Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ironic Brain Gain

We expect smart cities to get smarter. News about brain gain in Boston or Madison shouldn't surprise anyone. Hat tip to Chris Briem (Null Space), the economic geography of educational attainment:

Despite a decade of technological advances that make it possible to work almost anywhere, many of the nation's most educated people continue to cluster in a handful of dominant metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York and California's Silicon Valley, according to census data released Thursday.

The upshot is that regions with the most skilled and highly paid workers continue to widen their advantages over less well-endowed locales.

"In a knowledge economy, success breeds success," said Alan Berube, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Talk about burying the lede. The Wall Street Journal lists the top ten metros for gains in percentage of adults with college degrees. Among the notables are Worcester, Pittsburgh, and Poughkeepsie. These are the exceptions to the rule described by Berube. These communities are poised to cash in on "success breeds success".

As far as where the brain are, going from have-not to have is remarkable. According to Edward Glaeser, the knowledge economy should be leaving Pittsburgh behind:

The pattern of smart cities becoming more dominant is a departure from past trends, noted Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University. Through the first part of the 20th century, jobs and wealth clustered around places like Detroit and Cleveland that had large concentrations of capital and industry. Today, a city's overall education level and supply of higher-skilled labor are the big drivers of its economic success.

Talent attracts more talent. That bodes ill for Detroit and Cleveland unless they can pull a Pittsburgh. Not a problem if your region has a spare half of a century to reach that goal. That's 50-years of competing with a city that can offer the same upside (e.g. low cost of living) plus a greater concentration of college graduates.

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