Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Small Market Migration

Bigger is not always better. Every year, people flee from alpha global cities in droves. I'm fascinated with this talent migration. Where do they go? Why? The Martin Prosperity Institute looks at the case of musicians in Toronto (big market) and Halifax (small market):

Traditional investigation emphasizes the influential roles that natural endowments, geographic location and access to markets play in shaping growth trajectories, but this research underscores how the social dynamics of city-regions may influence migration outcomes. In so doing, the research identifies the growing challenge that Canada’s largest city has in retaining creative workers who are increasingly attracted to smaller, more affordable and more inclusive scenes such as Halifax. Further, the research highlights the central role of civic capital in explanations that musicians give for the choices that they make. As a result, at a time when independent musicians are adopting new strategies to pursue their avocation, socially cohesive communities may gain an advantage in attracting and retaining talent.

Toronto's loss is Halifax's gain. This relocation tale reminds me of the talent flow from San Francisco to Portland:

Recently, Sun Microsystems was trying to decide whether to close a plant in Portland or in California's Silicon Valley. The company asked employees from both places if they would relocate.

"And the responses were night and day," Kaylor says. "The skilled California workers they wanted to keep were enthusiastic about relocating their families to the Portland area. The Portland employees who were skilled indicated that they would quit rather than relocate in the Bay Area."

The quality of life is better. The cost of living is less expensive. Not mentioned is the Big Fish, Small Pond dividend. MPI's research gets at that oversight. (See the graphic associated with the article summary.) The world is flat.

The point (i.e. spike) is that Halifax can offer something to musicians that Toronto can't. The MPI helps to explain why artists would leave New York City for Cleveland:

The couple used to live in New York, but they were drawn to Cleveland by cheap rent and the creative possibilities of a city in transition. "It seemed real alive and cool," said Mr. Di Liberto.

There are a gut of places that are significantly cheaper than New York. Few offer the "creative possibilities" you can find in Halifax or, dare I write it, Cleveland. The competitive advantage concerns the development of people. That, not better public transit or some other urban/rural amenity, is the attraction. Placemaking strategies will not save the Rust Belt.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Urban Rentals Rising

Relevant to today's post about aging suburbia, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) speculates about the future for renting:

“As jobs come back Gen Y people will be forming households -- there is a huge pent-up demand in household formation,” [John McIlwain] told the Business Times. “The anticipation is they are not going to buy, they are going to rent.”

I doubt Gen Y will be renting en masse in the suburbs. As for home ownership, that's expected to drop. You can see early signs of the trend in downtown Pittsburgh:

Apartments are in, condos are out, in Downtown.

After a condominium building splurge five to six years ago, developers are now bullish on apartments, in large part because of financing and market realities.

If it makes more sense to rent than to buy in Pittsburgh, then households with mortgages are in serious trouble. The suburbs continue to get clobbered by the Great Recession.

Suburbia Is Dying

Update: U.S. News puts a different spin on the Brookings report and highlights the change in the the Under 45 population. Rust Belt suburbs are the clear loser. Might this accelerate urbanization in this megaregion? It doesn't bode well for political consolidation and regional cooperation.
<----------End Update---------->

Boomtowns are aging much faster than Rust Belt bust-towns. The Washington Post takes a good look at the latest from Brookings demographer William Fry, “The Uneven Aging and ‘Younging’ of America.” The sidebar graphic makes my first point:

The likes of Pittsburgh are among the slowest aging communities in the United States. In fact, those bottom-5 metros are all getting younger. The Post article teases out the shifting politics resulting from such demographic trends, particularly in rapidly graying suburbia:

“When people think of suburban voters, it’s going to be different than it was years ago,” Frey said. “They used to be people worried about schools and kids. Now they’re more concerned about their own well-being.”

My take is that this will make the suburbs less attractive to families. I'd extend that to the fastest aging boomtown metros. Rust Belt cities as a hot destination make a lot of sense for younger cohorts.

To put it another way, legacy costs are shifting from traditional brownfields (urban centers) to greenfields (suburbs). How will the outlying communities pay for the senior infrastructure? Public transportation will be a nightmare. Services are diffuse. The geographically isolated tend to be poor.

Suburbs will have to shrink with ballooning dependency ratios (the other way). Schools will close. The fiscal crisis will extend decades into the future with high energy prices serving to exacerbate the problem.

Metros drunk on decades of in-migration and sprawl will be the worst hit. More from The Post:

“AARP research shows that most communities are behind in planning for their aging populations, but those that are adapting have come up with common-sense solutions to improve home design and make transportation easier,” said Nancy LeaMond, the AARP vice president, in a written statement.

