Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rust Belt Return Migration

Global cities function like a university. Young talent migrates to the biggest metros, leaving a few years later after undergoing intense economic development. For the Rust Belt, high school graduates leave the region and matriculate someplace else. Brain drain. Then these college graduates leave the host community for big city. Eventually, many will return home better educated and earning much more money than they would have if they had stayed. Brain gain. The outmigration dividend for Pittsburgh:

A graduate of Woodland Hills High School, Rodgers earned a degree from University of Maryland and moved on to Seattle, a land of opportunity for game developers.

For the next eight years, he worked for gaming companies like Nintendo, Microsoft and WildTangent on titles that included Super Mario Pinball, Gameboy Advance and Conker: Live and Reloaded. ...

... Rodgers returned to Pittsburgh and started HeadRight Games through Innovation Works' AlphaLab program.  He hopes to launch the first game, tentatively called Amusement World, this May, a sort of Disney World meets Willy Wonka theme park with rides, hidden object puzzles and quests.

On average, over 37% of migration to US metro counties is return migration. I figure this percentage is much higher in the Rust Belt. Slice the data any way you want. Return migration is a big deal. Cleveland is tapping into that established flow, hoping to grow the number boomeranging back:

While Pathways focuses on retention of talent, the Boomerang Initiative is all about attraction of talent -- specifically, successful former Clevelanders interested in moving home. Spurring this initiative, said Global Cleveland President Larry Miller, was a study he commissioned that found that more Clevelanders returned from New York City between 1996 and 2008 than moved to the Big Apple.

"We're trying to accelerate that trend," Miller said.

Emphasis added. I'm the one who authored the commissioned study. You can read more the "boomerang" initiative here:

Jim Russell, an economic geographer from Pittsburgh, sifted 13 years of IRS tax-return data to map Greater Cleveland's migration patterns. He found that the beaten paths lead to five main cities: Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Washington and Los Angeles.

For the record, I'm not from Pittsburgh. But I've done similar research for the Garfield neighborhood, crafting a strategy that will help revitalize this part of the city:

Chain Migration Theory describes an efficient way of attracting a designated population to a city or city neighborhood. It is a process that starts with the few in-migrants already in the city: they are the first links in the chain. They have contact with other people like them outside the city and this is used as a way to locate new candidate in-migrants, who become the second links in the chain; these second links are attracted by the personal endorsement of the first link in the chain as well as by targeted efforts by the city to provide them the resources they need or want. The process is iterated so that the chains grow with third and fourth links; and so on.

What makes this chain strategy of in-migration so effective is that it minimizes the risk in-migrants perceive themselves to be taking. They are not moving to an unknown, if interesting, new place. They are moving to the neighborhood with the trusted endorsement of a friend.

Our chain migration mechanism will be supplemented by another resource. It will also capitalize on the good will felt for Pittsburgh by its expatriates (those who have left Pittsburgh and live in other places). Many Pittsburgh expatriates have a strong loyalty and love for Pittsburgh and will support it from afar. Pittsburgh repatriates (those who left Pittsburgh and have now returned) are also intensely loyal to the city. These two groups will be the key groups to focus on to reach our 6% goal.

In order to generate more inmigration, a city should better leverage established flows. The best way to get talent is to export it. Typically, the most important destinations for brain drain are the most important sources of talent for Rust Belt metros. There are other important factors to consider. But you get the gist of the approach.

The work I did for Global Cleveland is my third return migration project. Each iteration, the technique gets more refined and targeted. Most of the development of this idea can be found at my blog, Burgh Diaspora. I'm looking for a community willing to let me craft a fourth iteration of return migration engineering. If you are interested, please contact me via email, jimrussell [at] globalburgh [dot] com.


Joey said...

Howdy Mr. Diaspora,
I'm a geography student and a Garfield resident. I'd love to look at your boomerang stuff on Garfield, but I couldn't find your work through the provided link. Did you contribute to the "6% Place" stuff or is your work elsewhere on CityLab's site?

Jim Russell said...

Hi Joey,

The passage quoted is in the "6% Place" book. The strategy I crafted is published there. Starts on page 78.