Sunday, July 31, 2011

Geopolitics Of Talent: Brazil

Brazil's government will subsidize the export of talent. That's right. Tax dollars will be used to pay for brain drain. Why, oh why would the country do such a horrible thing? Economic development:

China, India and South Korea have led the world in sending students to U.S. universities, which according to the two best-known world university rankings — Britain’s Times Higher Education Supplement and China’s Shanghai Jiai Tong University index — remain the best in the world.

Judging from what I saw in trips to China, India and other Asian countries in recent years, most of their key industries, such as India’s information technology sector, have been created by students who pursued graduate degrees in U.S. universities, and later returned home or invested in their native countries while staying abroad.

China is the leader for global talent management strategies. That's where I look for cutting edge policy. The United States is a good two decades behind. Anyone or anyplace touting retention lives in a yesterday that is at least that old. I'd say the thinking is much more appropriate for 1910 than 2010.

Brazil isn't building cool cities to keep the best and brightest from leaving. Even getting out of Richard Florida's darling Austin can do wonders for your career. Life is elsewhere.

Not all relocations qualify as an entrepreneurial act. There isn't much risk in moving for a job you have already landed. The company might pay for the transfer, mitigating the worst of the financial rough seas. I mean hustling in the streets in hopes of making enough for next month's rent. You are living by your wits in order to stay. Cities and rural towns propose ways to make staying easier, killing innovation.

Not all students abroad will end up as New Argonauts. Back to the Miami Herald opinion piece:

Many Brazilians reacted with skepticism, according to readers’ comments in Brazil’s major newspapers. The new program is “a fairy tale that will never materialize,” said one reader. “A marketing coup,” said another. “There will be a lot of politicians’ children studying abroad,” said a third one.

The most common criticism was that those leaving will never come back, because they won’t find jobs at home. “And if they return, will they have to revalidate their doctorates here, one reader asked scornfully on the Folha de Sao Paulo website.

Surely a lot of public money will go to rich families who could send their children to the United States without any help. But even these migrations will pay dividends. Venture capital will flow along these networks. Brazil and the United States will become more integrated. The only reason not to fund the export of talent is fear.

The motivation behind retention is a form of xenophobia. Outsiders are bad. Plugging the brain drain will reduce tolerance, shore up parochial attitudes. That's the Gestalt of CEOs for Cities and Next Generation Consulting. There aren't companies or organizations promoting geographic mobility. You can't make money doing that. Meanwhile, China and Brazil forge ahead. Michigan ponders its next placemaking boondoggle. Detroit will turn around in spite of itself.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Brain Gain Louisville And Pittsburgh

Disaggregating the data is a hot trend in the brain drain discussion. On Wednesday, I explored a sophisticated piece of journalism about the demographic challenges facing Kansas. Today, readers of the Courier-Journal entertain brain gain in Louisville, Kentucky:

The population gains in that group may be a result of younger workers taking the jobs of a gradually retiring workforce, state demographer Michael Price of the Kentucky State Data Center suspects.

“We're swapping new, more educated workers for older workers,” Price said.

That shift gets lost in the overall population numbers. The shrinking cities paradigm is taking hold. Quality trumps quantity, not that there is anything wrong with growth. The article about Louisville stresses the unexpected data turnaround. The region is on the upswing.

The demographic story in Pittsburgh has long been that college graduates leave once their schooling is finished, causing a demographic ditch where the 25-35 year olds ought to be – but the data from the 2010 Census proves that there has been a dramatic spike in twentysomethings in Pittsburgh. Even as Pittsburgh’s overall population declined by a little more than 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010, due mostly to the city’s oldest cohorts dying out, the cohort of 20 to 29-year olds increased by some 12,000 people.

Essentially, what state demographer Michael Price observes in Louisville is also happening in Pittsburgh. But will the cohort bump stick around? Look at the chart associated with the cityLAB blog post. The twentysomething gains look to be entirely college student in-migration. Analysis from the UCSUR supports this hypothesis. Over the decade in question, college enrollment has boomed. More importantly, a greater share of the student population comes from outside Pennsylvania.

College graduates are notoriously fickle concerning residence. They are typically here today and gone tomorrow. However, not all of them will leave. Eventually, even Pittsburgh's population will benefit from importing students. But voters don't have the patience for the pace of demographic change:

The UK minister appearing before the select committee thinks that more open immigration rules means a failure to create incentives for employers, government, colleges or universities to provide the necessary training and education for those from closer to home.

And of course, there is a big incentive to universities and colleges to attract more non-EU students for their higher fee levels.

So could a more liberal approach to visas, foreign students and immigration merely allow employers off the hook of responsibility for training?

The cynicism stems from decades of brain drain boondoggles. Selling policy as talent retention and attraction should have some political risk. The results, quite frankly, stink. But the gambit remains effective. Institutions of higher education must make a better case that what is good for them is good for the host community. That requires different thinking about the geographic mobility of talent. We have a long way to go on that score.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rust Belt Chic Pittsburgh

In my never ending quest to understand Rust Belt Chic, I steer you to Rust Wire:

“I started Pittsburgh is Beautiful as a visual expression of what makes Pittsburgh so awesome – ‘gritty is the new pretty’, basically,” she said. “I love the juxtaposition of the old versus new that happens so frequently in our town. Although Pittsburgh has gone through some hard times in the past few decades, it is enjoying an urban revival and I am so glad to be here for it.”

I emphasized the part of the quote that I think best captures the soul of Rust Belt Chic. I encourage you to click on through and view the photos.

Update: Peak Employment Pittsburgh

Back in April, I blogged about Pittsburgh's peak employment numbers. The benchmark occurred in 2008 with 1,128,000 nonfarm jobs. Now for today's news:

A survey of employers in the seven-county region, also showed there were 1.155 million jobs in June, 13,600 more than a year ago.

The manufacturing sector added 1,200 in June to reach 90,700 jobs. It's the first time the region's manufacturing sector has had more than 90,000 jobs since March 2009, when there were 90,600. There were 3,200 more construction jobs, increasing the total to 54,300.

Chris Briem (Null Space) has more on this story. Pittsburgh continues to buck the national trend in positive terms. The region is about 12k jobs off the pre-recession peak and on track for full recovery in 2011. Energy Burrito helps to put this in perspective:

The US unemployment rate is currently 9.2% (vs. 9.5% at the same time last year). That said, the labor force participation rate is at 64.1%, its lowest level since March 1984 (when Jump by Van Halen spent the majority of the month as Billboard #1). The low participation rate is because people are so disenchanted they are dropping out of the jobs pool. Not good.