What a mess. Given all the constraints on federal, state, and municipal budgets, I don't see how we will pay for the adaptations. Stay ahead of the curve. Move to Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fact Or Fiction? New Jersey Brain Drain

Turn over enough rocks, you can find both brain drain and brain gain in any region. Such ambiguity sets the stage for data wars. Politicians squeeze the most out of the numbers. Occasionally, the press digs into claims:

"Republicans have been clear: we will not raise taxes on the most highly taxed people in America to pay for another wrongheaded decision by the Supreme Court," [State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. ] said in a news release on May 24. "The state’s tax burden has, according to census figures released today, cost our state another 190,000 residents in 2009."

Is it true the state's famously high taxes are driving people away? PolitiFact New Jersey decided to check.

Linking taxes to outmigration is a common gambit. I associate this ideological thinking with Ronald Reagan taking aim at bloated government as the cause of economic crisis. Government is the problem.

PolitiFact New Jersey doesn't have any problem debunking Kean's salvo. It does find some kernels of truth in the statement. I won't be so kind. Kean is lying. The defense from the Senate Republicans is pathetic:

Adam Bauer, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said Kean’s statement was partly based on a May 23 article in the Asbury Park Press. The story, citing new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, stated that nearly 190,000 New Jersey residents left the state in 2009. ...

... Bauer said Kean’s assertion about the tax burden "certainly wasn’t intended as a monolithic statement," and that any attempt to construe it as such "is just splitting hairs."

He provided no other evidence to prove taxes drove tens of thousands of New Jerseyans out of the state. "The senator has known people" that left the state because of taxes, Bauer said. "Everyone has anecdotal evidence."

"If you take issue with the [statement’s] wording," he said, "I apologize."

About 190,000 people did leave New Jersey in 2009. Kean asserts that all of them left because of the "tax burden". That's absurd and Bauer knows it. But Bauer's job is to polish the turd.

Unfortunately, most discussion about brain drain engages in similar hyperbole. The sky is falling everywhere. Anecdotes trump statistics. Thus, the following from Michigan's State Demographer (Kenneth Darga) is surprising:

Six Lowest Rates of Out-Migration in the U.S. for 2004-05

1.8% Texas
1.8% Wisconsin
1.8% Pennsylvania
1.9% Michigan
2.0% Ohio
2.1% California

See the positive correlation between state tax regime and outmigration? I don't, either.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Irish Brain Drain

Ireland is suffering from a skills shortage. The problem is framed in terms of attraction, not retention. The policy prescription is to provide incentives for talent to work in Ireland. I think we have an outdated notion about what motivates migration. (Via Aaron Renn's Twitter feed) The same force that is behind great work also informs relocation:

In his latest book, Drive, author Daniel Pink debunks the power of external motivators, and expands on the intrinsic motivators that inspire us to do great work. Using research from a study out of MIT, Pink argues that traditional rewards – external motivators like a year-end bonus – only elicit better performance from people doing rote tasks. But once the barest amount of brainpower is required, higher financial rewards fail to produce better work. In fact, they actually inspire worse performance.

The idea that urban amenities will attract the Creative Class is wrong-headed. Regions(and Ireland) need to figure out how to tap into the intrinsic motivations of knowledge-workers in order to attract them. A city should be a place where talent can achieve goals, not experience world class public transit.

Daniel Pink's book should excite Rust Belt communities. The urban frontier is full of opportunity, the kind that speaks to the intrinsically motivated. City attraction is about possibility and personal reinvention, not a cheaper cost of living in the UK. People develop, not places.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Talent And Cities

When looking to attract or retain talent, regions strive to make life in the community more appealing and/or tolerant. This strategy doesn't make any sense. Making a go of it in New York isn't easy. I'd bet most newcomers lived in a shithole and found, at best, people to be indifferent. You put up with a lot to stay in Big City.

The same goes for would-be entrepreneurs. Policymakers take the same approach to address perceived shortcomings in the local startup culture. Flood the market with venture capital. Mitigate risk. Seek diversity.

I think this paradigm generates expectations that inform policy failure. When the going gets rough, blame the Good Ole Boys network. That assumes that in Boomtown, there are no backroom deals. In Austin, there is meritocracy. Hogwash.

Yet we continue to believe that we can legislate an environment that will bring out anyone's inner Michael Jordan. The United States already prolifically produces entrepreneurs. That's not the result of tolerance or a cool image.

“They want to see that you believe your story enough to risk everything for it,” said Julia Hu, who left MIT when she got funding to build her sleeping device company, Lark. “They don’t like to fund non-committed entrepreneurs. In that sense, it’s in their interest not to deter you when you say you are dropping out of school.”

Harj Taggar, a partner with Y Combinator, an incubator founded in 2005 that funds young entrepreneurs, said applications from students were rising. He noted that there was strong interest from angel investors who were “willing to fund these 18 and 19-year-old kids”.

