Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rust Belt As Geographic Monolith

Joe Cortright is still smarting from the comparison of Portland, Oregon to Rust Belt cities:

A coalition of organizations, led by the Portland Business Alliance, recently published a provocative report on the health of the Portland metropolitan region's economy. Its eye-catching claim that the economy of the Portland region looks more like that found in declining, rust-belt Cleveland or Pittsburgh than in thriving, high-tech Seattle, Minneapolis or Denver generated cries of alarm both in the media and throughout the community.

Cortright has a lot riding on the Portland brand. He'd like to sell that success story to struggling Rust Belt cities such as Akron. That's tough to do when your political rivals are busy shooting holes in your supposed urban utopia. In the defense of the town that Cortright built, Pittsburgh is quietly (i.e. disingenuously) put to the side:

We have the basis here for both a great place to live and a great economy. We have to pursue both in a way that reinforces our strengths while addressing key weaknesses. Portland might look like Cleveland to an out-of-work pipefitter looking at week 99 and wondering where next month's mortgage will come from. But this is not Cleveland, no matter how you interpret the statistics. At a minimum, acting as if it is Cleveland based on a selective culling of statistics won't make things any better.

One can't replace "Cleveland" with "Pittsburgh" and make the same claims. In fact, Pittsburgh is being touted as the New Portland. I take exception to that comparison. There are jobs in Pittsburgh. Per capita income is on the rise. The region is tomorrow's success story, not yesterday's.

Yet talent continues to stream to Portland. Enjoy your mesofacts migration while it lasts. The brains are beginning to pool in new places:

It's abundantly clear that the economic crisis and Great Reset have caused mobility -- long a hallmark of the American economy -- to stall, making it harder for both individual workers and local economies to adjust to new economic conditions. According to Frey's research, it has slowed the long-running flow of younger people and college grads to the Sunbelt, tilting the landscape of talent retention and attraction toward larger cities and metros, while reinforcing the position of tech centers and quality-of-place destinations like Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Seattle, the Bay Area, Denver, and Portland. At the same time, it appears to have put older Rustbelt metros back on the talent map, with some like Pittsburgh actually registering real gains.

What's new is the rise of certain Rust Belt metros such as Pittsburgh. Portland is concerned about lagging behind Minneapolis. We might soon add Pittsburgh to that list:

That's right. Pittsburgh is out-pacing Minneapolis. Pittsburgh's young adult labor force is smarter than Portland's (as well as those in Seattle and Minneapolis). For Pittsburgh, Portland is a step down. That's why Cortright dropped it from his discussion. Portland is not only among the Rust Belt cities, it is falling behind them.

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