I would like to know what the labor force participation rate is in Pittsburgh. Rewinding to 1984 reveals a mirror image of today. At that time, Pittsburgh was lagging well behind the rest of the country in terms of recovery. Now the region is out in front, a staggering turnaround in the chronically recessed Rust Belt.

Gumband Migration

"Gumbander" is Pittsburghese for return migrant, an expatriate who has moved back home. All the hype and publicity about the Marcellus Shale (real or imagined) is acting like a Bat-Signal for the Burgh Diaspora. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neill with the story:

Matt Curry, 40, is a Lower Burrell native who a few years ago was living in Dallas, which makes autumns tough on a guy with Steelers season tickets. Then Mr. Curry read an investor report on Range's play in the Marcellus Shale and shot a congratulatory email to Range senior vice president Ray Walker Jr.

Mr. Walker replied with something like "Hey, thank you, would you like a job?" That day, when Mr. Curry took his wife, Heather, to lunch to celebrate her 34th birthday, she read the email and said, "I guess we're moving to Pittsburgh."

Pittsburgh is one of the centers of the shale gas revolution. The global coverage puts the region on the map, which in turn catalyzes in-migration. You go where you know.

O'Neill's article also demonstrates the upside of outmigration:

Tony Gaudlip, 41, is another Penn State engineering graduate with a similar tale. He had lived all over the world with his wife and three children, most recently in Jakarta, Indonesia. Back there, his family had a gardener, two drivers and two maids because "that's what you did in Jakarta."

Mr. Gaudlip worried about what such luxury was doing to his children. On the one hand, they were getting an international education and befriending children from all over the world, which was great. On the other hand, they weren't learning a work ethic, and he didn't like the way other expatriates who grew up with that lifestyle treated those who served them.

When he brought the family home for a long visit with his parents in Huntingdon County in 2007, he got to talking with an old friend at a Pirates game. The man worked for Chesapeake Energy Corp. and told Mr. Gaudlip about the future of shale drilling, which went against most of what everyone knew about the oil-and-gas business to that point. Shale had never been a target; "pesky shale gas" was what you drilled through to get to sandstone.

Pittsburgh couldn't support Gaudlip's skill when he graduated. The Marcellus changed that. Southwestern Pennsylvania is now ready for him to come home. Pittsburgh has a de facto workforce scattered all over the world. The regional location quotients for different industries are the tip of the iceberg.

Lastly, both migration tales depend on strong networks. Jobs don't drop out of the sky. Opportunities appear via friends, family, and contacts. Just because Pittsburgh fretted over you leaving doesn't mean that the city will do anything to entice you to return. Furthermore, don't expect a welcome wagon. One more from O'Neill:

The only downside Mr. Gaudlip has seen is some of the native pushback against "Texpats" moving to Western Pennsylvania. He has lived all over the world, including Saudi Arabia just a couple of months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and has never been anything but welcomed.

Return migrants to Cleveland told me about a similar experience. They felt under-appreciated, if not outright hostility. That shocks repats. They think they are doing the homeland a favor by returning. If your only aim is to help your native shrinking city, then stay where you are and do it from afar.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shrinking Towns And Rural Migration

Generally, journalists do a lousy job of covering demographic change. Conventional wisdom is reinforced. The myth persists. Jan Biles of the Topeka Capital-Journal bucks the trend:

Rob Fillion, executive director of the Smoky Hill Development Corporation in Ellsworth County, said that county is seeing economic growth and static census numbers.

"The labor pool is strong, businesses are thriving," Fillion said.

Groundbreakings were recently held for a $5 million John Deere implement company and a $1.5 million building that will house a relocating bank. Fillion said a national retail store will be coming to the town, a new child care center will open, and the Ellsworth Correctional Facility will be expanding in two years.

"I expect 150 new jobs coming to Ellsworth over the next two to three years," he said.

The town of 3,120 recently finished a streetscape project involving light poles and in-laid brick funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation. After seeing the result of that project, some business owners have refurbished the exterior of their buildings.

The city also has a quality broadband system and offers several incentives to attract new businesses and residents, such as rebates through industrial revenue bonds and establishment of a tax increment financing district so property taxes will help pay for infrastructure in a housing development.

"We've done a good job of being creative to entice people here," he said.

Doug Gerber, city manager of Goodland, said youth in that city have been ingrained with the notion they have to leave to go to school or have a career.

"We haven't ingrained enough that they can go and come back," Gerber said. "It requires a cultural and attitudinal shift. We need to redefine the definition of success."

Granted that the meat of the article are the people quoted. That's the unflinching and sophisticated viewpoint. Biles is the one who strings it all together to create a compelling narrative that will channel the conversation in a productive direction. The long quote above is just a snippet.

I emphasized Gerber's comment because I think his advice is good for any shrinking community, rural or urban. We've worked plenty hard to convince young people to stay. I see the evidence every year, every decade. As Ben Winchester's research shows, what matters is who comes back.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Texas-Sized Job Growth In PA

There is a lot of fuss about the Marcellus Shale gas job numbers. Once again, Chris Briem (Null Space) offers a grounded analysis. The time series data are one way to provide context for all the hype. I prefer a geographic comparison. The Texas energy industry rebound:

Employment in Texas’ oil and gas industry rebounded to its pre-recession highs while oil production solidified its return to the top of the fossil fuel ladder for the first time in more than a decade, according to an index of state energy activity.

The Lone Star State employed 224,200 workers in exploration and production in June, according to the Texas Petro Index — more than the 223,200 at the height of the last energy boom in October 2008 and nearly 15 percent more than in June 2010, said Karr Ingham, the Midland economist who created and maintains the index. ...

... The oil and gas industry only accounts for about 2 percent of the state’s entire workforce payroll, Ingham says, but it tends to have an oversized impact on the entire state economy because it is so capital-intensive. By some estimates, as much as two-thirds of Texas’ job creation in the past year could be tied directly and indirectly to the oil and gas exploration business.

I will highlight two pieces of information that help to illuminate the Pennsylvania shale gas jobs picture. A bit further on in the article, the journalist explains the reason for the last energy boom that peaked in 2008: Shale gas. Texas provides an excellent template to temper job expectations in Pennsylvania.

On that last point and the second piece of information, notice the small share that the oil and gas industry has in the overall Texas workforce. It is just 2%. But the impact on the economy is "large". Then why is the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) focusing on job numbers?

From the start of the drilling boom, the natural gas industry has done a lousy job of public relations. That's been a problem long before the Marcellus play arrived on the scene. But the gaffes haven't mattered because the Shale Coalition has been able to curry favor with the right politicians.