Part of the reason, he said, was that it was a lot cheaper to start an internet business today than during the internet bubble of the late 1990s. Laptop computers have become less expensive and web-based companies do not have manufacturing costs. Young people without families or mortgages were also willing to live in cheap apartments, eat noodles and work long hours, he said.

Reads like a branding campaign for the next Indianapolis. Let's add high-speed rail to the mix and get out of the way. Risk it all and stay ... Indiana.

Starting your internet business is easier than ever. The same constraints still apply. You have to endure a lousy quality of life. The same goes for migration.

Government Jobs Recovery Update

Update: I just received permission from Howard Wial to post the entire text of his email response ...

There was a computer programming error in the calculation of the overall and recovery rankings. (All the individual indicators that go into those summary rankings were correct as originally reported.) Because of the error, which affected the rankings of a large number of metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh wasn't originally given sufficient credit for the relatively large decline in its unemployment rate during the recovery or the relatively small increase in the unemployment rate since the beginning of the recession. Pittsburgh's rankings, both overall and recovery, improved when the error was corrected.
End Update---------------------------------------------End Update

A commenter here alerted me to significant changes to the Brookings MetroMonitor report I blogged about yesterday. Pittsburgh's recovery received a boost, from bottom of the barrel to merely average. Upon a reread, I noticed a major shift in the tenor of the overall report. Chunks of narrative were removed or added. Things look a lot different today than they did yesterday.

I emailed Howard Wial about the revisions and he replied promptly, "There was a computer programming error in the calculation of the overall and recovery rankings." The recalculation boosted Pittsburgh in both rankings, not just recovery. In the new version, I'd quote the following:

Employment rebounded from its low point in 88 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas by the first quarter of 2011, but only 12 gained back more than half the jobs they lost between their employment peak and their post-recession employment low point, and only two made a complete jobs recovery. Only Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Hartford, Houston, Madison, McAllen, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Springfield, and Washington regained more than half of the jobs they had lost between their pre-recession high and their post-recession low, while only 18 additional large metropolitan areas regained as much as a quarter of the jobs they lost in the recession.

Regarding jobs, Pittsburgh is experiencing a relatively strong recovery. If I understand Wial's message correctly, then the metro is doing well despite a decline in government jobs since the post-recession employment low. That would make the Pittsburgh recovery even more exceptional.

Every regional economy has warts. Likewise, I can find something good to say about any metro. Pessimist or optimist, something dramatically different is going on in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Government Jobs Recovery

As I am prone to do, I was just noodling over the latest "MetroMonitor" report (1st quarter of 2011) from Brookings. The findings reveal a Pittsburgh paradox. The region is in the top-20 for overall performance in recession and recovery. However, the metro is in the bottom-20 for recovery performance. What gives?

Apparently, government jobs:

Nearly all the metropolitan areas whose economies suffered the least since the start of the Great Recession had increases in government employment, while most of those that suffered the most lost government jobs. Nineteen of the 20 metropolitan areas that have had the strongest overall economic performance since the start of the recession (all except Augusta) gained government jobs since their periods of peak total employment.

Pittsburgh is one of the places that gained since the start of the recession. Now the puzzler:

Twelve of the 20 that have had the weakest economic recoveries (Allentown, Buffalo, Chicago, Dayton, Detroit, Greensboro, Harrisburg, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Providence, and Scranton) lost government jobs since total employment bottomed out.

So, Pittsburgh's recovery (as anemic as it is) hasn't benefited from more government jobs. The kicker:

Twenty large metropolitan areas gained jobs in all of the last four quarters. Austin, Charleston, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Grand Rapids, Greenville, Hartford, Houston, Milwaukee, New Haven, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Provo, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, Toledo, Washington, and Youngstown gained jobs in every quarter from the second quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011.

Of those metros, which ones also saw growth in government jobs during the recovery? Austin, Dallas, Hartford, Houston, and Washington. Perhaps that's neither here nor there for Pittsburgh. I still feel good about the recovery in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Going All 1099 On Your Shale Gas

Does drilling in the Marcellus Shale benefit Pennsylvania at all? I ask that question because the pro-industry camp, according to David Passmore, has "puffed" up the employment numbers. On the other side of the debate, environmentalists are waging their own propaganda war. In the middle are state residents who aren't getting enough (if any) information useful for deliberation.

I have no doubt that the job creation numbers floated via the press are dubious, at best. That suggests that the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) doesn't have a case to make. Obfuscation is the public relations strategy of choice.

South Sudan could certainly use the tourists: The economy is based entirely on oil, which doesn't create lots of jobs.

