Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Return Migration Frontier

Migration is an entrepreneurial act. People tend to be risk averse. Most moves cover only a short distance. You go where you know. That's bad news for regions with reputations as depressed and struggling. Why would anyone move to Ann Arbor? It is located in Michigan. Enough said.

The solution to the Ann Arbor Dilemma is return migration. Expats can see through the mesofacts. They also have different motivations for relocation. For example, one might go home to help take care of an ill family member. Once they are back, they bring a fresh perspective and see opportunities that locals miss:

Yet what may have been the most difficult redevelopment was changing the minds of locals and others who first pooh-poohed the idea.

“I heard far too many times that ‘This is Poland, your idea is impossible,’ ” says Christophe Mankowski, a voluble and bustling entrepreneur who creates new ice cream flavors as a hobby.

“In Poland, you explain a way to do things differently and everyone says it is impossible. Everyone complains, ‘It will never happen, Look at him. This is Poland, forget it. But now we have a five-star hotel, and people understand we aren’t just building hotels, we are building a city.”

The Mankowski siblings – Christophe, brother Nicolas, and sister Helena – were born and educated in France. But their engineer father came from Krakow to Paris in the early 1970s and later moved to Moscow to make a fortune in information systems.

Now the Mankowskis, in their 30s, have returned to their Polish roots along the Slovak border – winning back some of the family land nationalized under communist rule. They’ve reclaimed and rebuilt the dream of their great-grandfather, Adam Stadnicki, a count who fell in love with the area in 1909 and developed it. A hundred years later, the count’s offspring still identify Poland as their native realm.

Migrants, boomeranger or newcomer, don't realize what cannot be done. They jump right in and run through brick walls. Often, that is just what the doctor ordered for a down and out Rust Belt city.

In order to understand the return migration trend, start with the brain drain. This isn't the outmigration of your grandparents. Ask Ireland:

“Ireland has a history of constant bloodletting with people leaving the country, but this time it’s different. It’s the young and educated that are leaving. Most have university degrees or some kind of higher qualification,” says Looney.

“It used to be the case that when you left, you left. Now the perception on the whole is that people want to come back, even if they go as far as Australia.”

While people are leaving, many are doing so in order to grow their businesses, boost exports and find new markets, not to abandon Ireland altogether.

The London Irish Centre found that 90% of new migrants were between the ages of 18 and 35 and - whilst drawn to the UK out of hardship - had come to “progress” their careers of their educational levels.

Global talent migration patterns are divergent. The best educated are the most geographically mobile. They can country jump or city hop, circling back to base whenever it suits them. As for the less educated, they are typically stuck and left behind. The people who most need to emigrate either cannot or will not leave. The opportunity is caught up in the eddy of brain circulation.

Return migration has been a boon for Rust Belt cities. Repats are fueling an urban renaissance. In Cleveland:

Like many expats who've returned, Watterson appreciates his hometown's familiar surroundings and how affordable it all is -- his Lakewood mortgage is less than the rent on his fifth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn. The key to luring more people, he says, is nurturing the city's authenticity and making sure the world hears about that, not about a fire or a fumble.

"You can be based here and do globally significant work," Watterson said. "And if enough people are doing cool, innovative stuff, and if we are who we are and we embrace it, we'll be fine."

Emphasis added. The big fish in a small pond story is a common theme. That's the lure home. Come do here what you cannot in Big City. The return migrants are changing the psychology of Cleveland.

The turnaround in Pittsburgh is even more dramatic. Nowhere is this more evident than in the neighborhood of East Liberty. Next American City digs down into the revitalization tale and finds another return migrant at the core:

Pittsburgh, indeed, has a gap when you look at middle agers. So many of them left when the steel industry collapsed, and the city today is very old and fairly young. Ciccone, for one, spent time in Chicago and in New York before returning home to Pittsburgh and attending grad school at Carnegie Mellon.

“Having grown up here,” he says, “I never thought I’d be back here this early in my life. There [weren’t] a lot of really vibrant things happening in the ’80s, ’90s or even early 2000s. But those of us who moved to New York or Chicago saw that in Pittsburgh, we could have a hand in shaping the neighborhoods that we wanted to stay in. Not only do I have a chance to shape the place where I want to live, but I can shape it with a lot of my friends. You can be incredibly innovative here and there’s nobody to stop you.

“The fact that we’re developing an Ace Hotel is kinda insane,” says Ciccone. “Only here would we have the opportunity to do that.”

Emphasis added. Note the contrast with New York or Chicago. The innovation environment is better in Pittsburgh. Behold the return migration frontier. Talent frustrated in an alpha global city can find full expression in Cleveland, Buffalo, Youngstown, or Pittsburgh. I'm tracking a similar flow to San Antonio. The last recession has reshuffled the deck. There are a few significant changes to talent relocation patterns. Ace Hotel is opening up in East Liberty:

A caption on the wall calls it “a testament to his ability to intertwine art with ethnography” — not a bad caption, actually, for the ambitions of the Ace itself, which since opening its doors in Portland in 1999 has expanded to New York, Seattle, Palm Springs and Los Angeles.

Make that Portland, Seattle, New York, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and… Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh? Indeed.

No comments: