Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rust Belt Immigrant Networking

For the foreign born, some Rust Belt cities are off the map. Pittsburgh in particular struggles to attract immigrants:

According to preliminary statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, growth of Hispanic-owned businesses in Pennsylvania followed the national trend of rapid growth among minority-owned businesses between 2002 and 2007. In that time, the state saw the number of Hispanic-owned businesses double.

But Pittsburgh has seen little of that increase.

"This area is a great area, but it takes its time embracing new things and getting things done," Mr. Diaz said. "We have everything here.

"It's amazing how some of these folks, in Jersey in particular and Baltimore, they really don't know about this place."

Increasing immigration to Pittsburgh isn't easy. Policy changes are federal and hotly contested. What can regions do?

To combat regional "brain drain," TiE Ohio is piloting a program for international students to help them connect with the community through internships, jobs and projects. "We are creating "hooks" for them so that eventually they can stay and prosper in northeastern Ohio," she said.

Generating more networking opportunities is a good idea. So is improving tolerance and acceptance among natives. Yet I would critique the focus on retention. The main problem is being off the map. The game is one of attraction:

To London to a British Council workshop on Brazil. The intent is to produce more links between British and Brazilian universities. This event comes hard on the heels of another event with which I was involved: a meeting of the vice-chancellors and rectors of all Latin American universities sponsored by Banco Santander which took place in Guadalajara and to which a number of British vice-chancellors were invited.

The higher education industry is instrumental in bringing immigrant talent to Pittsburgh. But that's not the point I want to make. It's the secondary migration to Eastern Pennsylvanian cities such as Reading. Pittsburgh needs to produce more links with immigrant communities in Baltimore, DC and Philadelphia. Such an initiative would not require reform of current immigration policies. We have to actively promote Pittsburgh in these places.

For the likes of Global Pittsburgh and Global Cleveland, that's the ticket to increasing immigration and worldwide networking opportunities. As a template, I offer the Schenectady Guyanese strategy:

This small city in the Mohawk River valley, where industries built in the early 20th century on the hard labor of immigrants from Italy and Poland crumbled long ago, is in the market for a new ethnic group.

The mayor has found one, and he is doing everything short of packing up their homes in New York City and driving the moving van to get them here.

They are Guyanese immigrants living in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, and since May, Mayor Albert P. Jurczynski has gone to rather unusual lengths to persuade them to move to his struggling city of 62,000 people.

He is their guide on a weekly bus tour that brings dozens of Guyanese immigrants here every Saturday for a three-hour tour of the city. He takes them to Schenectady's own Central Park for ice cream cones. He takes them to his in-laws' house for homemade wine. He promises to build them a cricket stadium one day, to personally review all their r´sum´s, officiate at their weddings and learn to love their spicy soups.

He has given out his cellphone number on a New York radio show that is popular among Guyanese immigrants. He makes regular trips to Richmond Hill, Queens, the city's largest Guyanese neighborhood, where he walks along Liberty Avenue practically demanding that everybody move to Schenectady on the double. He flatters the merchants, buys Guyanese products and dines on braised bass, curried goat and 15-year-old Guyanese rum.

"Let me ask you something," the barrel-chested mayor boomed through a microphone as a bus filled with 43 visiting Guyanese immigrants rolled away from Schenectady City Hall on a Saturday in July. "Bloomberg, down in New York City, would he be doing this? For that reason alone you should move to Schenectady."

His plan is working. From the time last year that Mayor Jurczynski (pronounced jur-ZIN-ski) heard there was a a small Guyanese population in his city, some 2,000 have moved here, according to Schenectady officials, with each weekly bus tour bringing more. They are buying dilapidated or condemned homes — some for as little as $1 — and fixing them up, making plans for restaurants and shops and taking jobs as construction workers and nurses' aides. Most important to the mayor, they are telling their friends and relatives about an obscure and hard-to-pronounce place called Schenectady.

If Mayor Ravenstahl doesn't have the time to drive down to predominately immigrant neighborhoods in DC, then I recommend sending Border Guard Bob. Anything to distract him from spending time (and money) trying to keep the foreign born from leaving Pittsburgh.


Del Birch said...

Erie, just north of Pittsburgh, has had consistent success in growing its immigrant population... Russian,Ukrainian, Serbs, Somalis, Vietnamese...etc. Erie has become a major immigration resettling center thanks to the efforts of the Erie International Institute and Catholic Charities, both of whom are coordinating the influx of immigrants who are settling in inner-city neighborhoods. I live in the historic East Bayfront, Erie's oldest neighborhood, where a growing number of Nepali families have relocated and are enjoying the proximity to downtown, the bayfront and the various activities designed to build a sense of community sponsored by the East Bayfront Neighborhood Watch and Bayfront East Side Taskforce (BEST).

Jim Russell said...

@Del Birch, thanks for updating me and my readers about the growing immigrant community in Erie. I'm an Erie native and the news of international newcomers is exciting.