Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mating With Migrants

Outsiders are alluring. The locals can't compete with the accent. Or can they? The art of seduction in Dallas, Texas:

In Austin and other big cities in the state — Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio — the Texas twang is being infiltrated by what linguists call General American English, a more-or-less Midwestern accent, the standard heard on TV and other spoken media.

Blame it on the girls, say University of Texas researchers.

"The typical pattern for any language change is always the young women," says Lars Hinrichs, assistant professor of English language and linguistics at UT and director of the Texas English Project. "If you pronounce things the new way, you have power — you're hotter. The more popular girls lead the way." ...

... "Who's picking up on this new transition? It's not the old people. It's the young people doing it," Hinrichs said. Young white females are the earliest adopters.

And like other adaptations that are steadily transforming the Texas accent, it emerged first in Dallas and its suburbs. Then it spread to Houston, then on to Austin and San Antonio, he said.

Emphasis added. I'd bet that the diffusion of General American English followed the same road those from out of state used to move to Texas. The local agents of linguistic change have to compete with the new girl, whom all the boys are chasing. We seem to be hardwired to mate with migrants.

A major variable to geographic mobility is gender. Women are more rooted in place, figuratively and literally. To be crass, a woman on the move is a whore. She's attractive because she is exotic, which makes stuck locals very uneasy. The traditional power hierarchy is upset. Migration is too damn sexy.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Redefining Urbanization

I've tended to think of cities in terms of hierarchy, the relationship of goods and services across space. That's how I was trained. Blogging about brain drain for almost six years, I now see cities as products of migration. Density takes a backseat to the gravity drawing in people from elsewhere. Nigel Thrift on redefining urbanization:

[C]ities are increasingly both networked and perforated by information technology in ways which are bringing them together as actual forceful entities rather than as simply conglomerations. In some places, that process is purposeful (think of the example of Living PlanIT’s kitting out of a new town in Portugal). But more generally it is the growth of GIS, locative services, and telematics which is producing a gradual but definite change in how we think about cities–cities in which place defined by movement becomes a defining characteristic.

Emphasis added. Until I read that, I hadn't realized how far I've strayed from conventional urban economic geography. I should mention that Thrift is a part of a collection of bloggers (e.g. Ben Wildavsky) who are tracking the globalization of higher education. I contend that the transnational flow of university students is the defining feature of the Talent Economy. I would describe a city in terms of its migration connectivity profile. We can understand how the world works through the lens of migration.

For you Pittsburgh-centric readers out there, I see your city as well-positioned to take advantage of the emerging economic epoch. Like China, Pittsburgh is connected the rest of the world via talent exports. Pittsburgh is people, not a place.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cool City Cop Out

Is your city in the dumps? Can't figure out how to fix it? Get cool, now:

You think building great managers is tough? It is. So tough that we grew up and looked at that opportunity and needed a nap after pondering the complexity of making it happen. So we write the check and build cool space instead. Ping-pong table anyone?

Sometimes, drawing parallels between regional talent management and corporate talent management is a fool's errand. This is not one of those times. Developing people is hard work and takes a long time. Moving the needle on primary and secondary education is painfully slow. Ask any politician. Better to build a new convention center or give in to the casino idea. That is to say, buy a ping-pong table for your shrinking city.

Portland, Oregon is the cool office space. The metro decided that economic development was too hard. Better to be an emerald city than a backwater with relatively good schools:

Interview partners agreed that even though the region has been practicing what Richard Florida is recommending (i.e. focusing on improving the living conditions), it did not implement these strategies deliberately. The success of the region in translating quality of life into economic competitiveness seems to be an accidental and unintended result of a much longer strategy aimed at environmental goals for their own sake rather than economic objectives.

Unintended consequences acknowledged, Portland now actively markets itself as a cool office space. So much the better to attract talent. That's what you do when you can't develop talent. Instead of innovating, you play ping-pong. When you want to get serious about being an entrepreneur, you move back to Indianapolis.

Cool is not an economic development strategy. For Portland, cool and all that came with it is a byproduct of being a more environmentally sustainable city. For my money, great place-making inspires people to do great things. Some college campuses made me feel like I wanted to be a famous scholar. I was smarter just by sitting in the cathedral-like library. Brilliant landscape design or architecture can help. They aren't necessary.

Brain Dead Indiana

It’s almost as if they’re gonna get smarter by locating to an urban area. - David Audretsch, Indiana University professor of economic development

Indiana is dying. Desperate Rust Belt times require desperate Sun Belt measures. The state wants to give its residents the right to work. What's the rush? All the brains are leaving:

Q: What are some reasons why Indiana might have difficulty holding on to well-educated workers?

A: The real question is: Are we drawing people in? Do we have opportunities for highly skilled workers whether they graduated in Indiana or not? When you look at the data, the answer is some. More than we did in the past, but we are definitely net exporters of educational attainment. When you look at the so called great knowledge clusters in the country — Silicon Valley, research triangle in North Carolina; Austin, Texas. They’ve got a big inflow of people coming in, because of good match-ups between skills and industry.

Probably not the answer the journalist was expecting. Did Dr. Audretsch duck the question? The game of economic development is one of talent attraction, not retention. Indiana does not have a brain drain problem. Brain drain isn't a problem anywhere in the entire United States. But we throw billions of dollars every year at it, a colossal waste.

After residents graduate from college, Indiana does a lousy job of developing people. Again, Audretsch with some key insight:

We know that in larger cities, there’s going to be a lot more demand for highly educated workers. Indiana doesn’t have these kinds of mega-global cities like Chicago or New York or Dallas. The job opportunities in places like these are just greater for all levels of education. That’s something Indiana battles.

Emphasis added. Global cities do the best job of developing people. That's why so many people move to one. The upside for Indiana is that, at least domestically, even more talent leaves US global cities every year. Chicago poaches the best of Indiana's college graduates. Indiana poaches Chicago's best mid-career professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs. The focus on college graduate migration is a major gaffe.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Job Creation Geography: Top 10 Pittsburgh

You move where the jobs are. Yes, geographic mobility is still in a long decline. But all US workers are not frozen in place. New hiring is sparse. The exceptions to the rule:

Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the United States has gained about 1.2 million jobs, mostly in the services sector. Of the top 100 metros, 59 have added jobs overall, while 41 have lost jobs.

The top 10 job-creating metros account for 38.5% of net U.S. job growth and include Houston (7.2%), Dallas (6.1%), Boston (6.0%), Phoenix (3.5%), Detroit (3.1%), Miami (3.0%), Nashville (2.7%), Pittsburgh (2.5%), Washington DC (2.2%), and San Jose (2.1%).

Emphasis added. Job growth is one thing. Recovery is quite another. Detroit has a long way to go back to peak employment. To attract migrants, demand for talent needs to outstrip local supply. That's Pittsburgh.

Relocation to Houston, Dallas, and even Boston isn't news. Some destinations don't change. However, the Great Recession did pick a few new winners in the vote-with-your-feet game. Pittsburgh is one of them.