"As much as we are fortunate to have the oil wealth, the oil wealth may not be there for life. But these animals will be there for life if we manage them well," says Daniel Wani, an undersecretary in South Sudan's Ministry of Wildlife Conservation.

Look no further than revenue rich, jobs poor Nigeria. How a government invests that cash flow is critical to the prosperity of a country awash in high-demand resources. The golden egg the goose is laying concerns money, not employment.

The MSC is puffing up the job creation numbers to scare off a tax, the main means for Pennsylvania to benefit from the Marcellus. The workforce here today, such as it is, could (likely will) be gone tomorrow. That's the nature of the boom of 1099 workers that Passmore discusses in this report:

From these observations and the workforce data we analyzed, we conclude provisionally that the number of Pennsylvania residents in “1099” employment is increasing in Marcellus Shale core industries. More decisive information could be available soon, however. In December 2010, the Center for Workforce Information and Analysis indicated that reporting information about “1099” employment and place of residence of Pennsylvania workers in Marcellus Shale core industries is part of its research priorities.

Remember the EMSI report I blogged about almost two weeks ago? 1099 employment is mushrooming in energy states such as Texas and Oklahoma. Skilled workers in core industries go wherever the rush is. That's part of the job description. All the current workforce development going on Pennsylvania in response to shale gas extraction will benefit the global labor force. That's a positive development, but one that won't steer voters away from a higher tax on the industry.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Opportunity Migration

In the latest issue of Next American City, author Benjamin de la Peña sums up the urban attraction:

Cities don't impoverish people; rather, as Edward Glaeser puts it, cities "attract the poor" because they generate economic opportunity.

That makes sense when describing the emptying of the rural hinterlands. But how would one model an escape from the Big Apple? The New York Times looks at the black exodus:

Ms. Brown, who spent 35 years investigating welfare fraud for New York State, may have seemed the embodiment of the black American dream in New York City.

In the 1950s, her parents moved to Harlem, and then to Queens, from Atlanta. Her grandmother was a maid; her grandfather was a brick mason. One generation later, her parents were prospering. Her father became a senior tax official for the state; her mother was an executive assistant to the state corrections commissioner.

But Ms. Brown says New York is now less inviting. She plans to join her 26-year-old son, Rashid, who moved to Atlanta from Queens last year after he graduated with a degree in criminology but could not find a job in New York.

In Atlanta, he became a deputy sheriff within weeks. She is hoping to open a restaurant.

“In the South, I can buy a big house with a garden compared with the shoe box my retirement savings will buy me in New York,” she said.

Less-than-New York City now looks like much more, a big fish in a small (less expensive) pond. Opportunity as a destination is recast. That's how I would define the Rust Belt value proposition, particularly for Rust Belt Refugees. There's no place like home, where the ceiling of success is so much higher. Your trip up the ladder is so much faster.

Migrants to Big City end up with the same realization as Odysseus. You travel a long way to end up in the same place. Which isn't to say that the journey wasn't worth it.

Secondary migration, which includes return, is less discussed because it is more difficult to track. I expect the trend of heading "home" to deepen if only for the reason we will be more aware of it. Talent is looking for big city advantages without all the costs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Pittsburgh is taking over the Rust Belt (and the Sun Belt). Next up? Chicago:

In its quest to become a leading world city, Chicago may have relinquished power within its region. The City of Big Shoulders could continue to shrink if the Steel City successfully rebuilds its job market and reverses its population decline.

Before you dismiss this as a joke, do check out the referenced post. It is full of interesting data. What sticks out to me:

Metropolitan areaGMP in US$ billions (2010)
St. Louis

Chicago's economy is almost 5 times bigger than Pittsburgh's. Chicago is on a different planet. The slowing horse egging Pittsburgh on is Detroit. The Eastern Rust Belt is in need of an anchor.

Whatever was beyond the pale of Chicagoland used to belong to Detroit, the Rust Belt's Second City. In many ways (particularly in terms of migration) Detroit was Chicago's equal. Detroit was a great and global city.

Detroit remains an economic power, perhaps in spite of itself. Most telling is the decline (i.e. transformation) of immigration:

Metro Detroit is no longer the immigration gateway it once was, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Brookings Institution, but the region remains home to one of the nation's highest concentrations of high-skilled immigrants.

Regarding immigration, Detroit is looking a lot more like Pittsburgh. That is to say, it is following instead of leading. Detroit is trying to catch up to Pittsburgh. The larger economy in terms of GMP is largely symbolic. Pittsburgh is already the center of gravity for the Eastern Rust Belt.

