Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"People Develop, Not Places"

Regions don't own their investments in human capital. There are some serious social justice issues with place-centric economic development. It is as unethical to discourage geographic mobility as it is to deny someone access to education. But that is exactly what places such as Pittsburgh are trying to do.

Finally, I always think that it's odd that employers think that they "own" their investments in human capital. Don't the employees "own" what's in their heads and their hands?

Mike Madison is arguing, quite persuasively, that noncompetes should be made illegal to help spur regional innovation and economic growth. Like regions, firms do not own the talent they develop. If you think of economic development at the individual scale, then the idea of captive talent is repulsive. Mike's point is that it is also a bad business practice with occasionally absurd results.

If we define Nicaraguan development only to occur within a certain geographic space, we arbitrarily limit “development” include to some freedoms and while ruling out others. We define freedoms acquired through movement, no matter how substantial, not to constitute development. And we do this without consulting the people who are supposed to be developing—many of whom, through their choice to move, reveal that they value this freedom. Such a view is ruled out by the definitions of development reviewed above. Grubel and Scott (1966) likewise prefer to define “country” as “an association of individuals whose collective welfare its leaders seek to maximize”—wherever they live.

Both economic and workforce development programs in the United States assume a "certain geographic space". That's a big shortcoming and privileges place over people. A place can't go to school and graduate with a college degree. It only seems that way with all the focus on educational attainment rates. As a result, we ignore avenues that would better develop people. Worse, we discourage geographic mobility with no apparent gains in prosperity.

Geographic mobility strategies should be a part of workforce development because doing so would improve economic development of people, which is what all the fuss should be about in the first place. It is even in the interest of the region to think this way. Keep that in mind the next time you see something about brain drain or the talent dividend in the news.

Talent Migration Geopolitics: H-1B Visa

I think there is enough fodder out there to elevate talent migration geopolitics to a distinct subject that could support a blog dedicated to such issues. While thinking in these terms over the last few days, I've seen more than a few relevant articles. Today from Brookings:

Last year H1-B visas were not snapped up at the breakneck pace of previous years. The new fee structure should both fuel and inform the debate over whether immigrants “crowd out” jobs and reduce the wages of U.S.-born workers in the tech sector. Over the longer term, how will the industry adapt--by paying higher fees to continue to employ the same workers or will they begin hiring citizen workers (who, of course, may be foreign-born naturalized citizens)? Will they move operations out of the United States or not even bother considering starting up operations here? Will this type of protectionism in the name of border security (!) get in the way of US competitiveness and innovation capacity?

The greater expense for H-1B visas is supposed to pay for better US border security. The big picture has the United States turning its back on foreign born talent in order to placate angry voters. That has folks such as Richard Florida concerned about the American recovery, at least in the near term. Talent, companies and jobs will all head elsewhere (e.g. Canada).

US policymakers seem to be banking on the continuing attractiveness of the country. I think they are right and the Floridas are wrong. The tolerance for immigrants ebbs and flows, but they keep coming. The higher education industry will also have a thing or two to say about student visas, which is the primary farm system for H-1B talent. I can see policy liberalization on that front given the concerns about declining enrollments and the increasing importance of colleges and universities in regional economic development.

War For Newfoundland

I'm rather smitten with Atlantic Canada. So, the following may be of interest only to me. Newfoundland is a hot spot for second homes:

In May 2010, I relocated to Upper Amherst Cove (population 30-ish) on the Bonavista Peninsula in an effort to better understand this recent trend that sees people from mainland Canada, America, and Europe snapping up old saltbox homes originally occupied by fishing families. ...

... The problem with summering in a place that is populated year-round is that people use the landscape for different purposes. When possible, locals make their living off the land (and sea) while summer residents see the surroundings as part of the décor -- a sea and cliff landscape perfectly framed in the kitchen window. Distasteful piles, objects or scars on the land are not tolerated.

Discussions on establishing an open-pit copper mine in a nearby community are quickly shut down by summer residents who rally and write letters to the minister voicing their objections. The locals see it as an employment opportunity while the seasonal folks see it as an affront on their utopia.

A second issue is that real estate prices have tripled in the past decade making it impossible for young people to return home and buy property, and this is unequivocally attributed to the summer residency trend. It's also kind of a bummer to live in a small community where half the lights go dark come Labour Day.

Newfoundland is home to the world's most distinctive domestic diaspora. There is a sense of Newfie nationalism that easily exceeds that of Texas. That foreigners are buying up plots in the homeland cannot sit well with locals near and abroad.

What is clear is that Newfoundland is, once again, a frontier of opportunity. That's a big change from forgotten backwater. I'll be tracking how the province does or does not leverage the mental map redrawing. Meanwhile the folklorists are scrambling to capture the mythic landscape before it is gone.

Blog Release: TiE Ohio Awards Gala

From Richard Herman:

Dear Friends,

There are hundreds of fascinating, inspiring, and UNTOLD stories of today's immigrants in Ohio creating cool companies that might just change the world ---- or at least transform a small corner of it in a sleepy Ohio neighborhood.

TiE Ohio would like to invite you to an informal gathering to share ideas on how to uncover these stories and find new ways to share them with our immigrant and American mainstream audiences.

Please consider being our guests for Happy Hour and a light Ethiopian meal:

5:00 pm to 6;30 pm
September 2nd, Thursday
Empress Taytu
6125 St. Clair Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44103

* * * * * * * *

Most of you are familiar with TiE Ohio (The International Entrepreneur), a non-profit business association dedicated to mentoring, connecting, and educating immigrant and internationally-minded entrepreneurs in Ohio. www.tieohio.org

We think this is a great opportunity to meet and discuss this important topic because we have an upcoming event that will showcase several successful immigrant and international entrepreneurs in Ohio. On September, 21st, TiE Ohio will present its "First Annual International Entrepreneur Awards Gala." at Windows on the River.

In addition to learning about Northeast Ohio innovative entreprerneurs from around the globe, and a keynote by local entrepreneur hero Monte Ahuja, we will also be treated on 9/21 with a visit from the "guru of Silicon Valley," Kanwal Rekhki, one of the original founders of TiE, a serial entrepreneur, and wildly successful venture capitalist.
I hope you can join us for our brainstorming discussion this Thursday, 9/2, 5:00 pm at Empress Taytu. If you plan on attending this happy hour/meal, please rsvp to me no later than Tuesday, 8/31.

Thanks, and I look forward to see you on Thursday after work!

TechBelt Talent Geography

Many regions can tell a similar startup story. Rapidly growing company attracts outside investment and then relocates to be closer to the venture capital. I'm seeing signs that this game is changing. Home is where the talent is:

A private equity firm based in Florida says that its acquisition of Turning Technologies LLC demonstrates the company has impressive growth potential and that its location downtown is an advantage, not a detriment, to more growth.

"It's not the most obvious place to find a technology company," said Lawrence Shagrin, partner in Brockway Moran & Partners Inc., Boca Raton, Fla. "But, as we looked at Turning, we saw that there are a number of people in northeast Ohio and the Pittsburgh area that don't have the opportunity to work for a growing technology company. The fact that Turning is there is a big advantage."