Brain Drain Boondoggles: New Mexico Tax Credit

New Mexico must be flush with cash. State revenue isn't a problem. In these booming economic times, lawmakers are itching to give companies a tax credit:

A bill to reverse brain drain in New Mexico advanced Wednesday, though in slimmed-down fashion.

The proposal would give tax breaks to state businesses that hire students who graduate from New Mexico universities with advanced degrees in select fields.

To qualify for the $5,000 tax credit, a company would have to employ somebody with a master's or doctorate in science, technology, engineering, math or health from one of the state's three research universities. ...

... A company would get the tax credit if it hired a graduate for a full-time job with benefits for at least seven months in the first year.

Hey, leave the brain drain out of this. Call a tax cut a tax cut. Heck, it's really a subsidy. The money will suppress wages. Companies love a hometown discount. New Mexico wants to add some gravy to that meal. The bill has bipartisan support.

Graduates who would have stayed regardless (likely a strong majority) also represent a tax credit opportunity. A few who might have left will stay. The per capita cost for that brain gain will be astronomical. In essence, Republicans duped Democrats into slashing state revenue, all in the name of brain drain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Talent Migration Choke Points

If talent is the new oil, where are the choke points? When I think about global flows of talent, the first place that comes to my mind is Silicon Valley. Set up shop there, letting the best and brightest come to you. But choke points cut both ways. The concentration of traffic represents opportunity and vulnerability. Ryan Avent with the latter story:

Based on the data points in these stories, then, we have a rise in tech salaries in 2011 of 5.2% versus a rise in Silicon Valley rents of north of 10%. To the extent that falling real wages are discouraging people from moving to Silicon Valley to take advantage of the boom, the country is losing out on employment opportunities, a potential increase in incomes, and new business formation. That's pretty disappointing. And one then has to ask why the area's housing market is so tight. Historically, the answer has been slow growth in housing supply, which is itself a reflection of the development priorities of the local residents. Through November of last year, the San Jose metropolitan area had approved just 2,400 new housing units for all of 2011, with an additional 5,400 approved in the San Francisco-Oakland metro area. To put that into context, Fargo, North Dakota approved over 1,400 units over that period; Detroit approved over 3,000 units; Las Vegas approved over 4,600 units, and Houston approved over 28,000 new housing units in that time.

A tight labor market discourages entrepreneurship (Avent's first point in the blog post). The higher prices for housing discourages talent migration. This negative feedback loop is hurting job creation. Talent is too spiky.

Like talent, venture capital is spiky. Richard Florida remarks that this money is not as spiky as some think:

Venture capital investment can and does flow widely across regions and is attracted to areas with the best deals and strongest ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship. It is largely a myth that a lack of venture capital funds in certain places holds back innovation there. 

A tight labor market would seem to be a much bigger problem for regional innovation. Where is there an ample supply of free-flowing talent? Pittsburgh:

Google Pittsburgh's Bakery Square office was recognized as one of the coolest offices in the country last year, but wait and see the new floor, modeled after the Kennywood amusement park, says Jordan Newman, Google spokesperson. ...

... "The reason we're growing in Pittsburgh is there's a great pipeline of talent coming from CMU and other schools in the region," says Newsman. "There are so many great engineers coming out of the city. We're confident we'll be able to continue to find the talent here."

The boomerang effect has also brought many back to the region, he adds; residents who left Pittsburgh and chose to come back to work at Google. The region's strong economy has contributed as well.

Thinking of the US economic landscape in geopolitical terms, Pittsburgh is fertile ground for job creation. Better to be where the talent is produced than in a place waiting for talent to show up. So Portland fights for talent with placemaking strategies and Pittsburgh fights for entrepreneurship with the development of people.

Pittsburgh Jobs Boom Continues

President Obama missed his chance to tout, once again, the Pittsburgh economic rebound. The United States is looking for a way forward. Pittsburgh has the answer:

Only May and June of 2001  showed a higher job count than the 1,164,000 raw number just out. So the middle of construction season then when I think there were a few big construction projects pushing up the numbers (and before USAirways employment imploded of course).  Seasonally adjusted the first part of 2001 had some slightly higher numbers.

So we will call it the post-USAirways peak.

The post-USAirways employment peak? December 2011. Pittsburgh isn't just recovered from the Great Recession. The metro is posting job count records. More from Pittsburgh Today:

Pittsburgh is the pace setter in this benchmark cohort. The region had a relatively shallow recession. Conventional wisdom predicted a sluggish recovery that would lag behind the rest of the country. That's the historical precedent. Instead, Pittsburgh is accelerating.

Talent Migration Loser Texas

If people vote with their feet, then Texas is a loser ... in the world of higher education. A journalist for the Washington Post crunched the numbers of the high school graduate college migration. The worst "brain drain" is in New Jersey. Texas is a distant second.

There are a bunch of tasty data morsels in this blog post. There's a link to an interactive map at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Every two years, a U.S. Education Department survey of colleges and universities collects information about the migration of new full-time students, based on their states of residence when they apply. Use this interactive tool to see these movements in detail during a 16-year period for nearly 1,600 institutions.

As someone trying to analyze talent migration patterns, I find state-level data extremely frustrating. The institutional variable helps me drill down into the numbers a bit.

More importantly, the Post blogger disaggregates the net migration. New Jersey doesn't attract a lot of college freshmen from other states. But it's the number who leave New Jersey that impresses. As for Texas, a good comparison is brain gain winner Pennsylvania. The two states have a similar number leaving. The difference is the big deluge moving to PA for school, which is New Jersey-impressive on the other side of the ledger. When it comes to talent production, Pennsylvania is a winner.

Last nugget, brain drain is all relative:

Nationally, about three-fourths of students stay in their home state for college.

I see states and regions freaking out about brain drain with college graduate retention rates hovering around 75-80%. What's all the fuss about? Population. Ugh.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rust Belt Chic Sudbury

Downtown needs rethought. It reads like Pittsburghese. Journalist Rob O'Flanagan is talking about the urban core of Sudbury, which reminds him of Pittsburgh:

I've lived in Guelph for nearly five years. Guelph, like so many southern Ontario towns, is quaint. It has limestone buildings -- there is no way to avoid quaint when you have limestone. Sudbury has granite and slag -- quaint is not Sudbury's reality. But the downtown, nestled as it is amidst those blackened hills, is actually quite beautiful in its own unique way. And from a certain height, it is really unlike anything I've seen anywhere -- except certain sections of breathtaking Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sudbury is dying. The city needs a makeover. What would Richard Florida do? O'Flanagan dismisses the usual angst about revitalization. Downtown has a "bad rap." Granite and slag is cool.

The Rust Belt Reset is mostly a matter of perception, a shift in urban aesthetic. Portland is out. Pittsburgh is in. Put a bird on it.