PNC Über Alles

Who is king of downtown Pittsburgh? UPMC has practically and metaphorically taken over the regional economy with its new crown sitting atop the U.S. Steel Tower. Last month, PNC announced a new skyscraper. Golden Triangle gains might come at the expense of Raleigh and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. PNC Financial is buying RBC Bank:

Such a deal likely would trigger significant job cuts and would be another blow to Raleigh and its economy. Raleigh already is poised to lose Progress Energy's downtown headquarters when the Fortune 500 utility completes its pending merger with Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

In October 2008, RBC moved its U.S. headquarters to RBC Plaza at Fayetteville and Martin streets. The move signaled Raleigh's shift to something more than a government town. ...

... "This is a north-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line bank combining with a south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line bank," said Tony Plath, a finance professor at UNC-Charlotte. "It's a combination that takes PNC out of its current existing footprint, and that's going to preserve more jobs.

"But let's face reality: There are going to be job losses."

Plath predicted that, in the Triangle, PNC would eliminate 150 to 200 administrative jobs - including all the senior executives and the people who answer to them.

"What I'm really concerned about is the operations center in Rocky Mount," Plath said. "Will they keep that or will they let that go? That's a wild card."

RBC has more than 1,000 employees in Rocky Mount, a holdover from when the bank was headquartered there.

The majority of those employees are involved in functions such as information technology and mortgage processing.

If PNC decides to consolidate those functions in Pennsylvania, "that would decimate Rocky Mount," Plath said.

To sum up the story more succinctly, the Rust Belt's gain is the Sun Belt's loss. Talk about a dramatic reversal of fortune. The two North Carolina downtowns are heading in the opposite direction of Pittsburgh's revitalization.

That anecdote is how I would define the economic reset of the Great Recession. Returning to the US Conference of Mayors report I referenced last night, Table 1 details the gross metropolitan product (GMP) of U.S. metro areas (US$, billions) for 2007-2010. In 2007, Tampa stands at 114.1 and Pittsburgh chimes in with 108.2. Tampa's economy was bigger than Pittsburgh's. The two switch places in 2009. By 2010, Pittsburgh stands at 115.6. Tampa? 113.9. Over the four-year period, Pittsburgh grew and Tampa shrank enough to switch places in the GMP rankings.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rust Belt Redefined

In terms of area, the Rust Belt is shrinking. As the United States recovers, part of the nation will be left behind. For most post-recessions, "Rust Belt" aptly described the worst hit and last to rebound. Today, you might be referring to Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Times have changed.

The United States Conference of Mayors and The Council for the New American City has a new report out detailing the state of metro economies and where they are heading. I've hosted the map of return-to-peak employment here. Rather than sing the praises of Pittsburgh, I'll focus on this sentence from the report:

Five of the metro areas not slated to recover until the next decade rank in the 100 largest in the country (see Figure 7).

I added the link to "Figure 7", which you can also view in the report. Here are the five:

  1. Cleveland
  2. Dayton
  3. Detroit
  4. Toledo
  5. Youngstown

That's the new old Rust Belt, the Industrial Heartland left behind. The Detroit-Cleveland axis is an economic disaster. The reset for these cities is just beginning.

Brain Drain Patterns

The migration story is so entrenched in our culture as to be a paradigm. People are leaving the Rust Belt for the Sun Belt. While technically true, population loss doesn't necessarily equate to brain drain. Likewise, a dramatically increasing population doesn't necessarily equate to brain gain. From the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland:

In a recent paper, Ed Gleaser and Kristina Tobio look at the trends in the Sunbelt, where most fast-growing cities are found. They find that productivity gains in the Sunbelt have not greatly outpaced the nation’s since 1980, and demand for the amenity of warm weather has also been unchanged. They explain the continued rapid population growth in the South as a response to large increases in the supply of housing. Policies that encourage low-cost construction may be the ones some regional leaders want to pursue, if they want an expansion of both their graduate and nongraduate populations.

If it is the ratio of college graduates to nongraduates that really matters, then policies that promote total population growth are unnecessary. Resources can be directed elsewhere. Thirteen large MSAs in the top category added fewer graduates than the national average, but still made the top degree share category because their nongraduates figures were even further below the national average. These educated, slow-growing places include Philadelphia, Chicago, and Hartford. These places have succeeded in raising their education levels despite attracting and retaining very few nonskilled workers relative to their initial populations. Keep in mind that this is not that same thing as saying that slow growth will cause a region’s degree share to rise. As Tim Dunne explained in his 2007 commentary, northern, cold weather cities with lower degree shares in 1970 actually shrank in most cases. This did not enable all of them to significantly raise their educational attainment at the city level. At a metro level, their regions remained in the middle or bottom of the rankings.

The war for talent picture is much more complicated than most appreciate. The Sun Belt is winning the population race. Where are the productivity gains? Shrinking (relatively speaking) the number of nongraduates can have a positive economic benefit for a region. That said, regional goals are still cloudy. The problem is with the sweeping geographic abstractions.