I'm no energy industry expert. But picking apart the pro-industry propaganda couldn't be easier. From what I can ascertain using some basic geographic analysis, there is a strong case to be made. I'm perplexed as to why the MSC isn't pushing that agenda. The long sordid tale strikes me as gross incompetence.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rust Belt Geography Lesson

The Rust Belt is not in the Midwest. In fact, the Rust Belt and the Midwest are two distinct regions. Yes, there are parts of the Midwest that clearly qualify as Rust Belt. But the same could be said for parts of the South (e.g. Greenville, Birmingham, and Chattanooga). For whatever reason, I've been reluctant to separate the two. Thanks to Christine Borne and The Cleveland Review for setting me straight:

Borne grew up on Cleveland’s west side, left and worked in publishing for a number of years, and came back. Grigsby grew up in Bardstown, Kentucky, and ended up in Northeast Ohio via Hiram College. Norris grew up in Lakewood, and although she spent time in India as an exchange student and went to college in New Mexico and Maryland, she’s lived the bulk of her life here. Addington grew up in rural Canaan Township, Ohio, and is currently a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University. While each of the four has a unique relationship to the area, they share some common values and goals: a realization that Cleveland and cities like it have unique characteristics that make them a distinctive region, a lack of identification as “Midwestern,” and a desire to encourage the influence of the Rust Belt in the work of both local writers and ex-pats—those who’ve moved away from the region and haven’t returned.

The idea for the journal originated with Borne, who didn’t recognize “any voices that I could identify with. It’s like the Midwest thing. I don’t feel like I’m Midwestern. And people from Cleveland who end up doing something with themselves seem to kind of scrub that Cleveland part out…. Beyond just Cleveland, it’s a really unique area of the country. It’s not rural, it’s urban but it’s not urbane. It’s a very singular sort of place, and people sort of tramp down that influence in their work instead of allowing it to be there…. I think we have different ideas on what it means to be a Rust Belt author. It doesn’t have to be anything thematic to our area, it doesn’t have to have factories in it, but if you’re really writing authentically then your voice is going to have something of where you grew up.”

That's the surprising theme that emerges in the interview with Cool Cleveland. "Rust Belt" isn't a sub-genre of Midwestern literature. The voice is different. Very different. The Cleveland Review is trying to figure out exactly how the two are different.

Ironically (subjectively speaking), being from Erie, PA means I hail from a pocket of weirdness. That might explain my obsession with Rust Belt Chic. Not too long ago, I felt that "how it plays in Peoria" applied to me. I wasn't Southern, that's for sure. New England? Northeastern? Closer, but still not quite right. That left Midwestern, my identity by default. I say "pop". Good enough.

The actual Rust Belt is very small. It's Northern Appalachia and the cities that heavily drew on this labor pool to staff the mills. I'd argue that including Detroit is stretching things. The Rust Belt core is the triangle of Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the confused cultural geography binds us together. We are neither this nor that, nothing worth celebrating. Mongrels, an uninspiring mix of Midwestern, Northeastern, and Appalachian. We are Weirton.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rust Belt Chic: Pittsburgh Drinking Clubs

I love beer and bars. Drinking culture and its geography is a minor hobby of mine. Reading a brief history of Silicon Valley this morning, I perk up when I get to the part about the importance Walker’s Wagon Wheel in regional lore. Then there are the quirky booze laws of Utah. If you have visited or lived in the state, you know what I mean. The Pittsburgh connection:

This was my first trip to Utah, where at one time would-be drinkers were required to go through the charade of joining a "club" in order to be served a drink. This transparent attempt to discourage bar patrons is the kind of risible ploy that brings government into disrepute by making it ridiculous.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, "clubs" were to facilitate drinking, not discourage it. Because of strong nationality groups - and because as my great-grandfather and great-uncle explained to me, Western Pennsylvania never did pay much attention to Prohibition - various ethnic groups were allowed to serve alcohol pretty much at will in their private clubs.

The membership rules could not be honestly described as strict - $5 initiation fee and some kind of piece of paper attesting that the bearer was 21. Unlike Barack Obama, I could produce a much creased and worn birth certificate on demand; the catch was, it wasn't mine.

When we had to go for our draft physicals, we were presented with something called the Attorney General's List of subversive and suspected subversive organizations and state whether we belonged to any of them. "I'm dead," I thought. I don't know how many Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Polish, Lithuanian fraternal, friendship and social clubs I belonged to. I didn't even remember their exact names, only that they all seemed to be on the list.

The tale makes me wish I could have experienced an ethnic drinking club. I'll have to drive to Pittsburgh for Schlachtfest:

Christel Van Maurik and her husband, Teutonia president Cornelius G. Van Maurik, invited me to take part in one of the club's favorite celebrations.

"Do you like pork?" she asked. "You must come to our Schlachtfest."

Giving directions, she said, "Cross the 16th Street Bridge to the North Side and you'll see in front of you a big German-style building, what they call wooden half-timbering with brick in-fill. That's Teutonia. We'll be in the rathskeller wearing ethnic dress -- my husband in his wool Bavarian suit and I'll wear my dirndl skirt.

Okay, you can't just walk in on a Friday night trolling for your latest Rust Belt Chic experience. But there are "open lunches" and "free concerts" that offer access to the club. The best way is to get invited by a member.

This is the hidden Pittsburgh, or hidden Cleveland. And it's cool, part of the allure of shrinking city with their aging demographics. Everything old is new again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Leaving Pittsburgh

About the website Leaving Pittsburgh:

Leaving Pittsburgh is collection of stories from people who have left Pittsburgh, PA. It serves as a living historical document.

I don't have any comment other than I hope more people will contribute.

Ironic Brain Gain

I've blogged about Ben Winchester's research on a few occasions. There is now a dedicated website for the study of rural brain gain. Even the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has taken an interest in the trend:

fedgazette: And that means to quit worrying about the kids leaving home.

Winchester: That's right. Let them go. I'm fine with losing the kids. The point is that we have people choosing to move back. Those are the people we should be focusing on—the ones who want to move to the small towns.

Okay, I'm cherry-picking the interview. Winchester makes more than a few comments that run counter to the narrative I tout. Anyone interested in communities facing acute demographic challenges should check out the findings. The lessons learned would benefit both rural and nonrural (i.e. metro) counties.

For example, from the same interview with the Fed Gazette:

Winchester: Generally, people fall into two categories. One is the returners. These are people who grew up in rural areas and want to get back to that lifestyle. Returners make up about 35 percent to 45 percent of the newcomers. Most of the rest have had very little contact with the rural area where they choose to live. They may have visited that area as a youth or read an article about it or seen something online. It's very idiosyncratic.