Leaving home helped me to appreciate the Rust Belt. I saw the wonders of other great cities, such as Seattle. I get the buzz about boomtown Denver. I prefer Pittsburgh. I see all Rust Belt cities through that lens.

I spent the better part of this morning trying to find an article that discussed the success of the Pure Michigan ad campaign.  I failed and I might be misremembering. Supposedly, tourism to the state increased. But so did state pride, among current residents and expats. Pure Michigan is an effective pep talk. The fresh eyes of an outsider has a way of making the familiar exciting, "Hey, Michigan doesn't suck!"

In almost every shrinking community, there is the brain drain that isn't. The data don't matter. Locals are convinced there is an exodus. People are leaving because the city broken. Downtown needs fixed.

That's one way to sell a boondoggle. The much cheaper alternative is to look at the urban core with fresh eyes, re-imagining both space and place. See the metaphorical blank slate, a frontier opportunity. Ruin porn. That's where revitalization starts.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kodak Is Dead

Long live Rochester! Kodak's bankruptcy is clouding perceptions of Rochester. It's another Rust Belt gloom and doom story. For a more nuanced perspective, I turn to the Democrat and Chronicle:

Other company towns whose companies went through decline — steel-making Pittsburgh and auto-producing Detroit, for example — have suffered far more acutely than Rochester has. Displaced workers here founded smaller companies. They stayed and they worked. Local unemployment never went above 10 percent and has fallen to 6.9 percent compared with the nation's 8.5 percent.

Rochester just kept going, though the shadow of Kodak never vanished. Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards said recently that Kodak's gradual denouement, including its ongoing transformation of Eastman Business Park into an industrial area populated with growing companies, has eased the economic landing for the community.

Steel and Pittsburgh. Cars and Detroit. Cameras and Rochester. I add rubber and Akron. The companies that dominated Rochester and Akron left both communities with a wonderful legacy. See "Searching for Silicon Valley in the Rust Belt: The Evolution of Knowledge Networks in Akron and Rochester":

Until the 1980s, Akron, Ohio was the “tire capital of the world.” Today, not a single tire is today produced in the city. Yet, many of the companies—or at least parts of them—remain located there and have shifted emphasis to advanced polymers, the general class of materials which include synthetic rubber, fibers and engineered plastics. Economic development efforts in the city have been based around attempts to build a new community of innovation around these technologies. Rochester, New York was home to several internationally prominent companies in optical-electronics. In the 1980s, these companies moved significant parts of the production process elsewhere and shifted investments in an effort to diversify portfolios. Similarly, they have also made an attempt to transition from a dependence on mass produced consumer opto-electronics to higher technology areas including lasers, semi-conductors and photonics.

Neither Rochester nor Akron did the fail like Pittsburgh did. Detroit finally did the fail and the future looks dark. You dig beneath the oxidized surface and you see starkly different histories.

Kodak's demise reminds me of the US Airways hub in Pittsburgh. In 2004, the airport was downgraded from hub status. The moment of shock was many years (decades) in the making. It was (still is) more a matter of wounded civic pride. But the bad news reinforced the mesofact of Pittsburgh as a dying city.

I'll give the Rochester newspaper the last word:

But Kodak's story is no longer Rochester's story, at least in terms of how the economy performs. Rochester is moving on from the downsizings at Kodak — though, to be sure, some of the new growth is owed to the engineering and managerial talent nurtured at Kodak as well as at Xerox Corp. and Bausch + Lomb Inc., the others in the region's traditional Big Three.

Just last week, the Brookings Institution ranked 200 metro economies around the world based on their 2010-2011 growth rates for employment, income and output of goods and services. Rochester ranked 46th on a list headed by Shanghai, China — but was third-highest among the 57 U.S. metro areas evaluated, trailing only Houston and Dallas and outperforming metros such as New York City, Boston and Washington.

Brookings, a Washington-based public policy organization, said Rochester especially stood out because of its growth in output, 3.3 percent compared with the U.S. rate of 1.8 percent, and employment. The region is growing jobs at an annual rate of 2.5 percent compared with the nation's 1.3 percent.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oakland Is Dying

Is too much tolerance pushing out talent from Berkeley? The uneven economic geography of the Bay Area has to be explained. Here is one version:

"There's a brain drain running from the East Bay to San Francisco and the South Bay," said Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's School of Information.

Wadhwa said the famously liberal city of Berkeley has created an atmosphere so toxic to business that graduates move away after finishing school. The area's "economic survival is at stake," he said.

The new employment numbers show that while the tech sector added 13,000 jobs in the South Bay and 6,400 in the San Francisco metro area (which also includes Marin and San Mateo counties), the number of tech workers in the East Bay declined by 600.

Long-term jobs numbers in the Bay Area are even more striking. Over the past seven years, the East Bay has lost 11,100 tech jobs, the data show. During the same time, the South Bay added 26,700 jobs in tech and the San Francisco metro area added 13,000.

Emphasis added. The larger story is that San Francisco is recovering and Oakland is struggling. I'm not buying the Blame Berkeley narrative.

I lived in Boulder, CO longer than I lived in any other place. Boulder (a.k.a. People's Republic of Boulder) might not be as famously liberal as Berkeley. But the two communities have a lot in common. Think über-liberal college town or left of left-wing college town. That's Boulder, a place steeped in Beatnik lore. Boulder is also the cradle of a tech-boom. Why isn't wacky commie Boulder driving away graduates?

First, where else would you go? There isn't a Silicon Valley like alternative. South Bay, Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco, and San Jose are all pulling on the talent coming out of the university. Second, there isn't a Stanford in the region serving as a competing anchor for innovation. Lastly, Boulder is blessed with federal government laboratories and research facilities. You've got NASA, NOAA, NIST, and NCAR. That's why IBM located there many moons ago.

I doubt the policy landscape makes much of difference. Oakland has a Rust Belt quality, the draw of an urban frontier. East Bay should be looking for a different kind of talent, people who are interested in civic innovation. Other parts of the Bay Area are winning the war for tech talent. Berkeley produces graduates in other fields. I'm sure there's a niche in there somewhere.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Migration Versus Population Growth

Better to boom with migrants than babies. Conventional wisdom associates population growth with economic growth. This perspective is unsustainable. I also think it is wrong. The simple act of moving to a new place is economic development. The United States is in trouble:

For the last 20 years — from the end of the cold war through two burst bubbles in a single decade — the U.S. has been casting about for its next economic narrative. And now it is experiencing another period of panic, which is bad news for much of the work force but particularly for its youngest members. The U.S. has always been a remarkably itinerant country, but new data from the Census Bureau indicate that mobility has reached its lowest level in recorded history. Sure, some people are stuck in homes valued at less than their mortgages, but many young people — who don’t own homes and don’t yet have families — are staying put, too. This suggests, among other things, that people aren’t packing up for new economic opportunities the way they used to. Rather than dividing the country into the 1 percenters versus everyone else, the split in our economy is really between two other classes: the mobile and immobile.