To make the same point a different way, consider the issue of international "brain drain":

At the same time, [Philip G. Altbach (director of the Center for International Higher Education)] argued that brain drain is both more limited and more diffuse than people tend to think. Of the former, he noted that "we are talking about a tiny top of the huge system" of higher education all over the world. "There is not a global arms race for community college teachers," he noted, but one for top researchers.

And while there is a pattern of "centers and peripheries" with those in the latter moving to the former, there are actually many "centers," Altbach said.

South Africa, he said, is "bleeding" scholars to Britain, Canada and, to a lesser extent, the United States. But the country is "stealing from its neighbors," attracting academic talent from African countries that don't have South Africa's research infrastructure. Saudi Arabia is "hiring from other Arab countries, and draining some of the best scholars from Egypt and Syria," he said.

And, of course, he said, "the Americans steal from everybody."

The best brain magnets steal from everybody. What is the dominant pattern of talent imports in your region? Superstar cities enjoy a global portfolio. Struggling cities tend to be parochial. Those in between have a regional draw.

I argue that the last recession dramatically altered the rules of the game. The current climate favors the parochial, a result of the decrease in geographic mobility and the increase in value for companies to locate near where the talent is produced. Just as we are beginning to better understand talent migration, the ground is moving under our feet.

All cast considerable doubt on the retention obsession. Keeping graduates from leaving is now a goal, instead of a means to some policy end. A higher rate of retention, similar to population growth, is equated with success. Relatively high retention is, in my view, a red flag. A region cannot grow a large and diverse talent base without strong outmigration. Which superstar cities are tops nationally in talent retention?

Concerning brain drain, there are more questions than answers. The overall baseline assessment is, at best, poor. Doing away with the Rust Belt vs. Sun Belt dichotomy would be a good place to start formulating better talent policy.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Update: Shale Gas Jobs Geography

One of the debates about the Marcellus Shale gas play concerns job creation. The industry, of course, boasts about a boon to the Pennsylvania economy. Skeptics focus on the itinerant labor. Employment gains benefit residents of other states (e.g. Texas). Both sides make good points. Ironically, much of the pro-extraction camp ignores the juiciest data:

From Appalachia to Alaska, the growth is eye-popping. Thousands of new jobs have sprouted up, most well-paying and all boons to their regions. There’s no denying oil and gas extraction jobs are on the rise, and not just in Texas and Oklahoma.

North Dakota is drilling oil at a blistering pace. Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along with parts of New York and Ohio, are seeing a natural gas boom with their Marcellus Shale reserves. And Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska, and other Western states are adding extraction jobs in droves.

The job growth in oil and gas extraction is national, not just in the Marcellus. The trend appears to be of the "rising tide" variety. I have no doubt that shale gas has positively impacted the PA economy in a big way. But beware of predictions looking into the future. Those rosy numbers shouldn't be part of the policy discussion.

Within the industry there are some surprising disparities between states. The growth of the itinerant labor force isn't where you would expect it to be. From the same article quoted above:

Earlier we mentioned approaching the noncovered oil and gas jobs data with caution. But what if we took out the 1099 workers and looked strictly at those covered by unemployment insurance and tracked by the BLS and state LMI offices?

We did this with EMSI’s “covered” dataset, which is roughly equivalent to state LMI. It shows a vastly different state-by-state picture for mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector. Texas ranks No. 1 in 2008-11 job growth in EMSI’s complete dataset … and last among all states — with a loss of more than 8,000 jobs — when we take out 1099 workers.

Pennsylanvia and North Dakota still were big gainers in the covered dataset. Yet they were two of only seven states that added workers in this sector, and the only two that added any jobs of consequence. This points to just how many contract jobs are flooding into the sector, particularly in states like Texas and Oklahoma.

"1099 workers" are temporary. Nationally, that's the jobs boom. Pennsylvania and North Dakota buck the trend. To be sure, both states are gaining more temp workers (1099) than covered workers. Opponents to drilling have a legitimate gripe. However, over 40% of the 15,000+ new positions created [in PA] from 2008-2011 were of the "covered" variety.

I read this as industry setting up shop in Southwestern Pennsylvania for the long haul. The corporate infrastructure is being developed. It is already established in Texas and Oklahoma, the two states with the largest rise in 1099 workers. In fact, covered workers in those two states are likely heading to PA and North Dakota. I expect that relocation to start showing up in the migration numbers soon (if it hasn't already).

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Financial Pittsburgh

Sure, but what about the medical industry bubble that is sure to pop? Pittsburgh standing tall, again:

Dallas-Fort Worth, Pittsburgh and Tucson, Ariz., are the only major metropolitan areas that have more jobs in the financial sector today than they did three years ago, according to an analysis by The Business Journals, the online division of the Business Courier’s parent company, American City Business Journals Inc.