If you don't know, Turning Technologies is located in downtown Youngstown. I emphasized the talent geography that the company can tap. Access to skilled labor, not favorable business climate, is morphing the economic development landscape:

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes. Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. … There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor “quality of life.” A better term might be poor “quality of place.” In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space.

I disagree with Lou Glazer about the draw of urban amenities. Detroit has much bigger problems than that. But the point about the importance of available talent is on the mark. The emerging economic geography can fuel Youngstown's revitalization. The city is strategically located between two major labor markets. The TechBelt is loaded with brains.

The second part of the Turning story is the inexpensive cost of running a tech company in downtown Youngstown. Geographic arbitrage is more attractive than ever:

Get ready for one of the largest corporate migrations in history.

It will happen of necessity as managements try to find ways to do things for employees without increasing payroll costs. The move will be from the expensive coasts to less expensive areas.

This is not a new idea. It has been going on for decades. But the driving force is stronger today, because corporations have less pricing power. If they could find a way to make it work, they would offer a move with a pay cut that still increased the workers' standard of living.

Scarce talent would push firms to cram into regions of escalating costs. What if you could staff your business in a place for 1/10th the price you are currently paying? The point of the above article is that one could give current employees raises without increasing salary. Just move operations to Youngstown. The dynamic is the same. It makes dollars and sense for Turning to stay put.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Brain Drain Report: Wisconsin

Wisconsin is broken. The state is in a horrible fix. How do I know? Too many people want to leave:

A majority of Wisconsinites believe the state's best and brightest are leaving Wisconsin to work elsewhere, according to polling results released Sunday that reflected a level of pessimism on several levels.

Milwaukeeans in the polling had a more negative outlook than the rest of the state: 68% of Milwaukeeans said the best and brightest leave Wisconsin to work, while 62% of Wisconsin residents agreed with the statement.

The same percentage of Milwaukeeans and statewide residents - 58% - said Wisconsin is on the wrong track.

"We clearly have a high quality of life overall, but it's opportunity, opportunity, opportunity," said Ken Goldstein, the University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor who directed the polling of more than 3,300 Wisconsin adults this summer.

The polling is part of a multifaceted study of long-term economic, education and quality-of-life trends called Refocus Wisconsin. It was commissioned by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that touted the effort as "the most comprehensive ever" of Wisconsinites' attitudes and concerns.

I've read this before, hundreds of times. Bad policy pushes out good people. The usual refrain is that taxes are too high. In a new twist on an old theme, Refocus Wisconsin spins the following yarn:

The state has indeed changed enormously in the last quarter-century. Old assumptions have been upended, and troubling new questions have been raised. Although Wisconsin’s changing ethnic profile presents definite opportunities, the major trends have been experienced by most residents as a movement downward—in their quality of life, in their satisfaction with government, and in their prospects for the future. But the gathering crisis has so far been met with a collective shrug. It is the purpose of this report to call Wisconsinites to awareness and then to action, because it is only through informed awareness and concerted action that our state can reclaim its place in the nation’s vanguard. It is only through knowledge and hard work that we can, after so many years of attrition, make our next quarter-century a time of change for the better.

It's a nostalgic piece full of populist rhetoric. Wisconsin has lost its way, which is why so many folks want to move someplace else. Government is largely to blame for the fall from grace. But it isn't the only scapegoat:

As metropolitan Milwaukee assumes a broader ethnic identity, the rest of the state has begun to look more like Milwaukee. In Jefferson, the self-proclaimed “City of Gemuetlichkeit,” where the cemeteries have their share of Moldenhauers and Haubenschilds, at least 7 percent of the population—and more than 12 percent of public school enrollment—is Hispanic. The biggest restaurant on Main Street is El Chaparral, “House of Authentic Mexican Food.” In Portage County, generations of Polish farmers brought their produce to market on the public square in downtown Stevens Point. The farmer’s market is still going strong, but today’s vendors are more likely to be Hmong than Polish. Even Madison, a city whose diversity was once supplied by international students on the University of Wisconsin campus, has developed a demographic profile that older residents might find surprising: 6.4 percent African-American, 6.2 percent Asian, and 5.9 percent Latino in 2005. Some of the larger trends of the last quarter-century have begun to intersect. As Wisconsin’s dairy herds increase in size, there has been a corresponding increase in the immigrant labor force. Latinos make up nearly 60 percent of the dairy workers on farms with over 300 cows—a total of more than 5,000 people.

The numbers for the state as a whole are revealing. Between 1980 and 2008, African-Americans grew from 3.9 percent of Wisconsin’s population to 6.1 percent, Asians from 0.4 to 2 percent, Native Americans from 0.6 to 1 percent, and Hispanics from 1.3 to 5.1 percent. These traditionally defined minorities accounted for 14.2 percent of the state’s population in 2008—a sharp increase from 6.2 percent in 1980. You can still celebrate Syttende Mai with the Norwegians in Stoughton, observe Cesky Den with the Czechs in Hillsboro, and enjoy Oktoberfest with the Germans in Milwaukee and elsewhere, but other players have taken their place at the table.

The implications for the state—social, political, and economic—are still emerging. At the very least, the presence of so many different cultures is forcing other residents to recalibrate their ideas of what it means to be a Wisconsinite. The Badger State was once a polyglot’s paradise, but the languages its citizens spoke were practically all European. Today’s context is global, and the state’s population, no less than its economy, reflects forces that are international in scope. How well the natives and newcomers are adjusting to each other remains open to question. There have been relatively few incidents of open conflict between the older groups and their more recently arrived neighbors, but there has also been relatively limited interaction and even less assimilation.

I see thinly veiled xenophobia. More pertinent to my blog is Wisconsin's ability to attract so many newcomers, particularly the foreign born. This is an indicator of economic vitality, success. Wisconsin is a demographic winner.

Wisconsin does need to refocus from obsessing outmigration to tracking inmigration. How is such a dysfunctional state able to attract anyone? The answer is that things aren't as bad the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute would have you believe. To make a point they trot out the red herring of brain drain, a policy boondoggle if there ever was one.

To be sure, the population changes are a challenge. Government reform is always a good conversation to have. There is no need to stir up outmigration hysteria. Unless, a more thorough review of the numbers doesn't serve your agenda.

More Geopolitics Of Talent Migration

I have encountered a lot of concern about US brain drain and the sorry state of our immigration policy. Not to dismiss these critiques, but the picture isn't all that rosy anywhere else. The news from China:

As China’s economy steams toward superpower status, the country has rolled out splashy programs to lure elites back from overseas. One problem: many don’t seem to want to return. In 2009 Beijing launched the Thousand Talents program, dangling generous perks for top-level researchers and entrepreneurs willing to go back home. It reeled in some big names, including Princeton biologist Yigong Shi and Northwestern professor Yi Rao. But more than a year and a half on, the numbers have stalled at about 600. Meanwhile, the number of wealthy Chinese essentially buying their way into the U.S. and Canada via “immigrant investor” visas surged to record highs last year.

The wars over natural resources gave way to financial conquest. Today's Great Game is about talent. The United States is still at the top of the global heap, which is where China aims to be.