Most of the in-migration has to do with some sort of familiarity with the community. You go where you know. But there is a big gap between successful place branding and intimate knowledge of geography. I think social media could pick up the slack. I spend a lot of my time tilting at Rust Belt mesofacts because I believe doing so can drive migration. I contend that Winchester's work rationalizes that effort, which doesn't entail an expensive national campaign that won't make any difference.

Of course, those in place marketing know a great deal about using social media. They log into forums such as to set the record straight in those threads full of smack and haters. How does one go about measuring the success of such strategies and tactics?

In devising a return migration strategy for Cleveland, I meditated on that question. A good place to start is with demographic studies. What is going on will likely surprise you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reinventing Newark

Among Rust Belt boosters, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is a star. His approach and policies serve as a model for urban advocates trying to reinvent their own city. Like being the next Silicon Valley (or Pittsburgh), the aim is to be the next Newark. I want to take a critical look at the Cory Booker Paradigm because it fits within the theme of this week's blog posts. From National Public Radio:

CONAN: Oh, thank you. As you look ahead, a lot of people would think just a few years ago that Newark was - the one thing Newark had plenty of was problems.

BOOKER: Absolutely, but I think that that's the challenge in America is we've got to begin to understand that our vision for not what is but what can be has always what's propelled our country forward. And there are a lot of people in Newark and from around the country - I remember talking to Michael Porter, who's in charge of something called the Institute for Initiative for Competitive Inner Cities, who used to tell me that Newark has probably more competitive advantage than most cities in America, and tremendous things could happen there if you think strategically about how to leverage its assets: the port region that it has, airport, deep-water seaport, the five major colleges and universities, the hospitals and its proximity to the capital of our global economy, New York City.

Emphasis added. Generically, I suppose any city admiring Newark could leverage its own assets. But only one place can claim to be "the capital of our global economy". In fact, the Booker Effect seems to have blessed every city near New York. Would he be as famous if he was the CEO of Cleveland?

That's not to say that Cory Booker isn't special or a force of nature. Among the cohort of cities in close proximity to New York, Newark still stands out. If we are to learn lessons from Booker, then we must understand the policy variance within that controlled geography.

I won't tackle that tall order today. I want to understand why the proximity to New York City matters. Why is it a competitive advantage?

Porter lists the physical assets of Newark. As I discussed yesterday, it is a place-based approach to economic development. The magic of New York is how well it develops people. Newark provides a relatively inexpensive way to gain access to that benefit. Smart urban planning can help facilitate that relationship. Policy is important.

What kind of policy? For one, enhancing the kind of "information-sharing networks" that Vivek Wadhwa mentions in his critique of Porter's cluster theory. Still, the prescription is vague. I would start with tracing talent migration. New York City has a significant human capital exchange with a number of metros, most of them in close proximity. Cities further away, such as Cleveland, also have substantial churn with the capital of our global economy.

Over the last few months, I've been working with Global Cleveland and Strategic Urban Solutions to develop a blueprint to take advantage of the above talent flow. The goal is to leverage the asset of outmigration to New York. You read that correctly: "Asset of outmigration".

Using the lens of people-based economic development, I'm able to mimic Newark's main competitive advantage (proximity to NYC) in Cleveland, almost 500 miles away. For practitioners of place-based economic development, outmigration is an anathema. It is brain drain. It must be stopped. Never mind that relocation is a great way to develop talent. Community interests subvert individual interests. Non-competes are standard practice. Innovation and entrepreneurship suffer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

core it jobs dying in sf

Latest curious search phrase sending someone at JP Morgan Chase in New York City to my blog. The landing page is "San Francisco Is Dying: Kidless Cool Cities". What's this bad buzz about San Francisco? The Cisco layoffs?

Busting Industry Clusters

To make an abstraction, economic development is either place-based or people-based. I'm an advocate for the latter approach and a staunch critic of the former. I know many will bristle at the dichotomy as a false one. Remember, it is an abstraction. I'm writing this post as a reaction to a Brian Kelsey (Civic Analytics) Tweet:

Agree? Interested in #econdev thoughts. Industry clusters: The modern-day snake oil by @wadhwa

Vivek Wadhwa is the author of The Washington Post opinion piece in question. Like an abstraction, Wadhwa employs a polemic. The problem with Michael Porter's cluster theory:

A recent analysis of 1,604 companies in the five largest Norwegian cities underscores what’s missing from this prescription for a knowledge economy: people. The prerequisite for a regional innovation system is knowledgeable people who have the motivation and ability to start ventures. To succeed, these people need to be connected to one another by information-sharing networks. Basic infrastructure is always needed, but fancy science parks and big industry are just nice to have.

There is always a danger of going too far in the other direction (i.e. towards people-based economic development). In regards to cluster theory, we've tended to forget about talent. Thanks to folks such as Richard Florida, the shift away from conventional thinking is on. Ironically, that's also the problem. Amassing the Creative Class is still a place-based prescription.

This seems to suit most urbanists, who focus more on form than inhabitants. People get lost in the aesthetic shuffle. Cool city initiatives make the status quo (e.g. real estate interests) happy. This is business as usual with a slightly different spin. Your funding isn't going to be cut.

What if building networks and deepening connectivity were to be priority #1? There is still a place-based element to this economic development approach. Form begets function and people are back in the picture. But I'm not going to move to your city because of the nifty urban planning (e.g. Portland, Oregon). I'm interested in the network.

I'm finally settled in the Northern Virginia area, moving here from Longmont, Colorado. I reside in Leesburg, a short jaunt from downtown. I love the walkable neighborhoods and the proximity to a wide variety of amenities. I most value the regional network. I could just as easily live in the middle of suburban sprawl and benefit. I'm still plugged into the DC energy and innovation. In just a few weeks, my serendipitous encounters here have exceeded anything I ever experienced in my 10+ years living in Greater Denver (Boulder and Longmont).

Yet the intolerance here is palpable. I was told to avoid Herndon because it is overrun with illegal immigrants. The commute, as many know, is horrendous. The ubiquitous McMansions developments are uninviting, a blight on the landscape. That many of them are gated communities doesn't help. Suburban tech parks are spread out all over NOVA. If there is a density dividend, I haven't seen it. Economic clustering? Perhaps you are referring to the hydra-like growth of international cuisine at stripmalls. We eat cosmopolitan way out here in the exburbs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

cities for jobs, pittsburgh

Someone at Bank of America in Charlotte just Googled that and ended up at my blog. Reaction to the recent news? Do tell:

Ask anyone what the most immediate threats to the global financial system are, and the obvious answers would be the European sovereign-debt crisis and the off chance that the U.S. won’t raise its debt ceiling in time to avoid a default. Here’s one to add to the list: the frightening plunge in Bank of America Corp. (BAC)’s stock price.