Take that, Charlotte.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Pittsburgh Gets Cracking

According the Pittsburgh Business Times, Royal Dutch Shell wants in on cracking ethane from Marcellus Shale gas. That's another indicator of a looming petrochemical boom for SW Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Piling on more evidence, from today's Financial Times:

The experience in Asia has also given the once highly UK-centric company the confidence to pursue other markets – the US and Russia, in particular. It is targeting petrochemicals businesses, a sector in which it specialises, with the UK arm leading both the sales and marketing effort as well as the resulting production.

“It is very nice to see individuals that five or six years ago didn’t travel further than London, preparing to go to Pittsburgh tomorrow,” says Mr Staff. “The whole culture has changed.”

The juxtaposition of "petrochemicals businesses" and "Pittsburgh" isn't a mere coincidence. I'd bet that the main reason Halifax Fan is flying to the Burgh is the Marcellus Shale. It's an energy bonanza.

Moreover, for U.S. LNG exports to make economic sense, domestic gas price would need to stay low, with high enough international LNG prices, and if the LNG prices are still tied to crude oil (which could change depending on market development), then crude oil prices would have to remain elevated. That’s a lot of tricky variables clouding the seemingly rosy LNG export picture.

Some industry participant like Conoco Phillips is not completely sold on LNG exports either. Al Hirshberg, Conoco’s senior vice president of planning and strategy, said at a conference that he does not see the economic case for LNG export terminals being “overwhelming,” and that LNG exports will unlikely ever scale enough to have a big impact on the domestic US gas market. CitiGroup also expects the U.S. could become a swing player in the global LNG market since all planned LNG facilities in North America are going to be two-way.

That cloudy export picture is good news for the likes of Bayer. The petrochemical industry also needs the gas price to remain low. American LNG entering the global market would be a disaster. Increased demand domestically should help ward off that prospect. Hence the rush to get cracking in West Virginia.

The Age Of Return Migration

Nothing says recovery like relocation does. We expect the economy to get better in a geographically uneven pattern. As demand for workers in those lucky places picks up steam, everyone should leave Las Vegas and move to Salt Lake City. That's the theory. The Great Recession continues to be an outlier:

What's striking about the census data is that more people are moving to Kansas and Missouri at a time when we don't seem as mobile as we were 60 years ago.

Nationwide, only 3.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county between 2009 and 2010, the lowest percentage since 1947-48 when the Census started tracking how we move. In 1950-51, about 7.5 percent of Americans moved to a different county.

Experts blamed the slowdown on the mortgage crisis, high unemployment and young adults who want to move but can't afford to with the economy in the tank.

"I think there's a pent-up demand for migration among these young folks," Frey said.

"They're either living with their parents, or spending time in a place they don't want to be, and they're waiting to get a place in the suburbs they can't afford or can't get financing for."

A winner in this restructured migration landscape is Kansas City. The main anecdote of the above article concerns a couple leaving Dallas for the comfy confines of where they grew up. They can manage a suburban mortgage in KC.

Return migration is also less risky. A network of family and friends will smooth the transition, help with finding work. More affordable greenfields aren't the only attraction. Urban and edgy are popping up in unexpected places such as Omaha:

The movie theater, Film Streams, is a marvel. It's brand new, gorgeous and only plays sophisticated independent films. Next door is the Slowdown, which Esquire called the best indie-rock club in the country.

The Slowdown — like Film Streams and almost everything in Omaha that's very cool — is very new.

While I was there, I met several architects and web designers who all said they moved back to Omaha, at least in part, because of this club and the movie theater next door.

They're part of a remarkable wave in Omaha: Professionals are moving back.

Apparently, we've entered "The Age of Return Migration". It's deleveraging and gentrification on a grander scale. Young folks from around the country aren't streaming into Omaha. I wouldn't hold my breath, either. If they get up the gumption and the means to move, I would think an established destination (e.g. Portland, Oregon) to be more likely.

That said, both Omaha and Kansas City won't lack for newcomers. People from elsewhere in the Great Plains will feel at home in the region's best performing locations. Likewise, I predict that the Rust Belt return will entail a substantial number settling in an area different from where they were born. Outsiders, whether they be foreign-born or from the next county over, are vital to these demographically challenged communities. Otherwise, cynics and skeptics will run amok.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Seeking Marcellus Shale Dividend

I'm convinced that unconventional gas is boosting employment in Pennsylvania. I'm almost as sure that the more significant jobs (and migration) boom is yet to come. The war between Ohio and West Virginia for Marcellus Shale-related riches:

[Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha,] said, "Ohio is making a not-so-subtle jab at West Virginia. If you see our Marcellus Shale act, we made a shot across the bow in the Legislature this session, saying to industry, 'We want you to aggressively look at West Virginia -- not just to locate a cracker, but all of the downstream facilities that will be provided with feedstock from that cracker.' The stakes are really high. This [Ohio press release] is an example of what's going on out there. This is a huge deal and we have to find a way to be successful. This legislation was a significant first step."