Having lots of babies won't do an inert and isolated community much good. The growing numbers of people is more burden than boon. There is no density dividend for such a place. Welcome to North Korea:

Because North Korea shuts out people, it shuts out ideas. That's one big reason why it is a starving backwater. Its more open cousin, South Korea, which welcomes foreigners and sends hordes of students and businesspeople abroad each year, is 17 times richer.

South Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the right university; North Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the age of five.

The central message of my book, Borderless Economics, is that when people move around, they spread new ideas, mostly for the better.

I'm still in the middle of reading Robert Guest's book, "Borderless Economics". Guest is arguing that when you squash migration, you kill innovation. You get North Korea. The United States isn't transforming into North Korea. Immigration to this country is a tremendous economic asset. Guest makes this point in his book. He's advocating for more liberal immigration policies throughout the world. Migration fuels economic growth.

My point is that the same is true on the domestic front. Exporting talent like China does (again, read Guest's book and see this article that he recently wrote) is a great way to catalyze economic development. Rick Steves makes a similar case about more Americans studying abroad:

Educators are particularly concerned that the lack of opportunity for students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds will cause a "global divide" between students who've benefited from a global education … and those who haven't. And students for whom foreign travel is not easily affordable are the ones who benefit most from the experience. As a society, we can help enrich the education of our younger generation, and brighten their futures, by making this experience more accessible. The Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, currently being considered in Congress, would dedicate $80 million annually to incentivize study abroad, with the goal of encouraging a million American students from a wide range of backgrounds to study abroad each year.

I'd go further. I think we should  incentivize Americans to live and work abroad. Allow college students to spend their last year abroad and graduate while in a foreign country. Help those students find work once they do finish school. Let them spend a year or two developing a network. Our country doesn't have enough emigration.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Place And Economic Development

Is "cool" an economic development strategy? A few of my blog posts are syndicated at Sustainable Cities Collective. Sometimes the title gets tweaked in a way that highlights a controversy. Such is the value of a good editor. That was the case with my most recent work about Pittsburgh versus Portland. The larger issue of place-based planning and economic development provoked a comment that I want to address at Burgh Diaspora:

Nothing much has changed about Portland. It is a great city that succeeds, in part, by virtue of the constant infusion of talented, creative, young people willing (or able) to work part-time service jobs while they pursue "a real job" or figure out their next career steps.  It was true in 1996-98 when I lived there and worked on NW 23rd, in a McMenamins and even in a natural foods store.  It's all cliche and true.  I stayed there until I got my first "real job" in Sacramento.

Because it has worked for Portland, many other cities mistakenly believe it is what will work for them.  The "Portland Way" isn't an off-the-shelf remedy for what ails other cities.  Having said that, what has worked for Portland it has never made the kickoff to the conversation be about economic development.  It might have been an underlying theme, but not the focus.  It has succeeded by focusing on creating a great place to live.  It was a long-term approach that worked.  Too many places, including my current location in the Southeastern US, focus on the short-term jolts of luring companies from other parts of the country to its turf, rather than committing itself to all of the things that make it a great place.

I know "place" is an unfocused term, but if you use that as the starting point of discussion, I think you would be surprised with the results.  It requires a local commitment to a long-term process - often this struggles against political reality.  Focusing on place-based techniques that improve streetscapes, parks, transportation, architecture, art and other public-space infrastructure would be a good start.

Emphasis added. I've included the entire comment because I don't want any confusion about the context. I'm ignoring the defense of Portland. To paraphrase the passage in bold, the focus on making a cool place instead of economic development is the root of Portland's success. I'd rather not get into the reduction of economic development as only smokestack chasing. That's a separate discussion. THE goal is to make a great place. Build it and they will come.

Portland built it and they did come. Portland's success is defined by the inmigration of talent. The most geographically mobile voted with their feet. Portland is a winner. Game over.

Instead of comparing Pittsburgh with Portland, I offer up Oklahoma City. You might remember OKC from yesterday's post. Like Pittsburgh and Rochester, it is a shithole. Today, CEOs for Cities gives Mayor Mick Cornett some love:

For his part, Oklahoma City is a success story, having famously raised taxes to pay for amenities designed to improve quality of life and attract young, college-educated people to the city. The Kauffman Foundation recently named it the most entrepreneurial city in the country with the most start-ups per capita.

I encourage you to click through on the link to the Kauffman Foundation ranking. I also suggest listening to the NPR interview with Mayor Cornett. I understand the connection between OKC's place-making investment and attracting talent. What is missing is how attracting talent translates into becoming "the most entrepreneurial city in the country." If you did click on the link to the Kauffman Foundation rankings, you would learn more about than just #1 OKC:

"Historically, fast-growing small companies have led the U.S. economy out of recession. And according to our latest [FSB/Zogby International] poll, nearly half of all small business owners would consider moving if doing so would help their companies.... Location matters more than ever before. The Great Recession redrew the map of America." Other cities topping each list include: big cities (1 million+), Pittsburgh, PA at no. 2 and Raleigh-Cary, NC at no. 3; medium cities (250K to 1 million), Lafayette, LA no. 2 and Omaha, NE no. 3; and small cities (fewer than 250K), Bismarck, North Dakota at no. 2 and Fargo, North Dakota at no. 3.

The top of the list isn't exactly a collection of talent migration winners. I offer that all these places do a great job of developing people. That's the common thread. Place-making has tremendous value if it helps to develop people. What, exactly, does your region plan to do with the talent it retains and attracts? Or, is the big bump in the IRS migration data in and of itself cause for celebration?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rochester Is Dead

Rochester, NY is dead. Then this dead city, like a relentless zombie, killed Kodak. The Wall Street Journal's version of Rust Belt history:

Kodak's other structural problem is geography. When you study the history of great American companies that stumbled and failed, or only partially recovered, you see how difficult it is to overcome the mindset of your immediate surroundings. Businesses located in places where success is the norm, and innovation is built into the ecology, have a better chance of fixing themselves.

That's an odd spin coming from a newspaper that recently ran an article claiming that Kodak made Rochester risk averse, thus stifling innovation. The city is damned to a Catch-22 Hell. Kodak suffocates any and all nascent entrepreneurial ambitions. The lack of entrepreneurial ambition destroys the regional economy, which leads to Kodak's bankruptcy.

That is quite a story. It isn't true. Rochester and Kodak have been heading in different directions for decades:

Rochester has been a job-growth leader in the state in recent years. In 1980, total employment in the Rochester metropolitan area was 414,400. In 2010, it was 503,200. New businesses have been seeded by Kodak’s skilled work force, a reminder that a corporation’s fall can leave behind not just scars but also things to build upon.

“The decline of Kodak is extremely painful,” said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester, which, with its two hospitals, is the city’s largest employer with 20,000 jobs. “But if you step back and look at the last two or three decades, you see the emergence of a much more diversified, much more knowledge-based economy.”

Kodak demanded a college-educated workforce. Rochester delivered the talent. The result is one of the best-performing metro economies in the entire world:

The Las Vegas economy is inching out of last place.