At $9.85 a share, down 26 percent this year, Bank of America finished yesterday with a market capitalization of $99.8 billion. That’s an astonishingly low 49 percent of the company’s $205.6 billion book value, or common shareholder equity, as of June 30. As far as the market is concerned, more than half of the company’s book value is bogus, due to overstated assets, understated liabilities, or some combination of the two.

You decide.

Talent Retention Fuels Brain Drain

Is your region trying to keep the best and brightest from leaving? Those talent retention policies undermine economic development and, ironically, cause brain drain. The proof:

"I think the real punch line here is that it appears that it's the better inventors who are more likely to respond to these laws," Fleming says. "It's the people who have lots of patents, it's the people who have high-impact patents, it's the ones with many coauthors. Prior research has shown that the best engineer is worth much more than the average engineer. And if those are the people whom the states are losing, it's a big hit. Policy makers in these states are really shooting themselves in the foot. Some have argued that firms will not invest in R&D unless they can keep their people, but other research by Mark Garmaise at UCLA has shown just the opposite."

To that end, Marx and Fleming have shared their findings with government officials in their home state of Massachusetts, where legislators are considering a bill that would restrict the terms of non-compete agreements in the state. A hearing is set for September 15. Brain drain is arguably an issue in Massachusetts, which reportedly retains only about 60 percent of its college graduates.

You can read a copy of the unpublished report here. The case study looks at Michigan talent migration patterns. The results are fascinating:

Limited job mobility within a state that enforces non-competes is likely to entail higher opportunity costs for more productive inventors, with their past track record also making them more visible to and hence likely to be recruited by out-of-state firms. Likewise, those with significant past collaborative ties might have greater awareness of out-of-state opportunities through their professional networks, and hence be more likely to emigrate to the best available option even outside their original state. Interestingly, both of these kinds of elite knowledge workers are probably exactly the kind of talent a state would normally be particularly interested in retaining.

The best talent is less likely to stay in a state with a restrictive geographic mobility regime. You might retain greater numbers of graduates, but at a cost. You'll encourage the cream of the crop (innovators and job creators) to leave.

Over the 5+ years I've been blogging about brain drain, I've shifted my thinking from talent retention policies are ineffective to outright destructive. The underlying issue pits quantity of migration against quality of migration. Brain drain is commonly (and erroneously) phrased in quantitative terms. Shifts in population numbers do not indicate brain drain or gain. "More" doesn't necessarily mean "better".

This is the unspoken part of the shrinking cities paradigm. They aren't coming back. Graduates will continue to leave. The region can still thrive. But those aren't numbers that buy votes or justify economic development projects. And for that matter, won't sell books.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rust Belt Deorai

The concept of economic refugee is controversial. To relocate for financial gain is a rational choice. Yet seeking opportunity via relocation doesn't mean the migrant wanted to leave. He or she might feel forced to go elsewhere. Subjectively, they are refugees. Objectively, they are run-of-the-mill economic migrants.

Refugee or not, many migrants maintain a deep attachment to the homeland. I see that in the Rust Belt Diaspora, exceptionally so for Pittsburgh natives. That's why when I see a good international diaspora story, I take notes. From Ireland:

The visitors came at the invitation of Ireland Reaching Out, an organization that just put on its first Week of Welcomes after a year spent tracking down the descendants of Galway exiles and preparing for their return.

“The project is based on a very simple idea: Instead of waiting for people of Irish heritage to trace their roots, we go the other way,” said Mike Feerick, who has been leading the charge to rekindle ties between the Irish and their diaspora.

“The people who left Ireland were in some sense the best part of us,” said Stephen Kinsella, an economist at the University of Limerick. “They were the most dynamic, the most ambitious, the most willing to succeed, and we did not give them the conditions where they could succeed.” ...

... “I want Ireland to start thinking of itself not as a physical place, but as a people,” Mr. Feerick said, and he wants it to start acting like it, too, through local projects like the one in Galway.

The last two comments form the crux of my post. The people who left the Rust Belt were the best part of those struggling communities. That's the brain drain problem. The brightest are the most able and willing to leave. Hence, calling myself a "Rust Belt Refugee" is disingenuous. My father's move to improve was a strategic decision.

The second comment is the solution to the brain drain problem. Fixing the Rust Belt on a map is a debate, not a fact. Beyond reproach is someone who identifies with the Rust Belt. You don't have to be born there in order to feel a deep connection to Pittsburgh.

That connection is a pathway for economic development. That's diaspora economics. The Rust Belt is the most prodigious producer of talent the world has ever seen. Why that matters is the way forward for shrinking communities.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Building A Global Talent Pool

Regions tend to think small scale, locally. While serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission for the City of Longmont, I tried to advance a global perspective. Could my community plan and zone for globalization? What does globalization zoning look like? I didn't find many examples I could draw upon for guidance.

A reorientation of economic development is necessary. Via Burgh Diaspora, I advocate for serving workforce interests that can benefit the entire region. Again, actionable models are sparse. The opposite is true on the international scale. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Corporations are trying to find out what affects students’ employment choices in different countries. Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer with headquarters in Toulouse, France, has found in its surveys that “training and development opportunities” are particularly important to students in Spain, while “work-life balance” is important to German students, and job security is important to students in India.

That's the mirror image of what I observe going on in Pittsburgh and other Rust Belt cities. Workforce development is finding out regional talent needs and delivering employees to local companies. When workers are dear, as they are in demographically challenged communities and countries, this is the wrong policy.

The goal should be to push students towards global talent shortages. Education professionals must be aware of global labor market conditions. I don't see the value in framing the problem in regional terms.

Increasingly, a workforce with the right kind of skills attracts major employers. But the only way to deepen the talent pool is to export graduates to the established economic cluster. That's the Rust Belt advantage and Pittsburgh is cashing in on it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Pittsburgh Versus Portland

Portland is cool. Pittsburgh is not. That's the tale of the tape. Migrants love Portland. Pittsburgh is shrinking. Via Aaron Renn's (The Urbanophile) Twitter, how the Creative Class is failing to spur economic development:

I can’t help but think that Portland’s struggling economy calls into question Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class city. I read his book years ago, so admittedly it’s not fresh in my mind, but one of his central arguments was that cities that focus on livability would be those to attract the creative class workforce, and consequently be the economic engines of 21st century America. While Portland’s reputation for livability and its creative class ethos has fulfilled the first part of that equation, it hasn’t done much in the way of invigorating our economy. One could assume that it may even be hindering it – noting that the overabundance of overeducated, underemployed, socially-minded citizens here creates a great deal of competition for few jobs and therefore also depresses salaries. (Or, as Portlandia puts it, our city is where young people come to retire.)