Getting expats to return is difficult to do. But at least China is trying to figure out how to build a better talent trap. Does the United States have a game plan? How about your region?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Great Recession Geography: Relatively Texas

The new Rust Belt contrasted with good times in Texas:

In less than 20 years, Texas’ financial foundation has diversified around the gas-and-oil-driven anchor that crashed in the 1980s and now stands as the 12th largest economy in the world, Combs said, noting the Lone Star state offers a much higher degree of diversity than either Mexico or Canada.

On the employment front, she said, Texas’ unemployment rate has either matched or been lower than the nation’s jobless rate for the past 43 months. It’s now about 8.2 percent, compared to 9.5 nationally.

And then there’s the foreclosure rate, which stands at 1 in 819 mortgages statewide, compared with 1 in 82 in Nevada, 1 in 167 in Arizona, 1 in 171 in Florida and 1 in 200 in California.

“They’re having a very miserable time in those states,” she said.

If you are a Rust Belt refugee now living in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida; then best get out while the getting is good.

Shrinking Cities Diaspora: Las Vegas

Today's Rust Belt still includes Michigan, but also Nevada, Florida, and California. Nevada and Florida are most interesting because both states were recently domestic migration winners. Now Las Vegas is shrinking:

Brian Gordon, a principal in research and consulting firm Applied Analysis, said the Las Vegas Valley's population edged down about 1 percent in the last year, after two decades of nation-leading population growth that often exceeded 5 percent annually.

It's natural that locals would want to leave amid 14.8 percent unemployment, Gordon said. After all, job opportunities prove the primary motivation for most relocations to Southern Nevada. With career prospects dwindling, some locals see no reason to hang around.

"There's always the concept that the grass is greener," Gordon said.

Note the obsession with outmigration. That's not the problem for Las Vegas. Who would want to move to a city with almost 15 percent unemployment? All the rationalizing I'm reading seems oblivious to attraction dynamics and how such flows are slow to change once established.

Native Nevadan Hilary Crowley wanted out.

The Las Vegas fundraiser and lobbyist wanted a change of scenery, and the state's struggling economy made for a depressing career backdrop. So Crowley moved four months ago to Salt Lake City, where she now is director of development for the Waterford Research Institute.

"I was ready for a bit of a change. I'm happy to be away. I feel like I'm in this little safe haven," Crowley said. "Un­employment (in Utah) is just over 7 percent, or half of what it is in Nevada, and Utah is building and hiring. It's shocking and refreshing to see construction again."

For geographically fickle hipsters, Las Vegas is so yesterday. The Great Recession pulled back the shiny green curtain on Nevada's tremendous economic growth. The long (very long) and hard road to recovery can only begin when the city and state learn the rules of attraction.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Globalization's Children

Pittsburgh will win the competition for Google Fiber. That buzz is making the rounds again. Reading the entire post, I suspect I might have had a role in fanning the rumor flames:

During the months of June and July I began a quest to gain perspective on what has been happening in business & technology today. During that time I had conversations with over one hundred senior executives, managers, engineers, designers and developers spanning the industries of the Internet, mobile, marketing, advertising, entertainment, recruiting, e-commerce, education, energy, finance, IT, nonprofit, public relations, software, venture capital and health care.

What resulted was a document that became The Wisdom Of Observant Friends (or The Woof Factor) and what follows here and in future posts are a few of its highlights. ...

... On-Shoring: Youngstown, Ohio, in the middle of the Rust Belt, is transforming itself into a technology hub, turning old factories into technology centers. Because the location of a software company isn’t relevant. With its lower cost of living and burgeoning cultural and social life, Youngstown’s transformation is part of a movement referred to as ‘Rust Belt Chic.’

Upon further review, the blogger may be listening to what Jim Cossler is evangelizing. The story from Inc. magazine has made a significant footprint on the entrepreneurial community. What the term "Rust Belt Chic" means in those circles:

The ruined steel mills hold a certain rust belt chic, and when I was there, I met artists and writers who had come back to the city, enchanted by the pathos and romance of the place. There is a splendid new café on West Federal Street -- the Lemon Grove, where the walls are hung with paintings from local artists and the floors are made of planks salvaged from an old barn. There is an old-school museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, that boasts Edward Hoppers and Georgia O'Keeffes in its permanent collection, and there is also a gay advocacy group, Pride Youngstown. Youngstown State University, which sits on a hill above the downtown area, is a big and important presence. But Youngstown is -- let's face it -- not the sort of place where U2 is going to kick off its next tour. It is a small town, more homey than cosmopolitan, and it is trying to fight its way back from a haunted past.

I emphasized the last two words with writer Christopher Barzak in mind:

Originally he planned to read from [The Love We Share Without Knowing] for his Thurber House appearance. But as Barzak explained on the phone, Literary Picnickers may get a preview of a novel in progress, Wonders of the Invisible World, in which the author applies his unique storytelling approach to the erasure of history within Rust Belt communities.

The urban frontier of Youngstown isn't just a blank canvass. There is still the specter of what came before. The opaque history can be both liberating and crippling. Rust Belt traditions such as the cookie table grip the second generation of economic refugees with nostalgia that chains one to her or his cultural hearth. Twentysomethings dancing to polka is much more than ironic. It's a purgatory that sparks creativity and innovation. I find it inspiring, greatly motivating. It's why I feel I must blog.

Jhumpa Lahiri's novel "The Namesake" is Rust Belt Chic. The plight of a second generation Indian transnational is easy for a second generation Rust Belt refugee to understand. The diaspora economy is also similar:

Migration is no charity, and no employer should feel that they are doing a favour by employing foreign workers. "It is a win-win situation because migration benefits all parties, the migrant, the origin country and the destination country," said senior economist and manager of the Migration Unit in the World Bank, Dilip Ratha, at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), on Tuesday.

India is familiar with sending its best talent abroad. The brain drain has done more to help the country than hurt it. However, the community of expatriates and their offspring (globalization's children) are their own nation. These New Argonauts are the architects of the economy developing in the wake of the Great Recession. We understand the destructive power of globalization as well as the possibilities.

Geopolitics Of Talent Migration

Relatively low commodity prices have, for the time being, cooled the rhetoric about talent shortages in the energy industry. Drilling and mining boomtowns are cycling through a period of slow growth. In Calgary, construction and real estate are struggling:

"Will the fall be any better; I don't think so," says Cal Wenzel, president and founder of Shane Homes.

In addition to feeling the impact of an overloaded resale housing sector, builders are also battling a reluctance by consumers to sign on the dotted line of the sales contract.

Wenzel adds that in-migration is a big problem for the industry.

"We need some people to move here. Oh sure, the latest migration numbers are up, but not enough to make any kind of dent in things," he says. ...

... The strength of the housing market, like almost everything else in this city, relies on the energy sector -- and right now things aren't all that great. Oil dipped below $75 recently and natural gas is still sputtering around $4.

Here, though, Wenzel offers some optimism since premier Ed Stelmach and his cronies have backtracked on the oil royalties issue.

That has brought some stability to the industry along renewed hopes exploration will increase, thereby expanding the need for more workers.

I'm skeptical of the stated benefits stemming from more favorable policy. However, the story in Calgary does translate to Pennsylvania. A rise in natural gas prices will increase the demand for labor in Canada and the United States. Wouldn't that be a better time to negotiate royalties and other benefits for the state? Regardless, at some point the labor market will tighten whether it be price hikes for oil or gas or both.