That's according to a new study that ranks growth among 200 metropolitan economies worldwide.

The Brookings Institution's Global MetroMonitor placed Las Vegas at No. 179, an improvement over its 2010 rank, but a reminder that the city is still in recession, with recovery a long way off. ...

... Just three U.S. cities -- Houston, Dallas and Rochester, N.Y. -- were among the 50 best-performing economies. Most of the top 50 were in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. So it's essential to extend the market's reach into markets in those regions.

Somebody alert the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal. Don't worry, the Rust Belt Curse will win the day. Even if the news is good, things are still very bad. Rochester, like Oklahoma City, is a shithole:

"Oklahoma City's strengths are things you have to be here to experience," Mayor Cornett said.

Cornett touts the city's low unemployment numbers, strong housing market, cost of living, and low traffic congestion and crime rate as strengths. The Mayor is not surprised Oklahoma City came in low when people were asked how they viewed the city.

"If you have not been exposed to Oklahoma City, it takes a long time for people to break down those stereotypes," Cornett said.

Mayor Cornett, journalists don't need to visit your city. Everyone knows Oklahoma City sucks. OKC is dead, where big companies go to die.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Geography Of The Midwest

Chicago is not part of the Midwest. However, I would define the "Midwest" as the part of the world caught up in Chicago's economic gravity. Chicago is the Capital of the Midwest. If Chicago is your gateway to the rest of the world, then you are a Midwesterner.

Richard Longworth describing the "Midwestern" geography problem:

I understand that the Midwest Governors Association is about to launch a project on "rebranding the Midwest," presumably to give it a sharper image. A noble effort, to be sure, but perhaps a vain one, given the general confusion on just where the place even is.

Part of the Midwest's branding issues is the mega-region defies a common understanding. I think there is a common understanding of the geography. I like Erin Ladd's definition:

As this theory illustrates, the problem is that the Midwest as a region has become shorthand for “uninteresting.” When polled about the connotations of the word “Midwest,” people came up with such dour adjectives as flat, boring, and honest. The Midwest is really defined by what it isn’t, not by what it is.

Here’s what it’s not: the Northeast, the South, the West Coast, the Southwest. Here’s what it is: everything that doesn’t fit into those categories.

But, North Dakota doesn’t necessarily have anything in common with Missouri. Pittsburgh and Minneapolis don’t have any relation to each other whatsoever. And every state between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenys does not have a shared history. Even so, because we can’t be known as fiery Southerners or brusque New Englanders or wholly enlightened West Coast-ites, we get to be everything they’re not: flat, boring and honest.

The Midwest is everywhere that is nowhere. But that isn't a functional economic geography. Both Ladd and Longworth make the same erroneous presumption: The other regions are well-defined. Just so happens that people from the "South" think they know exactly where the Midwest is. Those from the "West Coast" share a similar certainty, but a different delineation. Regional geography is, after all, subjective.

I contend that the "Midwest" is a region that needs to be disaggregated and deconstructed. A paradigm of political economy should be the framework for your regional conception. I choose global cities, the dominant economic geography of our times.

The "South" has ceased to be relevant. A place's relationship with Atlanta is more telling. Is Florida a Southern state? Miami is not a Southern city. Divide Florida up between Atlanta and Miami. There's your regional border.

Now imagine a collection of geographic entities (e.g. towns and cities) with strong ties to Chicago. This Chicago Cartel could be a political force that gets around the constitutional bargain that privileges states over metros. Longworth has tried to use a Midwestern identity to get Rust Belt states ravaged by globalization to stop the zero-sum nonsense: Collaborate and prosper.

The confusion about where the Midwest is stems from an antiquated notion of how to define a region. I remember being frustrated teaching World Regional Geography at the University of Colorado. Talking about economic globalization within that framework (developed during the age of imperialist Britain) was difficult. It's an urban world dominated by a network of global cities. Karachi isn't just another South Asian instant city. It's Pakistan's global city. The migration to Karachi tells a story that defines a functional region. Every global city in "South Asia" tells a different migration story. "South Asia" is meaningless and therefore difficult to define.

I suggest dropping the pretense of "Midwest" and pointing out the impressive reach of Chicagoland. How far does it stretch? Answer that question and then set about retooling geographic education in our schools.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hep Cat Migration

Pittsburgh is cool, Creative Class chic. Does it matter? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff cultural anthropologist Bill Toland maps the magical migration:

Writer and actress Elena Passarello came to Pittsburgh from Georgia in the mid-1990s, then left for Iowa in 2005, to pursue a master's degree in non-fiction writing. (She's in town to act in barebones productions' "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train," at the New Hazlett.)

It's while she was at the University of Iowa, she said, that she first heard "a lot of Brooklynites throwing Pittsburgh's name around [as] a place where you could be your artistic self and finish your novel."

Pittsburgh has been on the hipster radar longer than I have been blogging about the region's brain drain. The city may be too cool to be cool, which makes it really cool. Those in the know have been buzzing about the Burgh for at least decade before the Washington Post put Portland in a corner.

Now that everyone knows all about anti-cool Pittsburgh, the scene is over. Get ready for Park Slope on the Allegheny. The urban pioneers have done their thing and the rest of the world moves to Pittsburgh to see what the fuss is about. The newcomers will wreck Pittsburgh.

Before all the hep cat Pittsburghers leave, someone should ask one of them about the next boomtown. I'm guessing Buffalo. I could see Pittsburgh and Buffalo mimicking the uneasy relationship between Seattle and Portland. Pittsburgh isn't the new Portland. Pittsburgh is the next Seattle. Buffalo is the new Portland. Let one depressing winter after another be your muse.

Buzz informs boutique migration, which won't show up in the numbers. These folks quietly pave the way for the coming deluge. Slacker slum begets techie Austin. The rub concerns whether or not techie Austin happens. If hipsters discover Asheville, will it bloom economically? Can your suddenly cool city handle the talent migration? Seattle answered the bell, so will Pittsburgh. I'm waiting to see if Portland can.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mexican Consulate In Pittsburgh

What's the process for landing a consulate? I'm reading a book titled, "Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration Since 1848." The map on page xiii details "Mexican Foreign-Born Population and Mexican Consulates by State." There is a noticeable lack of consulates in Appalachia, as in none between Philadelphia/DC and Detroit/Indianapolis in the North and Atlanta and Little Rock in the South. I'd like to see a Mexican consulate open in Pittsburgh to address this big geographic gap.

There are a few honorary consuls for other countries (e.g. Ireland) in Pittsburgh. Obviously there hasn't been a lot of Mexican immigration to Northern Appalachia, which might explain the dearth of consulates. That could change (I suspect it will sooner rather than later) and there are important links between Pittsburgh and Mexico:

The rise of Los Acereros de Pittsburgh in America's southern neighbor can be traced, like so many Steelers fandoms, to the team's dynastic success in the 1970s. At the time, the Televisa network began frequently broadcasting Steelers games because they were the most successful team. And Mexican fans responded, with the Steelers emerging as a rival to the Dallas Cowboys - a more geographically appealing success- as the most popular NFL team in Mexico.

