Pittsburgh is about to experience a boom, which will command strong in-migration. That's how I see the crash reshaping Pittsburgh.

Fixing Ohio Brain Drain

States invest in higher education. Tax dollars help support public universities and residents often pay dramatically less in tuition than students from out-of-state. Thus, all the hand-wringing about graduates chasing jobs around the country. That's the economic rationale for plugging the brain drain:

During a speech to the Van Wert County Republican Club's luncheon, Buehrer said that part of his solution to the economic situation in Ohio is his priority bill Grants for Grads. The bill has been created to address the idea of "brain drain" from Ohio. He pointed out that a lot of state taxpayer money is being used to encourage high school students to attend higher education after graduation. The problem is those same students who grew up in Ohio and maybe went to college at Ohio State or Bowling Green are then turning around after receiving their bachelor degrees and leaving the state.

Grants for Grads is modeled after a Louisiana program that gives money to college graduates for a down payment on a house if they choose to stay in Ohio. The idea is that as more college graduates stay in state, the more attractive the workforce will be to prospective employers of white collar and highly skilled workers. His belief is that as more graduates stay and employers move in, the increased tax base will more than pay for the incentives. The first part, however, is changing the trend from graduates leaving to graduates staying in Ohio.

The proposed legislation is insidious. As we've learned from the current economic crisis, home ownership decreases geographic mobility and keeps talent from moving to a job market where there is greater demand for their skills. Ohio would be doing its college graduates a grave disservice.

The economic geography of these policies is hopelessly stuck in the industrial era. Workforce development strategies are parochial in outlook and tend to ignore the forces of globalization. This is the paradigm of failure that has plagued the Midwest, turning it into the Rust Belt. Furthermore, creating a pool of captive labor will impoverish the community and accelerate the downward spiral.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Urban Pairs

I've been overwhelmed with good reading this week. Lots of stuff about world city geography and the global economic crisis. However, The Urbanophile gets post of the week:

Richard Florida just issued a call in this month's Atlantic Monthly to build "rail connectivity within the mega-regions. There are the fast trains along the Boston/New York/Washington corridor that have allowed Washington, in effect, to become a commuter suburb of greater New York. But how about a place like Detroit? If Detroit were better connected to Chicago, one could imagine Detroit having a better reason for existing. Or Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh were better connected to Chicago or even to Washington, D.C.—it’s only a four-hour drive—that could spur growth." I won't use his example cities, but will assume in our example that we've got high speed rail between Chicago and Milwaukee and Chicago and Indy that provides a terminal to terminal journey time of 90 minutes. In the case of Milwaukee, this is actually already true - future rail upgrades will only shave that time down even further.

Both Florida and Renn (Urbanophile) recommend that promising second tier cities better connect with a world class city. The next generation of rail is considered to be instrumental to building a functional globalization infrastructure. Who should your city pair up with in order to best promote economic development?

At the eastern end of the Midwest, Pittsburgh is a facinating case. Money flowing from the current stimulus will likely fix the Burgh as one end of some yet-to-be-named high-speed rail initiative. Florida offers up Chicago or Washington, DC. Earlier today, I read about a Pittsburgh-NYC pairing. Regardless, Pittsburgh will be the intermediary between the Midwest mega-region and the Bos-Wash corridor. And you can bet that Cleveburgh will want a piece of that action.

The Mahoning Valley shatterbelt is coming to the fore and Pittsburgh's stategic geographic position is reaffirmed.

2008 Merger and Acquisition Activity

Youngstown Update

The Next American City story about Youngstown is finally online. Be sure to check out the Rust Belt art show at Rust Belt Brewing. Finally, I think the National Public Radio report about the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) is worth your time:

Certainly, the area has a reputation that I don’t think is fair. And, so, once I had the opportunity to come up here, meet people, and learn more about Youngstown, any reservations I had passed.

And that’s the power of the incubator says Youngstown State Management professor William Vendemia. He says its success has a big effect on the region’s image.

I had a similar reaction during my visit to Youngstown. I still have a hard time appreciating how far downtown has come and I recognize how much more work must be done. But the YBI is a success story deserving of celebration.

The Charlotte Boom Goes Bust

Job losses are hitting Charlotte, NC particularly hard:

Think you’d rather ride out the recession in Charlotte than in Rust Belt cities such as Buffalo or Pittsburgh?

Think again.

The record-setting pace of job losses here has left Charlotte’s economy reeling in ways seldom seen before. The metro area’s unemployment rate nearly doubled in 2008, reaching 8.9% at year end.

Of the 49 metro areas with more than 1 million residents, Charlotte’s unemployment rate ranks 45th, just above recession-hammered Las Vegas and Detroit. The jobless rate for the 16-county region is 9.5%. The national average is 7.6%.

There are a lot of transplants from Pittsburgh and Buffalo living in Charlotte. This might be an indicator of another looming economic migration. I'm not sure what the labor mobility situation is in Charlotte. Are there job sectors starved for talent?

Richard Florida passes along some Charlotte optimism:

Deborah Strumsky, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told me she believes that in the end, both Charlotte’s banking industry and Charlotte itself will emerge from the crisis all the stronger: “The Wells Fargo deal has saved thousands of jobs by keeping Wachovia afloat. More importantly, Bank of America has taken to the banking crisis like a shopaholic with a new credit card; it has been bargain-hunting and cutting some astonishing deals. Bank of America will come out the other side far better than in any fantasy it might have entertained previously.”

Florida seems to take a more wait-and-see attitude. No doubt, the jury is still out on Charlotte's future.