Excessive further border controls could hit the UK’s ability to recruit much needed nuclear engineers, according to Ged Mason, chief executive at technical and engineering recruiter Morson Group. ...

... Mason told Recruiter that certain high-end engineering skills shortages underlined the importance of recruiting talent from overseas.

“The engineering sector should look to train talent but there is a currently a renaissance in demand for nuclear engineers. If we hinder nuclear firms ability to bring in key engineers, this may affect deliverability and programmes. Britain last built a nuclear power station in the late 1980s. Some of the skilled engineers have retired or exited the sector.

“There are certain specialist skills where you would have to look abroad for. The US and France have been building stations and have the expertise. If these engineers are not brought in nuclear construction programmes be could delayed and deadlines not met.”

I take the analysis coming from recruiting services with a grain of salt. Such businesses are for liberalizing immigration policy because it serves their interests (i.e. bottom line). However, there is a shortage of highly skilled workers and appears to be a growing international competition for their services. I get the sense that the talent market for the energy industry is one of the most globalized. Emerging is a geopolitics of talent migration, something I don't recall reading about in graduate school. (I studied at one of the few geography programs in the States that boasts a geopolitical expert in residence) If you are or know a scholar with such a specialty, please contact me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rust Belt Atlanta

The Great Recession informed a global transformation. The country grappling with the biggest changes is the United States. Yet the economic geography is supposed to look like it did for the last two decades, with the gap between the winners and losers growing wider. A few brave souls are hazarding a guess that cuts across the grain. Chief among the new losers is Atlanta:

OUR paradigm for a dying city is Detroit. People built cars there. They also designed cars, made parts for cars, advertised cars and collected scrap left over from the manufacture of cars. That is largely gone, and the city is a shadow of what it was. You could say the same thing about almost any manufacturing-based, rust-belt city: Flint, Buffalo, Erie, Youngstown, Cleveland. I wonder whether this recession may not do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to some of the service-based cities whose population boomed in the past 20 or 30 years (nb: when I say "I wonder" here I don't mean it as a pointless puff on my pondering pipe; I mean I actually do wonder, and this is more an unformed thought than a prediction). Like, for instance, my fair city of Atlanta. ...

... All of which makes me wonder whether Atlanta is simply approaching a point beyond which it cannot efficiently grow. And it makes me wonder, too, at what point we will be able to say the same thing about, say, Phoenix, Charlotte, Las Vegas and other late-century boomtowns.

The golden era of the listed dying cities was the early 20th century. The decline was noticeable in the wake of World War II. But the Rust Belt wasn't the Rust Belt until the 70s and 80s. The Great Recession for many manufacturing regions was the double whammy of the early 1980s, which spawned (salmon, of course) the Burgh Diaspora.

Consumption and real estate, along with the means to mitigate the climatic challenges, underwrote rise of the Sun Belt. I like to think of it as a migration economy. Stop the flow of people and the house of credit cards collapses. Geography is back with a vengeance. Time to embrace your inner Rust Belt refugee.

More Energy Innovation Hubs Geography

I'm disappointed in the poor coverage of the US Department of Energy's energy innovation hub initiative. However, I'm not the only one who thinks such developments are both interesting and important. Brookings chimes in with some good analysis of the hub located in Philadelphia:

And yet what is especially compelling about the winning Philly project is the extent to which it places a gritty, physical urban place at the center of its plan. To be sure, the scientific program went through a rigorous review process with experts from the federal government, industry, and academia that vetted the scientific and technical merit of the project and the qualifications of the management team and personnel, which includes scientists from Princeton, Rutgers, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and other institutions. But while the translational science was clearly impeccable, it is equally clear that the Philly Naval Yard’s extremely real and physical urban presence loomed large in the region’s win.

This is the new geography of innovation, leveraging the redevelopment assets of Rust Belt cities. As a student of all things Pittsburgh, the advantages are obvious to me. Brain power is packed into a small urban core where brownfields are transformed into world class centers of research and development. If the legal geography could catch up, then the environment would be ripe for a creative explosion.

I understand this approach to urban economic development as a shift away from the amenities-driven model that has held sway for many years. In fact, the cultivation of amenities to attract talent is a relic of the industrial era. Ironically, the muse of the creative class is much more Robert Moses than Jane Jacobs. The livable city (rich with entertainment and recreational choices) is not necessarily the innovative city. The geography and density of where brains work is much more important than where they reside. Pittsburgh is the shining example in support of this assertion.

As Brookings suggests, the "winning Philly project" is a win for Rust Belt cities. America's urban frontier will be the locus of the next iteration of the national economy. That is, if we embrace the economic geography of innovation.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

US Energy Innovation Hubs

To little fanfare, as far as I can tell, the Department of Energy announced its third (and last) innovation hub. The TechBelt made a play for the funding, but came up short. The winner? Here:

The center will form researchers from 11 universities, two Department of Energy laboratories and five industry partners, including Bayer and I.B.M.

Regional economic development agencies and community colleges will also be in the research effort’s scope. Together, they will make up the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster.

“Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy used in the United States. Finding ways to improve energy efficiency in buildings is the next big frontier in energy research and development,” said Graham Spanier, the school’s president.

“This award places Penn State and our partners at the forefront of this national effort,” Mr. Spanier continued.

Carnegie Mellon University, Morgan State University, Princeton University, Purdue University and Rutgers University are involved in the green buildings effort. Turner Construction and United Technologies Corporation will also take part as private sector partners.

The news wasn't all bad for Pittsburgh. CMU has a hand in the green buildings technologies initiative. Also, Westinghouse is a major player in the nuclear power hub. Overall, Pennsylvania did very well in these sweepstakes. Kudos to all those people who had a hand in making it happen.

Burgh Energy Report: Employment Geography

I've spent the last week or so trying to get a better handle on the talent geography for the natural gas industry. I've been tracking a few LinkedIn group that advertising job opportunities in the energy industry. Today, I saw an opening at Williams for a position near Pittsburgh.

The company has a map of where it is hiring. There is a lot of activity in Pennsylvania relative to other states. Something else that caught my eye is the list of colleges campuses where Williams actively recruits:

  • Colorado School of Mines
  • University of Houston
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
  • Oklahoma State University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Tulsa
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wyoming

To me this suggests a, for lack of a better term, talent pipeline to Southwestern PA. In coming years, will Williams have job fairs at Penn State? Perhaps, but most of the highly skilled employees in this industry will continue to be trained out West and should help bolster the numbers of college degrees moving to Pittsburgh.

Lastly, Williams also makes available its asset map. I find it useful for helping me to better understand the talent flows for the Marcellus Play. Check it out before reading the latest from Pittsburgh Quarterly about the future of shale gas in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Geographic Mobility And Innovation

The talent churn within a region is just as important, if not more so, as the flows between regions. A provocative post from Mike Madison reminded me of the connection:

Here's my plug for a change to PA law that would positively impact the local economy: Abolish the enforceability of employee noncompetition agreements. Adopt a rule that essentially mirrors the law in California -- where noncompetes are unenforceable, except in a small number of exceptional cases -- and abolish the current PA rule, which makes noncompetes enforceable so long as they are "reasonable" in duration, geographic scope, and (job) market scope.