I figure that downstream industries are the big economic prize. West Virginia is positioning itself to be the next Chemical Valley with Pittsburgh as Sarnia, Ontario. Take a look at that job cluster from Wired I referenced yesterday. Pittsburgh makes the cut in what I first thought was IT growth. On second glance, I gather the circle represents a gain of over 500 chemical positions from 2003-2008. Not "Medical Technologies, nor "Biopharma", or even the "Metals" cluster that is emerging in Akron, Ohio.

Pre-Marcellus Shale rush, chemicals were already a big part of the Pittsburgh picture. I would conclude that the necessary workforce is in the region and that the innovation infrastructure is world class. Get ready for the influx of people from Houston that will be pouring into the region over the next few years. Given the anecdotal evidence, I think the move is already underway.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Rust Belt Recovery

Economic development professional Ed Morrison is trying to breathe new life into Great Lakes Nation. He weaves into his narrative some history that would serve as a foundation for a megaregional identity. The goal is to give the "Rust Belt" an image makeover. The geographic abstraction still has a ton of currency:

Jeffrey Bergstrand, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame, doubts a new wave of jobs will emerge.

"We're in this jobless recovery," Bergstrand said. "The Rust Belt is more sensitive. Where you have more of a manufacturing base, it has a bigger impact."

Sure, in some places the Rust Belt is indeed more sensitive. In terms of the recovery, Great Lakes Nation is incoherent. You don't have a bunch of metros seeking the same policy solutions:

Job growth table, June 2011

The challenges that Indianapolis is currently facing are quite different from that of Pittsburgh. No matter that both qualify as Rust Belt cities at the fringes of Great Lakes Nation. There is considerable variance within states, forgetting the more complicated megaregion. Metros are increasingly untethered from their host states. Our toolkit of geographic concepts must catch up with the times.

However, Great Lakes Nation could give birth to more metro autonomy. The European Union has the ironic effect of creating more room for subnational expression. Similarly, Rust Belt cooperation can lower the barriers of state borders that slice up many urban corridors. The delineation of Ohio and Pennsylvania will matter less to the TechBelt.

If Great Lakes Nation takes root, we should be mindful of the different terrain within the Rust Belt. Mapping Great Lake Nation over the Rust Belt is a mistake. Many communities aren't as heavily invested in a manufacturing base as they were in the 1980s. Even the term "manufacturing" glosses over distinctive needs within the industry. Take a look at a map in a recent issue of Wired. It tracks the job growth (2003-2008) within 11 different industry clusters. One policy will not fit all.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Pittsburgh's Remarkable Talent Boom

Austin’s robust tech work force will fulfill these jobs. According to the Census, the area has the sixth most educated work force in the nation. [Dave Porter, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce,] says its highly educated potential employees are the top reason companies choose to relocate and grow in Austin. Many workers filter into the city’s labor pool via the University of Texas at Austin, the state university system’s flagship school, which has more than 48,000 students.

When attracting business, reputation is king. Austin means an ample supply of smart employees. Texas is business friendly. Peruse the cream of the crop. A metro has one or the other, perhaps both. What is Pittsburgh doing there in such illustrious company?

One of the other surprises, Oklahoma City, offers a few hints. Concerning recessions, both OKC and Pittsburgh suffered devastating economic blows in the early 1980s. The latest downturn seems mild by comparison. Area Development highlights fiscal prudence as a strong point. But the diversification of industry is a better rationale for Oklahoma City’s recent run of good news. Pittsburgh can count that among its positive attributes.

Pittsburgh also has the workforce. The Creative Class isn’t migrating there en masse a la chic Austin. Talent is developed organically. The whims of relocation are not an issue. Yet Pittsburgh is suddenly consumed with pulling the best and brightest from elsewhere:

The 800,000-square-foot, eco-friendly tower will be a recruiting tool for the company and city, said Doug Gensler, a principal in the Boston office of Gensler, the architecture firm that designed The Tower and Three PNC.

Pittsburgh is outgrowing the supply coming from local universities and colleges. That’s a huge shift from as little as five years ago, when I first started tracking the economic progress of Rust Belt cities. Despite the reputation as business unfriendly, Southwestern Pennsylvania is booming.

I think that quality of workforce has become much more important than policy regime. The pool of prospective employees is shrinking. There is always a state willing to cut a better deal. Talent is the new oil. Oh, to be Pittsburgh.