Portland is the poster child for indicators run amok. Amassing talent is the game and the goal. What comes next after your city goes viral?

Understanding relocation choices for a niche demographic doesn't make you an economic development guru. Modelling migration isn't difficult. The patterns of moving still follow some basic rules articulated over a century ago. Fetish destinations come and go. What will become of Portland?

About a month ago, I was still bullish on Portland. Now, I'm not so sure. Starting with the glass-half-full perspective, a story about Denver and the upside of a big company leaving town:

Doug Dwyre, president of Denver- based Mocapay, is a former First Data employee who chose not to relocate to Atlanta. He eventually joined Mocapay, which integrates mobile transaction software and marketing into merchants' long-term business strategies. In May, it launched a mobile-payment system with Denver-based coffee merchant Dazbog.

Dwyre said there was a direct correlation between First Data leaving and the upswing in mobile-payment companies in the state. Mocapay had 14 employees last year; it has 20 this year.

"It's unfortunate that First Data left Colorado, but it's good as far as fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of the folks who ended up staying in Denver," he said.

If you wanted to stay in Denver, then you had to think like an immigrant. I'll get back to the Colorado dividend in a bit. A glut of talent, for whatever reason, should spark more entrepreneurial activity. I figured that a major economic spillover from all that in-migration was just a matter of time in Portland.

I based that conclusion on my Boulder experience. Smart people flocked there en masse. Graduates from the University of Colorado hung around a few years to ski and rock climb in Eldorado Canyon. Boulder was (still is) rich in natural and human made amenities that make the community sticky.

I failed to appreciate that the regional economy was ready to absorb all that talent. Boulder is blessed with a major research university and a bunch of federal government laboratories. By comparison, the Portland boom is unsustainable. What is Portland going to do with all this excess Creative Class?

No doubt that Denver has benefited from a quality of place. Instead of moving to Atlanta, ex-employees ran through brick walls to stay. In theory, that's how catering to the Creative Class should help your city or rural community.

Then there is Pittsburgh ...

These days, "Pennsylvania is no longer part of the Rust Belt. Pennsylvania has diversified away from that manufacturing belt," said James Diffley, chief regional economist with IHS Global Insight in Eddystone.

"The diversification of Pennsylvania kept it from being another Ohio and Michigan," he said. Michigan's unemployment rate peaked at 14.1 percent.

"Diversification" has been the name of the Pittsburgh revitalization game. As for the good news in PA, it is more Pittsburgh than Philadelphia:

Forty-six of 50 metros experienced declines in job openings in June, 14 more than the previous month. The four metro areas that did not lose job openings saw insubstantial growth: Louisville (1.7 percent), Birmingham (1.4 percent), Detroit and Pittsburgh (less than one percent).

Pittsburgh is an island in a sea of economic gloom and doom, despite disregarding Richard Florida's advice. Yes, Pittsburgh is the anti-Portland. Pittsburgh is the antithesis of the Creative Class migration. Yet the Great Reset has favored Pittsburgh over Portland.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Rust Belt Chic Weirton

Below, Johnny Cash shows you the location of Weirton, West Virginia. (Please excuse the missing Eastern Panhandle)

Seeing Weirton captured in a film was unusual because West Virginia's rust belt is just not a place that is often visited by the arbiters of popular culture. It doesn't have a distinctive accent like South Boston. It can't claim a spot in food history, which even Buffalo can do. And it's not as bad off as Detroit, so living there can't be gritty and cool.

So it was doubly unusual that on the same weekend that I saw my hometown on film, I caught a singer-songwriter from West Virginia, Logan Venderlic, who performs with a Tom Petty-meets-Appalachia vibe. (He's also dating my cousin. Insert your joke here.)

Young Mr. Venderlic, a senior at West Virginia University, is one of the few musicians I've encountered who has written songs about the reality of the state. In one, he captures the experience of being from a "jerkwater" town: a village so small that steam-train crews had to "jerk" water up from streams or from people holding buckets along the tracks because there was no water tower from which to refill the engine.

While Weirton does have its aforementioned water tower, any visit there pierces you with the awareness of economic struggle and dwindling population: "Almost as many churches as people," as Mr. Venderlic sings it.

I mean to highlight the first paragraph, which gets at the variance within the Rust Belt. But the rest of the passage is too rich to omit. Born in Erie, PA, I consider myself to be from the Northern Appalachian Rust Belt. Weirton is part of a region that is, arguably, the most distinctive in the entire United States.

Lodge 183 holding Christmas party

WEIRTON - The Italian Sons and Daughters of America Lodge 183 will hold their annual Christmas party at 6 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

The event will include a holiday buffet, a special cookie table and music.

The cookie table, and Weirton, deserves a spot in food history along side of Buffalo. The city is at least as gritty and cool as Detroit. As for the accent, Southie doesn't have anything on full-blown Pittsburghese. In Weirton's case, culture is not elsewhere.

In the case of the WSJ journalist, derogatory remarks inform self-deprecation:

But living on the East Coast with the grime of a West Virginia steel mill in your lungs has a way of keeping you humble. I've had to smile and roll my eyes at more than enough jokes about cousins, moonshine and literacy. I suppose I could have become an unrepentant snob as a means of distancing myself from all that, but instead, those roots shaped my world view and made me (though some would argue otherwise) a rather open, normal person who also happens to like fancy performing arts—and one who wants to share their values with others.

Culture is elsewhere. There is nothing about your hometown worth celebrating. Get out now and move on up in the world.

Rust Wire: “What’s right and what’s wrong about Pittsburgh?”

Brian O’Neill: “I would say that’s what right about it is – as I say in the book – the legacy of all this incredible stuff that we’ve been left: the churches, the institutions, like the museums, the foundations, all this old money that’s still here, the architecture, the fact that we have three sports teams and probably wouldn’t if we were trying to get one now, the universities, all the stuff we’ve inherited, essentially.

And what’s wrong with it is, one- I don’t think we don’t place a high enough value on what we’ve inherited. And that’s recently been shown again by the idea of shutting down our branch libraries in this city. If we want these neighborhoods to come back, we can’t take out resources, we’ve got to figure out a way to keep them around.

And sometimes we don’t value the best things. I mean, everybody appreciates the Steelers, but you know we don’t so much appreciate the fact that we have this incredible architecture. I mean, in my neighborhood, in the book I mention this one bridge, this foot bridge that is incredible, but the city can’t even afford to knock it down…We don’t have the population to support all that’s worth keeping. And that’s a constant struggle.”