Folks familiar with the literature will recall Annalee Saxenian's work comparing the California high tech economy with its counterpart in Massachusetts, along with other, related work by Ron Gilson that associates historical differences in growth rates in the two states with their different approaches to noncompetition agreements. Massachusetts, like PA, has enforced them.

Mike is referencing Saxenian's book "Regional Advantage". She is also the author of "The New Argonauts". The liberal movement of talent between firms is scaled up to the migration between nation-states. The knowledge exchange acts as a catalyst for innovation and economic development, in both countries. A recent example concerns China and Canada:

When the [internationally educated professionals (IEPs)] return to their countries of origin, there is often an assumption that this reverse-migration amounts to "brain drain," a phenomenon that is historically associated with poor and developing countries. While some authors have observed certain benefits of the trend to transnational migration, such as bilateral trade and investment, most researchers believe that this reverse-migration has defeated the objective of using IEPs to enhance Canada's knowledge economy and innovation performance.

However, at Ryerson's International Research Institute, our extensive research and fieldwork with the Chinese community in Canada suggests that the transnational entrepreneurial activities carried out by the IEPs may benefit Canada as well as China, and thus this transnational flow offers opportunities for a healthy circulation of knowledge between both countries

First, the Chinese transnational entrepreneurs (TE) are highly skilled and educated, professionally established and likely to have educational credentials and work experience in both China and Canada--indeed, in some cases, individuals have a multinational resume of education and work experiences beyond the two countries. Rather than clearly repatriating to China, an increasing number of these professionals have adopted a transnational lifestyle with Canada as their home base. A key difference between the transnational and the returnee segments of the immigrant community is that the transnational entrepreneurs are more likely to maintain a strong desire to engage Canada in their cross-border entrepreneurial endeavours in addition to choosing Canada as their home base.

Second, given the TEs' skills and educational backgrounds, their business tends to entail knowledge flows and technological innovations. Depending on factors such as the types of the industry and nature of the innovation, a TE may choose to engage China in a variety of ways. In other words, TEs have followed different mechanisms to link Canada and China in crossborder innovation activities. Evidence shows that Canada can reap broad benefits from such cross-border activities by: ...

Scaling things back down to Mike's suggestion, I applied the brain circulation model to the Google Diaspora. Google benefits from top talent leaving to work for other competing companies. Jealously guarding your best employees can stifle growth.

Daily, I read about applications of this framework. Today, Manpower is claiming the recent xenophobic mood swing is threatening the recovery:

The global staffing and employment services company says employers, governments and trade groups need to collaborate on strategic migration policies that can alleviate worker shortages. Skilled work is usually specific to a given location: the work cannot move, so the workers have to.

"Countries should be developing policies which facilitate positive migration to fuel economic growth through providing skilled workers where they are needed, rather than creating barriers to immigration," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said in a statement.

The shortage of skilled workers is the No. 1 or No. 2 hiring challenge in six of the 10 biggest economies, Manpower found in a recent survey of 35,000 employers. Skilled trades were the top area of shortage in 10 of 17 European countries, according to the survey.

With unemployment so high (and likely structural in nature), liberalizing immigration policy does not appear to be forthcoming. The opposite is happening and the labor market will get tighter. I'll write it again. Discouraging geographic mobility is a detriment to economic development.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

When Jobs Leave The Sun Belt, Where Do They Go?

Gwinnett County is open for business, so touts the regional boosters:

The county has tallied more than 9,200 new jobs from 112 business relocations and expansions since 2007, according to a report released Tuesday by the economic development agency Partnership Gwinnett. Among the county's successes: persuading NCR to move its corporate headquarters from Ohio to Duluth, a move expected to create 3,000 jobs within five years.

I don't expect the local economic development agency to advertise the county's losses. Also, I wouldn't advertise the wins at the expense of the county next door. The story I want to read concerns the pattern of business relocation and the migration flow of jobs. The absolute numbers mean little to me. Any journalists out there care to dig deeper?

Geography Of Failure

Rust Belt means economic failure. In reclaiming the term for the region, I've focused on the positive attributes. But I never quite make the leap that this blogger does:

The steel collapse decimated Pittsburgh and its region, taking with it nearly 1 out of every 10 jobs there. Entire towns surrounding the city became obsolete. But it is because of that failure, that absolute bottoming-out, that Pittsburgh has been able to cast aside its past and emerge as a unique showcase of what a small, bustling, connected American city can eventually become. The example of Pittsburgh is to fail on the failures and invest in the attributes- granted, of which the 'Burgh had many, in its beautiful architecture, old establishment money, intact communities and ethnic organizations, and cultural trusts and universities- that a place already has. It is a tale not so much for cities facing similar problems to the Pittsburgh of 30 years past, as it is for the country as a whole in this stage of national transmogrification.

Like Pittsburgh did, the country needs to realize that failure is an option. Failure can be a catalyst for movement and for action. Failure can be a paradoxical assertion of American greatness. It is time for great structural changes that reinvest in our national attributes- granted, of which America has many, in its beautiful architecture, old establishment money, intact communities and ethnic organizations, and cultural trusts and universities- rather than band-aiding failed foreclosure prevention policies.

I look at the exodus of young adults during the early 1980s as a success, not a failure. The regional economy diversified. A better educated populous was able to find opportunity wherever it may be. I suppose one could claim that manufacturing was allowed to fail. That's not what happened.

The above aired, I can appreciate how the urban frontier is a geography of failure. The city is so broken that it can be reborn. Pittsburgh was never that devastated, not even close. The image of rapid transformation since the "steel collapse" is a myth. It's the perception of place that has shifted.

If you want to see failure in Southwestern Pennsylvania, tour the Mon Valley. This landscape is nothing to celebrate. It is not a model of revitalization and economic development. The ashes from whence a Phoenix could rise is found here.

True Blood Pittsburgh

Tracking Pittsburgh's image makeover has helped me to appreciate all the different ways a regional brand can be recast. If you are a fan of the HBO series "True Blood", then you know actor Joe Manganiello. Turns out he is from Pittsburgh:

TBN: We don’t want to keep you too long so we’ll just jump right into the interview. You grew up in the Rust Belt?
Joe: Well I grew up in Pittsburgh.

TBN: Can you tell us a little of what it was like to grow up there?
Joe: It was beautiful and green. I think most people have an idea of Pittsburgh that’s very antiquated and smoke stacks spewing. You need to take an extra dress shirt to lunch because you’ll be covered in soot kind of city but it really wasn’t like that. I was born there when the Steelers and the Pirates were both winning repeated championships and so I grew up in this really fun town that was beautiful. It’s green, full of mountains, beautiful rivers; I went to a great school. It had a TV studio built into it in high school. When I went to high school it was unheard of, it was before the days of computer editing so I had a lot of my. I was exposed to a lot of things eclectically that shaped my future and I wound up staying there for college, Carnegie Melon and it’s a great city for the arts. Andy Warhol went to Carnegie Melon, he was born in Pittsburgh. The great amazing museums and art theatre, so, I grew up exposed to all of that and I think it really shaped me.

