Friday, August 06, 2010

The Codfathers Diaspora

Update: Thought I'd pass along a request from the Pittsburgh Technology Council in case I have a few readers out there in the know:

Tech CEO's who are "from" Pittsburgh -- we are crafting a list of our diaspora! send us your names...


Leveraging talent outmigration for purposes of economic development is an idea whose time has come. The common cynical retort is that those who leave rarely come back home. This criticism ignores trends, preferring a static snapshot. We are only beginning to understand the scope of the opportunity. A developing success story in Atlantic Canada:

Gordon Pitts, in his bestselling book The Codfathers, chronicled the success of East Coasters in the highest echelons of business and the professions in Central and Western Canada as well as the USA - and there are many others waiting in the wings. This is where a three year old networking organization called East Coast Connected has a key part to play in playing an advocacy role for our region, as well as providing networking avenues to attract back home some of the displaced expatriates.

Since its founding in 2007, East Coast Connected has organized an annual Atlantic Business Summit and this June the agenda of the summit was the future prosperity of Atlantic Canada. The objective was to provide a strategic roadmap with tangible policy outcomes.

The opening speakers to the plenary and breakout sessions included deputy premier of Nova Scotia Frank Corbett and New Brunswick's Victor Boudreau. They all recognized the challenges the region faces, particularly demographic, and the need to develop policies that will permit our region to compete not just nationally, but globally.

The picture that emerged was one of cautious optimism given the entrepreneurial spirit found in the small- and medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of the Atlantic economy.

With the graying of many of the owners of these businesses, a topic I have commented on in earlier columns, it was very gratifying that there was a session devoted to entrepreneurship called The Lobster Trap. At this, aspiring entrepreneurs were given the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel that included angel investors - shades of the Dragons' Den. It confirmed that innovation and entrepreneurship are still alive in East Coasters, even if they have been transplanted.

Atlantic Canada hasn't turned around its fortunes. East Coast Connected (ECC) is only three-years into its existence. Also, regions seem to have an insatiable appetite for brain drain plugs, no matter that they fail every time. The model detailed above has worked at the international scale and could be a pillar for policies aimed at dealing with the demographic problem of an aging, shrinking workforce.

Instead, we continue to throw a lot of money at talent retention. It's a bad habit, but politically expedient. US Senator Sherrod Brown is going to the brain drain well again to sell his latest idea for revitalizing Ohio:

“Older industrial cities that served as the backbone of our nation’s manufacturing economy are poised for new economic development and growth,” Brown said in a news release coupled with the teleconference. “Whether it’s brownfield redevelopment or investments in public transportation that spur transit-oriented economic development, the innovative programs in this legislation are vital for Ohio.

“The Livable Communities Act of 2010 will help make our communities places where people want to live and work — places that can attract and retain our home-grown young people,” he said. ...

... The bill also is critical in a “brain gain,” Brown said, or keeping Ohio’s brightest graduates and attracting other young workers to move into the Buckeye State as opposed to the “brain drain” scenario of the brightest students opting to move to the coasts.

I don't have a problem with the legislation. But I doubt it will promote brain gain. I've closely followed Brown's thinking on regional talent management. There's no substance to the conversation he's been leading in Ohio. Telling people that you'll keep more natives close to home is popular. It's empty political rhetoric. It's very effective for building support. I'm still waiting for a US politician to get serious about talent migration.

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