Emphasis added. Rust Belt Chic is a celebration of "the legacy of all this incredible stuff that we’ve been left". Like me, O’Neill is an outsider agog at the gobs of cultural treasure to behold. If you grew up with a cookie table, then you probably don't realize how special the tradition is. That worm is beginning to turn:

City Chicken is a dish that dates back at least to the Depression days of the 1930s. My experience goes back only to the late 1980s. I'd just moved here to work at The Pittsburgh Press, where, with many of my colleagues, I used to lunch at a tiny tavern tucked away on nearby Market Street called Zeuger's. There, working my way through the daily specials recommended by a waitress straight out of Pixsburgh Central Casting, I was referred to as "Hon" and first experienced local favorite dishes such as Virginia Spots, which turned out to be fish.

City Chicken turned out to be ... not chicken.

Rather, it was -- it is -- chunks of meat on a stick. I believe Zeuger's served the classic combination of pork and veal, but just pork and even beef can be City Chicken, too.

The idea and the name went back to a time when chicken was more expensive than other meats, especially in the city, and so these other meats were substituted. Sometimes the skewers were referred to as Mock Chicken Drumsticks. That chicken would be scarce and expensive is hard to imagine now, but plenty of people of a certain age remember when chicken was an only-on-Sunday special dinner.

City Chicken is known in other cities, including Detroit and Cleveland, but Pittsburgh passionately claims it (the recipe on is titled "Pittsburgh City Chicken"). Especially many of the many who've moved to other places (everything but their hearts) wax nostalgic over it in the same breath as they miss Chipped-Chopped Ham and Wedding Soup.

Click on the link to read the entire Post-Gazette article and get a few recipes for City Chicken to try. The Generation X game becomes finding where one to can still get authentic City Chicken. That means the entire Zeuger's experience, not just a faithful version of the dish.

I claim that the pursuit of the culturally anachronistic is the "in" thing to do and is driving migration to Rust Belt cities. Hipsters love cookie tables. Pittsburgh is cooler than Austin. Richard Florida is jumping on the Rust Belt Chic bandwagon.

That still leaves Weirton as an undiscovered gem. Urban pioneers take note. Freegans, Ho!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

China Poaches Detroit Talent

Talent is the new oil. All of the resources in the world don't mean much if your country (or metro) lacks the brains to add value. China values this commodity more than anyplace on earth. The need for talent:

It is all part of Beijing’s much-touted plan to transform China into a country that designs and creates global brands – rather than merely assembling global products.

But for that the local car industry needs talent: engineers and especially managers trained overseas and experienced in the global car industry. Zhang Junyi, automotive consultant at Roland Berger in Shanghai, says China especially lacks engineers with the experience to manage other engineers.

"Experience" is the key variable. Producing more graduates doesn't address the shortage (not to mention takes too long to fill the pipeline). I'm seeing the same dynamic play out in the shale gas and oil revolution:

Another barrier to widespread exploitation of oil shale is that few companies have the expertise and experience to do the work. Chinese and Indian oil companies are investing in joint shale ventures in the United States and other countries in part so they can learn the new exploration and drilling techniques.

And there is China, again, at the front of the line seeking talent. Rust Belt metros would be wise to follow its lead. I've mused before about Chinese talent geopolitics serving as a model for better leveraging inevitable outmigration. Creative policy innovation is increasingly clustered in developing countries. To paraphrase Vivek Wadhwa, the teacher must become the student.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Banana Republic Of Pennsylvania

I picked up on two Marcellus Shale stories (here and here) thanks to Chris Briem's (Null Space) Twitter. The first linked article concerns pipeline infrastructure and getting the gas to market. The second linked piece reviews the possibility of a petrochemical manufacturing boom in Westsylvania. Both converge at Fuel Fix:

Asian and European chemical manufacturers rely largely on oil-based raw materials, with prices tied to crude.

As a result, many petrochemical companies are modifying their existing Gulf Coast plants to take better advantage of the natural gas supply in both Texas and the Northeast.

A partnership of oil and gas transporters is preparing a network of pipelines and storage facilities to ship Marcellus ethane to the Gulf Coast. MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources and Sunoco Logistics Partners say their system will be able to ship up to 50,000 barrels of ethane a day to the Gulf Coast at its launch, expected by mid-2013.

“That’s what makes the most sense, build a pipeline from Pennsylvania to Texas and build your new capacity down here,” said Giacobbe, a Houston-based consultant.

Production in West Virginia makes sense in terms of domestic markets. But the global markets are the real prize. The demand growth is in developing countries (e.g. BRIC).

In the latest issue of Planning (American Planning Association magazine), Jeffery Spivak explores possible ramifications of a deeper and wider Panama Canal:

In just a few years, though, those household and business products may journey from China to the stores in a different way, on a new generation of supersized ocean vessels that bypass the West Coast. These freighters will cut across a newly widened Panama Canal before docking at a port along the East Coast or Gulf Coast. This prospect is setting off a competition among eastern and southern ports, all eager to become the go-to destination for Asian imports.

The economic geography of trade is about to undergo a major transformation. The smart money is on shipping the gas out of Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast. This would gouge the job benefit for the Marcellus region. Texas and Louisiana should send a gift basket to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and PA Governor Tom Corbett.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Job Sprawl And Cocktail Napkin Startups

Why does residential density matter? If a suburban enclave (like you would find in Northern Virginia) packs people in on par with with an urban living environment, is that as good as more people moving into cities? I'm not the least bit concerned about the geography of home. I'm only interested in where the jobs are located.

If you want to talk about the journey to work, then I'll listen. Few can afford to drive long distances for employment. There is a ton of captive labor out there, which explains the massive income discrepancies found in the wealthiest counties. Co-locating job and residence is a boon for those struggling to make ends meet. Bring geographic arbitrage to the people stuck in place.

As for job density, there isn't much difference between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. You can find tremendous benefits of talent proximity in either area. But moving Twitter from tech park to downtown isn't necessarily a win for urbanists:

That was an important lesson learned in the 1960s and ’70s, after urban renewal advocates like Robert Moses in New York bulldozed neighborhoods in hopes of starting afresh. Buildings with no space for shops rose on the scraped earth, and it took years for people to return to the sidewalks.

All of this comes to mind because San Francisco is offering tax breaks to tech companies that relocate their offices to the city’s blighted neighborhoods. Twitter will be the first recipient of this largess when it moves into new offices in the Furniture Mart on a particularly desolate section of Market Street next year.

Twitter, which is competing for talent with Google and Facebook, gives its employees free food. The question is whether those urban employees will leave the building often enough to dramatically improve the neighborhood.

Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR, an urban policy research group, says the impact of corporate cafeterias in an urban setting has not been rigorously studied. But, Mr. Metcalf says, “You certainly get more life on the street if everyone is going out to lunch.”