The big change I see is that the audience is now more likely to believe Manganiello. His description of home has a greater impact than it would have before the Pittsburgh Summit. That the city is not what you would expect is now cliché.

I've noticed that Pittsburgh expatriates tend to be excellent ambassadors for their hometown. Their culture and background are not something to hide:

The new attention has its perks: Mr. Manganiello said the Steelers have invited him to attend a game this season, and he may have a role in November's Celebrate the Season Parade. His parents, Susan and Charlie, still live in the area and plan to make sure friends and neighbors are aware of their son's latest career achievement.

"My dad said as soon as a few episodes [of 'True Blood'] start airing, he's going down to Primanti's in the Strip District and pitch me getting up on the wall there," Mr. Manganiello said. "That would be right on par with getting an Oscar, I think, getting my face painted on the wall at Primanti Bros."

This spring he filmed a pilot for a CBS sitcom set in Pittsburgh, "Livin' on a Prayer," but the network chose not to make it a series.

"I played a sports dad," he said. "He's got a 5-month-old infant he carries around like a football. I was never without a Pitt shirt or a Penguins jersey or a Steelers T-shirt."

He even auditioned with a Pittsburghese accent.

"The show creators loved it, and the network wanted me to tone it down. They were worried the audience wouldn't understand me," Mr. Manganiello said. "I talked to the show creators about this idea of speaking Pittsburghese and having subtitles at the bottom. I toned it down a little bit, but if there was a 'dahn there' in the script, I'd throw it in whenever I could."

Pittsburgh guerrilla marketing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rebranding Pittsburgh Manufacturing

I'm still thinking a lot about where manufacturing is heading not only in Southwestern PA, but all of the United States. I have been planning another long post on the subject. I fear that I would only rehash much of what I've already written. Instead, I recommend reading Audrey Russo's (President and CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council) vision for manufacturing in the region. Audrey manages to come across as a booster without resorting to hype. More importantly, she broadens our view of manufacturing.

A good example of such expansive thinking turned up last week in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"The next generation of the workforce coming in, they learn differently. So how do we transfer all this on-the-job knowledge from 30-year veterans?" said Trybus, founder and CEO of Etcetera Edutainment in the Strip District. "It turns out that the systems of good game design parallel very nicely with how people learn."

Etcetera Edutainment and a half-dozen other video game companies in the Pittsburgh region are small, but growing, entrepreneurs say. Many local companies are carving out a niche by applying video game technology to education or job training instead of simply entertainment. ...

... Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and San Francisco are primary cities for the video game industry, but Pittsburgh may be gaining status as an industry hub, said Chris Klug, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.

"Pittsburgh is almost at the point where it's going to be viewed as a secondary city where video game development is being done," Klug said.

As manufacturing becomes more sophisticated and efficient, skill transfer is more difficult. Pittsburgh is leading the way for workforce development in this sector, a nice marriage of past and present. This why I don't think manufacturers are about to pick up and leave the region because of the business climate. There are spillovers that you won't find anywhere else.

If the United States wants to be more export competitive, then I'll bet Pittsburgh will play a major role in realizing that goal. That means more than assembly line jobs. There is a need to make industry more cost effective, which is a demand for talent and technology.

Simply tracking those employed in manufacturing is misleading. Concerning production and market share, how are those numbers changing over time? What other opportunities and synergies are emerging? The view from the PTC:

Opportunities abound in the manufacturing sector, but not in the same way we have viewed them over the years. We are entering a new era of employment in manufacturing. Problem solving, teamwork and applied learning – the same core traits that are required in other areas of the workforce – are essential to the future of manufacturing. People still want to make things. However, to do this successfully, rapid prototyping based on innovative design principles are integral. As we enter this new era of manufacturing, we must build the capacity to leverage regional assets, such as the Marcellus Shale formation. Energy technology solutions designed to capitalize on this formation will depend heavily upon a rejuvenated manufacturing base powered by technology and highly skilled labor.

Cheap power, talent and innovation all describe Pittsburgh's competitive edge in manufacturing. One can be a part of making things without actually making things. That's where I see the most job growth in the near term.

The Trouble With Madison

No secret, Richard Florida is bullish on college towns. Such places have weathered the recession well and are poised to accelerate into the future. At the center of these economic development success stories are the universities, the engines of regional job growth. Except, it doesn't quite work out that way. Via propositions press (a post worth reading), the struggles in Madison (Wisconsin):

"I think (Cooley) has fallen into the same trap that most economic development professionals do of chasing the ‘big one' — that a big development or company location will solve our problems," says east-side Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway. "Bringing in new companies is important, yes. But Madison shouldn't join the race to the bottom to attract them."

Cooley invites the criticism, however, and sees his role as getting the city serious about growing its private-sector economy. He says that is crucial if Madison hopes to keep offering the quality of life that has earned it top marks from a variety of sources as a great place to live, work and raise a family.

"I was lunching the other day with (UW System President) Kevin Reilly, and I told him we need to come up with 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs each year for the 40,000 grads he keeps turning out," says Cooley. "Otherwise, it's a crappy return on our investment if you don't have any way to support these kids and get them to stay here."

Madison has a jobs creation problem, which some blame on the paucity of local venture capital. I find most college towns (particularly those that double as state capitals) as under-performers. The referenced article makes that exact point:

But while the UW continues to churn out the Ph.Ds, that scenario hasn't translated into thousands of new high-paying jobs. Even the much-touted biotech revolution has arguably fallen short on the job-creation front, with critics calling it a fad that could fade if investment dollars slow and marketable products fail to materialize.

"The attitude in Madison has been that we don't need to really do anything, we're just happy to trade among ourselves," says Tim Cooley, the first economic development director in city history. "But the world isn't that way anymore. We need to create opportunities throughout the strata of our economy. Right now, all we're doing is exporting brains."

While I appreciate that Cooley is demanding that Madison aim higher and try harder, I'm not buying what he is selling. I'm bullish on towns and gowns because they export brains. I do agree that Madison is complacent and lazy (like many migration boomtowns). I disagree that brain drain is a liability. Cooley is old school economic development.

I can't think of any college town that is trying to benefit from the outmigration of talent. Kids will always leave the region even with robust job creation. Tagging them as a lost return on investment is a crappy way to look at geographic mobility.

So Madison will continue down the road most traveled, content to bask in the media glow of place rankings. Life is good enough to discourage innovative thinking. I'm sure in-the-box Madison will continue to do just fine.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Innovator's Dilemma And Workforce Development

More than a few times, I've made the vague assertion that today's workforce development policies are antiquated. The default assumption is that locally produced talent is supposed to stick around and answer local labor demands. Attracting outsiders is only necessary given tremendous job growth (e.g. Post-WWII West Germany). With industry tied to geography, this workforce development paradigm makes perfect sense.

From corporate structures to globalization, the current recession is demanding a lot of rethinking about how the world works. Yesterday's great ideas are today's liabilities. Via Aaron Renn's Twitter feed, "The End of Management":

Even the best-managed companies aren't protected from this destructive clash between whirlwind change and corporate inertia. When I asked members of The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, a group of chief executives who meet each year to deliberate on issues of public interest, to name the most influential business book they had read, many cited Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma." That book documents how market-leading companies have missed game-changing transformations in industry after industry—computers (mainframes to PCs), telephony (landline to mobile), photography (film to digital), stock markets (floor to online)—not because of "bad" management, but because they followed the dictates of "good" management. They listened closely to their customers. They carefully studied market trends. They allocated capital to the innovations that promised the largest returns. And in the process, they missed disruptive innovations that opened up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster products.