I became a Steelers fan the same way and a connection to the City of Pittsburgh was forged. I think putting the cart before the horse would encourage more Mexican immigration to Pittsburgh. Mexicans living in the void of Northern Appalachia could come to Pittsburgh to take care of business at the consulate, instead of making the trek to Indianapolis or DC. Also, I would bet that there are more Mexicans travelling through Pittsburgh than anyone realizes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pistols At Dawn: Pittsburgh Versus Portland

San Francisco is "Portland with jobs". That search generated some traffic at my blog. The quip is all about Portland's jobs problem. The first thing that comes to my mind is Aaron Renn's (The Urbanophile) "Nikki Sutton Story":

Eager to be in this great physical setting and around more people who shared her values, Nikki moved to Portland without a job in the early 2000’s. (She originally thought she had one, but it fell through right as she was moving). She spent 14 months looking for serious employment, but couldn’t find it. In the meantime, she worked at the Banana Republic flagship. According to her, the entire staff was in the same boat – people who wanted to live in Portland but hadn’t been able to find employment in their own field.

Since it gave benefits to part time workers, Nikki also applied for a retail job at Starbucks. She was told there was such a backlog of applications it would likely be some time before she even got a call back. Yes, there appears to be a long waiting list for jobs at Starbucks in Portland.

After more than a year of this, she was lured back to Indianapolis by an actual job offer from a local architecture firm. After working there for some time, she launched her own firm, Level Interior. She’s also active as a model and fashion stylist. I’m personally very impressed with her work.

Portland put the cart before the horse. Riffing off of one of my main themes ... local development for people, not places:

Policy should be assessed by impact on people, not places. In the recent past, policy has arguably been too heavily focused on public expenditure to turn around declining places, and paid too little attention to individuals, housing costs and amenity differences.

Move to Portland and be somewhere. Move to Indianapolis and do something. Portland is a wonderful example of great placemaking. Placemaking to what end? Portland is attractive. Portland is winning the war for talent. Portland is San Francisco without jobs.

Now about that Pittsburgh is better than Portland thing:

This ought not to be about Pittsburgh versus Portland. As it happens, Pittsburgh does have a lot going for it. The city, more than any other former industrial Mecca flourishing in generations past, has found a way to reinvent itself as a flourishing small metropolis connecting the East Coast and the Midwest. And admittedly, Portland has its problems: we need jobs and greater diversity. But Pittsburgh and Portland, rather than rivals or as combatatants in some kind of cool-cache duel, both represent the rise of the small city at the expense of megalopolises like New York, DC and Los Angeles.

Gone are the days before the Internet and ease of travel when small cities' most talented artists and entrepreneurs felt they had to migrate across the country forever in order to find attention, investment and advancement. Today Mark Rothko wouldn't have to go to New York to become Mark Rothko.

The great diaspora of the 21st century will not be immigrants foreign and domestic heading to two or three American cultura capitols. It will be one that favors the Copenhagens, Kyotos, Portlands and Pittsburghs of the world - not to the same centers of smog, hubris and spit of the past. There is no Ellis Island today but an archipelago.

No surprise, The Washington Post list sticking a fork in Portland-chic struck a nerve. Nobody puts Portland in a corner. Portland and Pittsburgh need to stick together and take on those big, bad alpha global cities. The "world is spiky" my ass.

Great people make great places, not the other way around. The hubris of architects and urban planners is astounding. Sorry Michigan, cool is not an economic development strategy. Attracting/retaining talent is a means to some end, not the end itself.

What's in and what is out is a "cool-cache duel", all in good fun. I'm more concerned about the Portland Way. Is it a good idea? Should Detroit try to emulate the success? Some snarky journalism struck me as a good way to broach the subject. Pittsburgh is suddenly Creative Class hip. That's funny, right?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Steubenville Cracker

And I don't mean hilljack. The word out of Youngstown is that Southeastern Ohio will land the prized Shell oil cracker plant:

That’s why experts have pegged Southeast Ohio or Southwest Pennsylvania — locations with direct access to a prime water port, the Ohio River — for Shell’s expansion.

The lack of a port nixed the Mahoning Valley from consideration. As for SW PA, I doubt the loss matters much. I've seen some credible speculation that the plant will end up in Steubenville. The benefits of such a location will cross state borders. National Public Radio explains:

Scoring the cracker would be a coup for any governor, especially when jobs are such a hot political issue. Keith Burdette, commerce secretary for the state of West Virginia, says in the end the ethane cracker will provide jobs throughout Appalachia.

"There'll be a lot of hooping and hollering regardless of where it's picked, whether it's in West Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio. We want it built here," he says. "The truth of the matter is the sites [are] just so closely grouped together that the impact across state lines will be significant."

Ohio Governor John Kasich will get to crow about winning the plant. That should tell you a lot about state economic development. It's all about the ribbon cutting. I'm glad to have Ohio subsidizing Pennsylvania jobs. Kasich is still a Pittsburgh boy at heart.

Pittsburgh Hasn't Boomed, Yet

Rochester or Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh or Rochester? Which Rust Belt city will boom first? Forbes wonders:

“For real estate to do well you want to see two things: that incomes are growing rapidly like they are in a market like San Jose … and that the growth in jobs attracts other people to that market,” says Ingo Winzer, founder and president of Local Market Monitor. However, job growth should be looked at as a bullish housing indicator only if the unemployment rate is already relatively low – that suggests local companies are creating new jobs rather than rehiring for positions they cut during the recession. ...

... Two surprising entrants on our list are Pittsburgh, Pa., and Rochester, N.Y., industrial-era boomtowns that went through several decades of economic decline. Pittsburgh has been one of the most stable housing markets over the past five years: Prices have been more or less flat since the market peak in 2007. Home prices in Rochester have dropped 15% since 2007, but its economy has managed to stabilize and hang onto jobs.  “They [Pittsburgh and Rochester] are not high-growth markets yet, and they haven’t attracted new people yet,” says Winzer. “But they are both creating new kinds of jobs — high-tech and medical research-related jobs — and that’s why … they will do better than most markets this year.”

Emphasis added. In both places, there is job creation without population growth. The thinking goes that this will continue to eat up unemployment fast enough to attract migrants. Stay tuned ...

Rust Belt Clichés

The Burgh is back and better than ever. You know the drill. Read all about it here and here. With that bit of civic boosterism out of the way, let's get real. Pittsburgh is dying:

The overall population dynamics of Rust Belt regions won’t change anytime soon. If the measure of success for an economic development program in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland were the addition of net new jobs in places that have seen steep drops in overall population and employment levels, then there would be no chance of success. That doesn’t mean, however, that longer-term growth is out of the question. And there are two countervailing trends underway: a tiny trickle of international immigration, and some post-recession retention of young people that can be attributed to the radical sorting underway in the overall economy. The decades-old Rust Belt phenomenon of losing young college graduates may be ending, or at least slowing, according to several studies of 2010 Census data, because there are simply not the employment opportunities in the Sun Belt that there used to be.

