Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mesofact Migration St. Louis

Chris Briem has more today about Pittsburgh's new migration paradigm. I have a few of my own thoughts on the recent spate of Census data, perhaps tomorrow. More pressing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch launched a series on that region's economic competitiveness. Tim Logan kicks it all off with a look at workforce issues. Tim interviewed me via e-mail concerning initiatives designed to bring native talent back to their hometown. I don't know if any of my comments will make the cut, but I tried to point him in the direction of existing programs that might serve as a model for St. Louis. As for Logan's current piece, this passage stands out:

As president of the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, Fleming spent a year just before the recession trying to woo a major employer to open a data center. Fleming wouldn't name the firm, but said it was "a Fortune 50" company that wanted to hire 1,500 people at good wages. Forty cities wanted the facility, and the company narrowed it down to two finalists — St. Louis and Raleigh, N.C.

The firm's consultants recommended St. Louis, Fleming said. But the company was worried about the region's slow growth, concerned that it couldn't get the workers here it would need over the years to come.

"Perception became reality," Fleming said. "And we lost the deal."

Could the company attract the necessary talent to St. Louis? Perception of place influences hard economic choices. Stereotypes matter, particularly to the most geographically mobile. Hence, NCR relocates from Dayton to Atlanta. Pitching a job to someone who hasn't been to either city is much easier if you are in Georgia as opposed to Ohio.

In terms of workforce development, I see the region's mesofacts as the greatest challenge. St. Louis might be much improved (I'd certainly welcome living there), but the rebranding efforts will be slow to take effect. It might be too late to take advantage of the latest reconfiguration of domestic migration patterns.


The Urbanophile said...

Very true.

However, it also hurts when you aren't really serious about workforce development and when you spend enormous amounts of money on boondoggles without even the slightest actual effort to recruit anyone to your city. I think of your own experience in Pittsburgh, for example.

Maybe people will move to St. Louis (Pittsburgh, etc) or maybe they won't. But if you don't even try....

The Pittsburgh story shows that reputation is a lagging indicator in any case.

Jim Russell said...

The thing about Pittsburgh is that it got serious about the talent dividend decades ago. As far as I can discern, St. Louis is late to the game. That leaves in-migration for the near term. How long before the improvements begin to entice outsiders?

Seems to me that there is a lot riding on dramatic rebranding. I hope the good folks of St. Louis understand that.

The Urbanophile said...

By the way, I don't know what they mean by "data center" exactly, but most computer data center employ nothing even close to 1,500 people. They are designed to be as light's out as possible.