Thursday, July 15, 2010

Talent Migration Tales: DC Gravity

Likely news to no one, DC is a talent magnet. Many college graduates from Pittsburgh end up there. The Washington Post explains:

"To put it crudely, Washington, D.C., is parasitic on the rest of the country," said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California. "Most of those people were educated somewhere else."

Consider Matt Drury. The Syracuse, N.Y., native completed a master's in civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last spring. He would have been a welcome addition to the labor market in Pittsburgh, where 28.7 percent of adults hold bachelor's degrees. But he moved to the Washington area to join an environmental consulting firm that contracts with the federal government. He lives in Tysons Corner and works in Chantilly.

"It came down to choosing whether to stay in Pittsburgh or go to D.C.," said Drury, 24. "And basically, the job opportunity was better in D.C."

Drury's journey is an archetypal Pittsburgh talent migration tale. High school graduate from out of state gets college degree in the region and then heads to DC for his first job. This pathway has tremendously benefited Pittsburgh, a fast-rising metro in terms of educational attainment.

Unfortunately, the story typically ends there. What about the secondary migrations for the young adults who get married and start families? Aaron Renn cites some interesting statistics concerning the hysteria surrounding Miami-bound LeBron James:

James' departure also fits the narrative of generalized anxiety around “brain drain” and cities losing their best and brightest of each generation. As lots of people really have left Cleveland, this is understandable. But the real story is much more complex. A look at IRS tax return data shows that in reality Cleveland doesn't have especially high out-migration. Its metro out-migration rate* in 2008 was 28.02. Miami's was 40.34 and for even the boomtown of Atlanta it was 38.95. Not only is Cleveland not losing an especially high number of people, you can actually argue it is losing too few. A big part of the problem in Cleveland's economy is that too many people are stuck there. ...

... * Tax return exemptions migrating per 1000 overall tax return exemptions in the base year.

We often ignore the talent outmigration tales of "parasites" such as Washington, DC. Not only does Pittsburgh send a lot of talent to DC, it receives (in bunches) brains from there. If a college graduate is going to leave the region, then I hope she ends up in DC. Odds are very good she will return. I'd be interested to know if migrants such as Drury boomerang back (if they do so at all) to Pittsburgh or Syracuse. That would be an interesting study.


Daniel said...

Washington DC is indeed a parasite on the rest of the country. That city steals our money and our people.

carl said...

So how can Pittsburgh help Pittsburgh companies compete successfully for contracts with the Federal government? Lifestyle is hugely in favor of Pittsburgh not to mention the Steelers and Penguins. If a business meeting involves 4-6 companies, how do we make sure 3-4 of them are based in Pittsburgh so it makes sense for the ppl from D.C. to travel, not us? If not that, what perks can we add to a visitor's package that will make them REQUEST the Burgh as a destination?

Steve said...

Not only does Pittsburgh send a lot of talent to DC, it receives (in bunches) brains from there.

And this is something that must never be forgotten. I'm sure I told this story of how I was in Iowa 10 years ago and watching Iowa PBS and there was a bunch of people trying to figure out how to get high school grads to stay in Iowa. The only person to realize the stupidity of "Border Guard Bob" was a man who left Iowa but returned later when he wanted to start a family. People leave to go to college or for various other reasons but they can come back too as long as there is something to come back to.

Another thing to remember is that while there are a lot of Pittsburghers here in DC, DC attracts people from all across the country. Any of these people could be future Pittsburghers. Why? Because they will find out about the positives of Pittsburgh from the members of the Pittsburgh diaspora they will encounter. This is an additional pipeline to Pittsburgh that needs to be explored. It seems to me that there are plenty of DCers not from Pittsburgh who would like an alternative but are "semi-stuck" in the DC area. Increasing the natural links between DC and Pittsburgh will create this alternative. With an alternative we can have a pipeline from DC to Pittsburgh because as has been said/implied no one goes to Cleveland for the Cleveland Philharmonic. This is just as no one moves to DC for the Smithsonian. Lots of people here in the DC area are frustrated with the daily issues of living here such as the traffic/commuting and the lack of a more "down to Earth" eviornment for rasing their kids. Make Pittsburgh a complelling alternative which can be done and they will come.

April Hirsh said...

Thought you might be interested in this study- from the University of Toledo-

And this one by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland-

Also, you can conduct your own research using Current Population Survey data-- I took a look at Cleveland a couple of years ago. Haven't checked to see if the CPS is something the census is still undertaking, but I hope so, because of it's migration data.

Jim Russell said...


Thank you for the two report citations. The University of Toledo publication looks familiar. I think the Blade ran a story on the subject a few years back. Both reports should make for a good blog post coming soon.