Emphasis added. I'll leave Buffalo and Cleveland out of this. Bruce Fisher means well. He is holding up Pittsburgh as a way forward for Buffalo. Enough with asterisk about population decline. It just isn't true.

I'm limiting the discussion to Pittsburgh's urban core and employment levels. Apples to apples, ladies and gentlemen. Today at Null Space:

Remember, I've pointed out in the past the incredible story that Downtown Pittsburgh is not only far from dead, but about as about as identically packed with jobs as it was 10, 20 and 50 years ago.  About as densely packed with jobs as 4/10ths of a square mile can likely support here given challenging transportation, parking and transit issues Downtown Pittsburgh has (all of which clearly have costs that seem not to have deterred investment Downtown of late).  There was an announcement last week of an entirely new PNC skyscraper, on top of the bigger one that was just built.  Also, the North Shore Connector is about to open and can only help push down parking prices which will benefit Downtown occupancy.

Emphasis added. Read the passage in bold, again. Do you believe it? Granted, it's counter-intuitive, kind of like brain drain that is really brain gain. Go ahead and lament the sprawl. Mourn the expatriates. But please review the numbers before repeating the Rust Belt clichés.

The demographics are moribund. The population is (was) aging. Yes, that was an exodus in the 1980s. That's not to say Rust Belt cities are imploding. That's not to say they aren't, either. The assumption is that all communities in the Rust Belt share the same plight. That damning narrative is accepted uncritically.

I'm not moving the goalposts to make Pittsburgh look better. We are trying to solve a problem that we have failed to properly define. I think the Rust Belt should drop the population discussion. It's counterproductive. In his own way, Fisher is saying the same thing. Don't judge a city by its population numbers. I'm saying, in Pittsburgh's case, I don't mind if I do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Geography Of Fear And Migration

The film "Deliverance" is a classic piece of ruin porn. Since Appalachia is "off the map", the region serves as a geography of fear. Terra incognita is where monsters live. However, there is no such thing as bad publicity:

Some people would like to link the movie's anniversary with the inaugural Chattooga River Festival, set for June 22-24. The goal of the festival is to educate the public about the importance of protecting the river as a natural resource.

In addition to a screening of the movie, the festival would include guided hikes along the river's banks, rafting opportunities and an adventure race.

As intriguing as that may sound to some, others would like to let sleeping dogs lie and not reconnect the dots between Rabun County, "Deliverance" and its depiction of mountain folk as violent and primitive.

This debate reminds me of the term "Rust Belt". Some people hate it because of the pejorative connotation. For me, it is a point of pride and should be celebrated. Rust Belt is cool. I love Rust Belt cities.

I also love Appalachia. "Deliverance" didn't freak me out like "Easy Rider" did. I grew up familiar with mountain folk. I didn't take the negative stereotyping seriously. I did with "Easy Rider". I was terrified of travelling in the South. But looking behind the green curtain of one geographic myth dispels them all. I've enjoyed catching up on a part of America that I used to avoid. Really, no harm done.

I think the Chattooga River Festival should embrace the film, a bit like Cleveland embracing the Cuyahoga River catching fire. Ironic appreciation can work wonders for an overlooked place. Those locals still sporting open wounds are the ones doing more harm than good.

Take the lemons and make some lemonade. The movie is iconic and could help preserve a great river. Besides, Hillbilly Country is cool.

Rust Belt Population Loss Myths

Is Indianapolis a Rust Belt city? I think it is, or was. Others might disagree. The sticking point is population. A true Rust Belt city has been bleeding people for half a century or more. The diverging fortunes of clever Indianapolis and parochial Milwaukee:

In 1950, Milwaukee was the 15th-largest American city, Indianapolis was 23rd and both were considered nondescript, second-tier localities. Into the 1960s, both cities were aging, with declining Rust Belt economies. Locals knowingly referred to Indianapolis as "India-no-place."

However, in the '60s, while open housing and school integration marches were taking place in Milwaukee, Indianapolis civic leaders were actively researching legislation that might revitalize their city. In 1967, Republicans won the governor's office, both houses of the legislature, the Indianapolis mayor's office, the Indianapolis City Council, the Marion County Council and promptly passed a very contentious piece of legislation that consolidated Indianapolis with its surrounding county.

Beyond the fiscal benefits, Indianapolis was instantly America's 11th-largest city. Suburbanites who had turned their backs on the city or sniped at it became supporters of what they then viewed as "their" notable metropolis. The enlarged community of political and civic leaders sublimated partisanship and leveraged this newfound pride to undertake a successful campaign to position Indianapolis as the national and international signature city for amateur sports. The city's image skyrocketed, and, man, so has its economy.

Emphasis added. An easy way for a city to get bigger is to expand the municipal boundaries. Pittsburgh should be so lucky. Speaking of Pittsburgh, The Urbanophile recently posted about Don Carter's TEDxPittsburgh talk. The arresting visual demonstrates the sprawl. Yes, Pittsburgh has a sprawl problem. Population problem? Not really. The metro population today is the same as it was in 1950. Pittsburgh isn't dying!

On the other hand, Braddock is dying. The reasons for Braddock's demise are commonly misunderstood. I've misunderstood the decline. I'll make you do the work and click through to one of Chris Briem's (Null Space) posts about Braddock. What's killing Braddock? Sprawl. People working at the still functioning steel mill now have a nice piece of suburbia. The bulk of the former residents didn't pick up and move to the Sun Belt. We need a better definition of Rust Belt city.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Xenophobia And Migration

Show me a town fighting brain drain and I'll show you an intolerant community. Talent retention is local jobs for local graduates. Outsiders, foreign or domestic, need not apply. Matthew Yglesias with some bad intuition:

A related intuition I have that I'd be interested in reading relevant research on is that when you take the basic dynamic of population migration out of the "immigration" context, suddenly people understand it more clearly. When people hear about a town that's attracting many new residents, they say it's "booming" not that the newcomers are poaching a fixed supply of jobs. Nobody in Texas seems to have proposed trying to close the state to migrants from the Northeast and Midwest; rather, they see the state's attraction to migrants as one of its strengths. The "foreign-ness" of newcomers from other countries distracts people from fundamental dynamics that they understand in other contexts.

Emphasis added. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any research comparing attitudes about immigrants and domestic migrants. I don't think we need to bother with the question. California. Okies. Southern Blacks. Northern cities. Carpetbagger. "Gangs of New York".