The above passage resonates with my views on regional workforce development. Good practices now inform bad results. A better educational system robs your city of its best talent. Individual success comes at the expense of the community. If you will, regional talent management may be at an end.

The article offers a few ideas about how to tackle the needed transformation and I think they apply equally well to workforce development. Open innovation and collaboration are the buzz terms. That would seem to be Ed Morrison's wheelhouse. Chris Briem has mused about public access to data. The Buffalo Expat Network provides an avenue for the diaspora to help craft a vision for the city's economic redevelopment.

Current economic and workforce development efforts are too opaque. In Youngstown, a complete breakdown in communication:

John Russo, co-author of “Steel Town USA” and professor of labor studies at Williamson College of Business Administration at Youngstown State University, said local economic development agencies are not realistic.

“They are trying to put a good face on things. I don’t know what’s going to make Youngstown all that different from other places.”

Lifelong Youngstown resident and former Mayor George McKelvey called the competing economic development organizations “overdone.”

“It’s almost as though to solve our unemployment problem, we had to create a lot of economic development agencies to hire people to work in these agencies, and the only thing they were doing was developing their own jobs,” McKelvey said.

“When it’s all said and done, much more is said than done,” McKelvey said.

I've seen plenty of skepticism about the efficacy of economic development agencies. It's a transparency problem, much akin to what has plagued the World Trade Organization. What's going on behind closed doors? What are the good old boys scheming now? It's a fertile environment for conspiracy theories and public relations disasters.

For some people, leaving a region is the best career track. Such considerations are an anathema to traditional workforce development. The result is the stifling of geographic mobility, which is a horrible idea if you care about economic development. Formerly good practices are now generating bad results. Whose interests are being served? I'm certain the worker doesn't benefit from captive labor markets and depressed wages. I advocate for the needs of talent, not the talent needs of employers. But the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

War For Talent: Sudbury

In my book, Sudbury (Ontario) is an economic development star. Michigan, in particular, should be paying close attention to the nuanced understanding of talent migration that exists in this Canadian city. Via Michigan Future, why Ann Arbor needs to visit Sudbury as soon as possible:

We lose Gen Y to Chicago constantly, but I also wanted to see what people liked about their new digs in other locations. Trisha Khanna grew up in Orchard Lake, had left Michigan to go to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and returned to Michigan in 2007 to work for Google's Ann Arbor office. She enjoyed her three years back in her home state, and then made the leap to Boulder, Colo., six months ago.

I ask Trisha what Boulder offers that Michigan will never have. "Ah, this one is fairly easy", she says, "Mountains, more sunshine, and my boyfriend." Well yes, Michigan has its own geographic charm, but we're not a mountain town, and that's part of our individuality.

We do have lakes, though, and this was highlighted again when I asked Trisha what she misses about Michigan. "The Great Lakes are spectacular! Also, I really appreciated the people in Michigan -- genuine, hardworking, intelligent, caring, and fun. Not to say that those types of people don't exist outside of Michigan, but there was also a lot of state pride. People from Michigan tend to tell you they are from Michigan."

If you haven't guessed already, the author is leading up to a plan that will help Michigan better retain talent. The policy prescription overlooks the obvious. Ms. Khanna is a likely (and ideal) candidate to return to the state, with that boyfriend in tow. Sudbury doesn't overlook the obvious:

Leaving after graduation is common, but so is returning later on, said Josee Ethier, the youth strategy co-ordinator with the Regional Business Centre. ...

... Students are beneficial economically, said Ethier, with spending from Laurentian University and its constituent institutions estimated at $54.8 million in 2006-07.

While many students leave, many also return eventually, she said. "Some youth choose to leave Sudbury simply to explore other cities, while others look to gain independence while pursuing their education or professional opportunities. However, many choose to come back to Sudbury once they are ready to settle down. "We are therefore lucky to live in a city where our youth eventually migrate back, bringing with them an array of expertise and experience," said Ethier.

Truth be told, Ethier's job is to encourage youth to stay put after graduation. The approach is ineffective, but she still sees great value in fostering community engagement among students. The end of the article hammers the point home:

Soon to be fourth-year Laurentian University student Derek Chung sometimes feels like an outsider in Sudbury. He moved here from Markham, Ont., to study aquatic and terrestrial ecology. Laurentian was ideal for his program and "Sudbury seemed like a charming city to spend my time in," he said.

Once he moved into residence, Chung felt disconnected from the larger community. "However, after moving off-campus, you slowly pick up the lifestyle of the locals and become in-tune with the community and its many events," said Chung.

Chung has felt welcomed and appreciated in the community, but not always. He said he feels some residents have mistreated him because of his Chinese heritage.

"Even though Sudbury has become a multicultural city over the years, it is unfortunate to say that racism still exists," said Chung.

He does not entirely blame the city or the institutions for these negative experiences.

Beyond graduation or postgraduate studies, Chung does not see himself in Sudbury. "There isn't exactly anything keeping me in Sudbury so I may leave to pursue endeavors elsewhere in Canada," he said.

He will probably come back to visit, but feels Sudbury is just not his kind of city, said Chung. "There is just something here that does not make me feel like it's home," he said.

That said, Chung said he might return someday.

When a graduate leaves Michigan, that's not the end of talent management. That's the beginning. The majority of students will stay regardless of your investment in retention. You community would be better off focusing efforts on attracting newcomers. Again, from Sudbury:

Twice a year, the dean of Laurentian University’s management program travels to China in an attempt to persuade students and their families that Sudbury is the place for them. For most, Canada ranks below several other countries as their choice of where to study abroad. A small northern Ontario city known for nickel mining isn’t even on the radar.

And yet, with students drawn by everything from smaller class sizes to the prospect of a more “Canadian” experience than they’d get in a multicultural metropolis such as Toronto, Mr. Luk is finding takers. In 2008, his first year at Laurentian after nearly three decades at Toronto’s Ryerson University, he recruited four Chinese students. The next year, it was eight. This year, it was 25.

The trend is reflected across campus. With an aggressive recruitment strategy driven by an ambitious new administration, Laurentian reports that it received 952 international applications in 2010, more than double the total from three years earlier.

That's not to say that everything is rosy in Sudbury. The townies wonder about attracting foreign-born students when so many of them leave after graduation. The simple brain drain narrative obscures a tremendous economic development opportunity. Where there is churn, there is money to be made.

I'm not sure if Sudbury understands "economic development through geographic mobility". I am almost certain Laurentian University does. Much can be gained through the export of talent. Aside from Youngstown, no place else in the Rust Belt gets it.