University of Pennsylvania. Yale. There are a bunch of urban campuses that, until recently, remained hermetically sealed off from the surrounding neighborhoods. Providing incentives for businesses and people alike to move into the city are not enough to spark revitalization.

That's a shot across the bow for those adhering too religiously to rational choice migration. Not all moving in is a win. San Francisco is chasing smokestacks. Bad policy all around.

What about encouraging more people to go out to lunch? Only now am I beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Aaron Renn's (The Urbanophile) recommendation:

My idea for today is a very simple one: change the local business culture so that it is not just tacitly tolerated but actively accepted to drink alcohol at lunch again.

The drive to work and to lunch have done a grave disservice to deals over cocktails. Golfing has filled the void admirably. One still has to get to and from the links. I'd bet drunk driving is more prevalent than anyone will admit. It's about time that boozing for biz and transit oriented development become (formally) acquainted.

There should be value in locating your company near a popular watering hole or exceptional dining. That is to say, the proximity to urban (or town) amenities matters to the development of your workforce. So Penn's or Yale's inner city location is an asset instead of a liability. Planning and zoning could be a lot more creative in addressing short-term fixes to regional problems.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Shale Gas Ponzi Scheme? EPA Says No

For much of the past week, the US shale gas industry has been on the defensive because of two stories in the New York Times. Michael Giberson of Knowledge Problem offers a good summary of the reaction. The "Enron Moment" piece is ridiculous and does more to stifle discussion than to advance better policy/regulation. Leave the hyperbole to us bloggers, thank you very much.

If you are keeping score and trying to figure "which side are you on", the EPA tips the Federal Government hand:

"What we are seeing now, with the change in the market that inexpensive natural gas has brought to the table, is a change in the marketability of those [coal] units and the electricity they generate," said Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation.

"So many retirements are expected just simply as a result of inexpensive natural gas."

Here is where the story gets complicated. You see, shale gas is seen to be both "friend and foe" to the US power grid:

As a foe, natural gas is a leading alternative to electricity for cooking, heating homes and water, drying clothes, and even in transportation.

In this case, gas competes with the generation of electricity (as opposed to fueling it). So, some big, bad energy companies might be looking to pop the alleged Marcellus bubble. You can count Big Coal among those enemies, marching side-by-side with environmentalists. Ahem!

There is quite a bit of hype surrounding the natural gas rush. I'm still confident that the boom is real. The overall policy narrative, industry and opposition (and folks between the two), points in that direction. As for the New York Times, I have lost a lot of respect for the newspaper. Churning out conspiracy theories isn't investigative journalism.

Geography Of The Next American Economy

I'll start today's post in the heart of the TechBelt, Warren, Ohio:

Ted Theofrastous of NorTech, a regional nonprofit organization involved [Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center] development, said laboratory equipment offered at the facility will be unique and will help emerging energy technologies develop across the region.

Pogue hopes to have six or more businesses located in the center by this time next year, and he said the center could be a driving force in attracting a new, highly educated work force to the region.

[U.S. Rep Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles,] agreed, saying the region from Cleveland to Akron to Pittsburgh could benefit from the facility.

Ryan has his economic geography inside out. The facility will allow Warren to benefit from innovation clusters in Cleveland, Akron, and Pittsburgh.

Greater Youngstown tying its fortunes to Cleveland and Pittsburgh is critical. That's what William J. Holstein might argue:

The Next American Economy: Blueprint for a Real Recovery includes nine case studies of Boston, Pittsburgh, Orlando, San Diego, Corning, N.Y., Austin, the state of North Carolina, Atlanta and Cleveland. Holstein uses those case studies to offer pragmatic insights to governments, businesses, universities and community colleges and others on how to overcome America's economic difficulties and launch a new wave of innovation.

A review of the book in the Financial Times indicates Silicon Valley is the model. That sparked a thought about all the criticism concerning the attempt to be the next Silicon Valley. Might we be too impatient?

I have in mind, of course, Pittsburgh. The shift in media coverage is dramatic. The change has been slow and hard, even painful. As for the positive press, Pittsburgh is no Silicon Valley. Not even close.

So what? The city is still a blueprint for not only America's recovery, but Russia's. Coming up far short of Silicon Valley (or Austin, or the Research Triangle) doesn't mean failure. It doesn't mean that Pittsburgh should stop trying, either.

I've tracked a number of initiative purporting to develop a tech or innovation corridor. None has the potential of Cleveland-Pittsburgh. Ironically, Congressman Tim Ryan and Greater Youngstown are driving the integration. The Mahoning Valley is a hotbed of policy innovation. (See Phil Kidd) This is the birthplace of the TechBelt vision.

The development can't happen fast enough. Cynics continue to poo-poo the lack of progress and spotlight the persistent economic distress. To most, nothing has changed.

That's the world of mesofacts. (Via Chris Briem's Twitter feed) Pittsburgh is still Shittsburgh in places such as Wichita:

But there was one remaining question from [Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn]: Why is Visioneering Wichita headed to Pittsburgh Sept. 14 to 16 for this year’s city-to-city visit?

The idea of the visits generally is to learn what’s working elsewhere and whether it can work in Wichita. Peterjohn says he doesn’t necessarily see Pittsburgh as the best model.

“Pittsburgh is in decline,” Peterjohn said. “I’m wondering why Visioneering would be looking as a model to a community in decline, as opposed to going to places where the economy is stronger.”

Pittsburgh is not in decline. But if you are interested in a population boom, then look elsewhere. Good luck with that. Little wonder why Wichita hired Next Generation Consulting. As for Peterjohn, he is a devotee of the tax regime migration school. People vote with their feet. Taxes are too high. Pennsylvania is anti-business. Pittsburgh is a loser, circa 1983.

On the flip side is Holstein. Seeing Pittsburgh and Cleveland lumped in with San Diego and Boston must surprise most people, none more so than residents of Cleveland. I've noticed in both TechBelt poles a tendency of outsiders and newcomers to sing the praises of each city. Natives, too, are stuck in the past.

Pittsburgh has already served as a positive role model for many American cities. People are beginning to catch onto the doings in Cleveland (e.g. land bank program). Don't laugh:

In his new book, The Next American Economy: Blueprint For a Real Recovery, author William J. Holstein shows that MADE IN AMERICA is still very much alive. Caterpillar (No. 13 on the list) and Beoing (its 747 is No. 29), have done a remarkable job navigating through, and succeeding in, the new global economy. He cites cities like San Diego for genomics, Pittsburgh for robotics, and Cleveland for electronics as hubs of world-class innovation.

World-class innovation. Cleveland. Pittsburgh. Surely Warren, Ohio would benefit from tapping into that.