Rust Belt Chic: Sacramento

Sacramento is home to at least one person who digs Rust Belt Chic:

I recently watched the Rust Belt episode you did, and I loved it. I like the gritty American city ones that you do probably even more than the wild tropical locales. What was it like eating lunch with Snoop? (actress Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, who played hit-woman and all around badass Snoop on "The Wire").
Oh, it was so awesome, she was really really really good to us. She was just a real joy to work with. She was really nice, funny as hell, her friends were great. I'm a huge fan of hers, I'm a huge fan of “The Wire.” She was just a delight from beginning to end: funny, warm, busted my balls in the best of possible ways. I'm a big fan of her work. (She’s) easily the most terrifying female villain in the history of television. It's one of the things that makes having my job a really good one is I get to say, hey, wouldn't it be cool if we could work with Snoop from "The Wire"? Lets see if we can do that.

For my money, no offense to “No Reservations,” “The Wire” is the best show on television, probably ever.
I would agree with you.

Another one of those, in that same ilk, which I liked was the Cleveland Episode. I wanted to say that that was a brilliant and touching eulogy that you wrote to Harvey Pekar.
Thank you.

I was wondering what you thought of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I despise the whole idea. I hate it. Im waiting for somebody to be inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and say fuck you, take your trophy and shove it up your ass. That would be Rock and Roll.

If you don't know, the interviewee is Anthony Bourdain, perhaps the greatest connoisseur of Rust Belt Chic. I don't know if the journalist hails from a shrinking city. Let's just say that Rust Belt culture has fans outside the region.

I bring up the exchange as a rejoinder to Ed Morrison's comments about branding Cleveland:

It’s never been quite clear why Cleveland has not embraced the Rock Hall in it’s branding and leveraged it to promote a younger, edgier entrepreneurial image (as clearly Youngstown and Akron are doing). Maybe this article signals a starting point. One barometer of how lost the Rock Hall is to Cleveland is the airport, where the Rock Hall reveals itself in a small corner store, one short hallway of posters (Concourse B) and a small wall poster with a microphone stuck in front (Concourse D).

Without a doubt, Bourdain is a rock and roll snob. I don't think he's talking about Cleveland cool in his response to the question. However, his disdain for the museum gets to the heart of the branding problems for all Rust Belt cities.

Quite frankly, most people don't get it. Youngstown's "younger, edgier entrepreneurial image" is all about Rust Belt Chic. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar was going on in Akron. As for the Rock Hall, I think of it as a symbol of Cleveland trying to be someplace else. Worth noting, Bourdain loves Harvey Pekar but hates the Hall.

A museum is a cosmopolitan artifact. Yes, it can appeal to any tourist. And perhaps I'm missing Ed's point. To me, the Rock Hall isn't what is cool about Cleveland. I'm not that kind of tourist. I'm not buying what most tourist boards are peddling. I'm definitely not interested in the "we aren't the Rust Belt" campaigns. I can find those things in Atlanta, or just about anywhere else.

The Cult of Bourdain is still there for the taking. People go where he goes. He has a huge following. Anyone could easily replicate his kind of foodie tour of their city. I wouldn't mind a taste of that while waiting for a plane at Cleveland's airport.

Rust Belt Bloggers

Rust Belt Bloggers is dead. Long live Rust Belt Bloggers. Since Ning is now asking me to pony up some jingle to keep the network alive, I've migrated the group to Facebook. I haven't put any energy into this effort for quite some time. The move has motivated me to reassess and retool. I think there is some value in connecting people concerned with the economic development of America's urban frontier.

One member has offered hosting services if we are interested in launching a network website. I'm using the Facebook page to survey ideas about how we might go forward. Let's see what we can accomplish using pro bono social media tools. I'm soliciting input, so please chime in if you care about such things. A good model is Phil Kidd's Defend Youngstown campaign.

Something I'd like to explore is a virtual think tank about Rust Belt issues. Again, this would be a sweat equity project. There is already a lot of sophisticated analysis going on among bloggers. I hope we could channel that energy in a productive direction that results in positive changes for our communities that share so many difficult problems.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Talent Attraction And Trailing Spouses

Concerning talent attraction, I think US metros could learn a lot from nation-states. This is especially true when tracking the migration of highly-skilled workers, who tend to enjoy much more geographic mobility. One factor many countries have overlooked in the war for talent is the plight of the trailing spouse:

Europe is missing out on a potentially large number of high-skilled workers by provisionally not allowing the spouses of migrant workers to join their partners and also seek employment in the EU, Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, a board member at the Permits Foundation, told EurActiv in an interview.

While 85% of unskilled labour migration goes to the EU and 5% to the US, only 5% of skilled labour lands in the EU, recent surveys show. According to a Permit Foundation survey, a quarter of international staff are said to have turned down jobs due to concerns over their partner's chances of working in the host country.

The research flips around conventional wisdom that the United States suffers economically from its family reunification immigration policy. At least, I've made the critique here relative to policy innovations such as the EU Blue Card. That's not an endorsement of the H-1B visa program, which is so dysfunctional that no one thinks it is a good idea.

Spending a decade as an undergraduate and graduate student, I'm familiar with the trailing spouse problem. One professor even suggested to avoid getting involved with other academics because of the logistical problems associated with managing two similar career tracks. Some very talented scholars rejected job offers thanks to fears about the significant other failing to find a good job in that region. Few places can offer viable options for both members of the couple.

I've translated the above observations to the return home of prodigal sons and daughters. It's hard enough to find gainful employment for one person in an area desperately seeking to attract expatriates. But what about the spouse? A household might be anxious to move back, but the job prospects for the couple are poor to nonexistent. I don't know much about the talent recruiting industry. Are there agencies that specialize in trailing spouses? A policy aimed at this dynamic might prove to be a winner in the war for talent.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Marcellus Shale Propaganda Wars

Clearly a shill for the energy industry, Energy in Depth makes a point juxtaposing two images:

The caption for the top image, "Hundreds in WV, Throughout thevRust Belt Want Gas Drilling Jobs …". As for the bottom image, "… While a Few Use Distortions to Stop Responsible Gas Development, Job Growth". I'm sure you appreciate the editorializing.

Also of interest is how progressives in Pittsburgh are pitted against the unemployed in Wheeling. Environmentalists want to destroy your livelihood:

Hundreds of residents from throughout the Ohio Valley waited in long lines Wednesday with hopes of landing a job with one of the many natural gas companies actively drilling in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale.

Nine recruiters from Chesapeake Energy, based in Oklahoma City, were on hand Wednesday to talk to job seekers during a six-hour career information open house at the PPG McKenna Shelter. ...

... For neighbors Shawn Long and Eric Westbrook of Middlebourne, who arrived before 10 a.m. and waited more than an hour to get through the door, the chance for new employment in the Ohio Valley is welcome. Both men said they are certified welders and have experience in mechanics and industrial mills, but they have struggled to keep working due to changes in industry and the economy in the Ohio Valley.

"This is a great opportunity for around here," said Long. "This (the gas industry) is one of the only things around here. It's a good thing they (Chesapeake) are here."

Both Long and Westbrook said many of the industrial jobs with local companies such as Ormet, PPG and Bayer are a thing of the past and simply no longer available.

"You can't get on at PPG anymore," said Westbrook. "It's this or the coal mine. I've got two kids and a wife I have to take care of."

I would wait and see how many jobs emerge out of the hiring fair. If you are Chesapeake Energy, the publicity is likely the main goal. Looks like the natural gas industry is starting to get more media savvy.