Perhaps that last one deserves some explanation:

In the month preceding the July 1863 lottery, in a pattern similar to the 1834 anti-abolition riots, antiwar newspaper editors published inflammatory attacks on the draft law aimed at inciting the white working class. They criticized the federal government's intrusion into local affairs on behalf of the "nigger war." Democratic Party leaders raised the specter of a New York deluged with southern blacks in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. White workers compared their value unfavorably to that of southern slaves, stating that "[we] are sold for $300 [the price of exemption from war service] whilst they pay $1000 for negroes." In the midst of war-time economic distress, they believed that their political leverage and economic status was rapidly declining as blacks appeared to be gaining power. On Saturday, July 11, 1863, the first lottery of the conscription law was held. For twenty-four hours the city remained quiet. On Monday, July 13, 1863, between 6 and 7 A.M., the five days of mayhem and bloodshed that would be known as the Civil War Draft Riots began.

American history is full of such labor tension, whether immigrant or domestic migrant. That continues today with such pejoratives as "Californication":

In the 80′s there was the great Yankee Migration that led to the foundation of the Great Wall of Texas Society (to be built along the Red River).  The GWoTS didn’t build a wall but they did sell a few collectible bricks and hold some darn fine BBQ’s.  At that time a couple of popular bumper stickers were “We Don’t Care How You Did It Up North!” and “Welcome to Texas – Now Go Back”.

Now we have another influx of folks coming to Texas for the jobs, low taxes, etc. only this time they are often from the People’s Republik of Kalifornia.   Which again serves to illustrate that Liberals are like locusts.   They lay waste to a land of plenty and then move on to the next place of bounty and do the same thing.  Having thoroughly screwed up the West Coast, they come here seeking prosperity only to complain that here isn’t like where they came from.  For the sake of clarity: If you come here because you like it here – Welcome!  If you don’t like it here – Go Back!

I'm a Rust Belt refugee and I've lived in a bunch of different places. I'm intimate with the sentiment. The very act of migration is demonized. Those who leave are dead to us. Only those who stay deserve to have jobs. Buy local.

Temperature And Trust

A Vermont rule of thumb is that locals won't speak to you for a year. They want to see if you are going to stick around. Growing up in the cold parts of the United States, I'm comfortable with taciturn culture. What I've learned is that trust travels better north of the 40th parallel. Don't confuse silence with insularity.

Environmental determinism, which made a comeback thanks to Jared Diamond, is still taboo. The theory is that human geography varies with climate. That's not all that controversial. However, the application of the theory is married to state building in the late 19th century and the age of imperial conquests. In Max Weber's famous book, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism", Northern Europeans seem destined to succeed. Likewise, the feckless peoples of the tropics could never compete with the cold climate nations. Europe's global dominance was natural.

Weber makes a finer distinction, dividing Europe into North and South. This geographical convention lends itself to what Diamond terms "natural experiments". Robert Putnam's study of democracy in Italy ("Making Democracy Work") is a great example. Putnam falls back on environmental determinism that doesn't sit well with critics:

Italian northerners stereotype that Italy, from Rome south, is really part of Africa, and hence, still underdeveloped. Conceivably, "compared to the North, the southern regions are no better off today than they were in 1970." (Putnam 184) The explanations promoted by Putnam are, however, not without opposition.

Leonardo Morlino calls much of Putnam's methodology into question. Putnam's concept of civic virtue "seems very Tocquevillean and American-centric" to Morlino; he offers an alternative which could conceive of civicness as characterized by "full acceptance of the principle of legality and the rights and obligations of citizenship." (Morlino 177)

Morlino also has difficulty with some of the historical relationships which are made. Not only is there a problem with the civic traditions of the 1860-1920 and the Fascist period, but there is complaint that Putnam oversimplifies the complexities of Southern feudalism and the communal republicanism of the North.

Marco Maraffi has difficulty with the evidence used in Putnam's study since, "after all, Italy's regions are fairly weak institutions, not comparable with, say, the American states." (Maraffi 1349) Perhaps one could conclude that his American-centric viewpoint has equivocated the two.

The charge is one of cultural imperialism, a common salvo fired on environmental determinism. Regardless, Putnam and Weber make a similar argument. The North has more social capital, so this region is more successful. Does that mean democracy cannot flourish in hotter climates?

After reading Sean Safford's research, I contend that Putnam has it backwards. Southern Italy suffers from too much trust. My proof? The mapping of language density:

The scientists discovered this trend when analyzing the first comprehensive map of the world’s languages, Atlas of the World’s Languages, which was initially published in 1993. Focusing on languages spoken by native peoples when Europeans first arrived, they counted the number of tongues that a line of latitude crossed as it ran east-west across the continent. Their survey spanned 8 ˚N and ended at 70 ˚N, the furthest north an entire latitudinal span was inhabited by humans.

Upon tallying their results, a few things stood out. First, the number of languages peaked at 40 ˚N—the parallel that runs approximately through Philadelphia, Denver, and Reno. Perhaps coincidentally—or perhaps not—this northing is also where the number of mammal species peaks in North America. They also discovered the number of languages per square kilometer rises exponentially as you head south. Further, the number of parallels each language intersected increased as they moved north, a function of both language density and the non-overlapping nature of native peoples’ languages at the time. Finally, the number of languages increased with habitat diversity.

To be tropical is to be parochial because you needn't rely on your neighbor like you would in Nome, Alaska. To live in a northern climate community is a lot like residing in a big city. The social capital requirements are a lot less daunting. Richard Florida calls it "tolerance". I call it gambling with trust. To make it, you have to lean on someone you aren't sure you can trust. That's the magic of cities. You don't have to freeze to succeed. Just cram yourself into the nearest urban tropical ghetto.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Year Of The Rust Belt Reset

Yep, Portland is out and Pittsburgh is in. There is something magical about Appalachian Rust Belt cities. The New York Times lists 45 places to go in 2012:

25. Chattanooga, Tenn.
A city stages a comeback fueled by artists and retailers.

In 1969, Walter Cronkite famously called Chattanooga the “dirtiest” city in America. In recent years, though, it has undergone a dramatic overhaul with a radical gentrification plan and an aggressive citywide push to lure artists. In addition to a $120 million clean-up-and-invest 21st Century Waterfront Plan, an incentive program called Arts Move brings artists of all mediums into town; a yearly Southern arts fair called Four Bridges draws thousands each April; and several arts districts have been cultivated and nurtured.

On the heels of this artistic transformation has come the inevitable, yet not unwelcome, boutique boom in places like the recently restored Warehouse Row, a Civil War-era factory turned shopping center filled with local, upscale and artisanal goods.

Like Pittsburgh, Chattanooga's transformation happened long before anyone noticed. Here is an article from 1998 celebrating the makeover:

Who knew that Chattanooga would soon become as green as Peter Pan’s tights? The city can boast of a leaf-lined river walk along its redeveloped downtown, a freshwater aquarium where conservation is the byword, a free electric bus shuttle, the world’s longest pedestrian bridge, and plans for a zero-emissions eco-industrial park and a grass-roofed convention center. Vice President Al Gore said in 1995 that Chattanooga “has undergone the kind of transformation that needs to happen in our country as a whole.”

I suppose I could write that the positive press in the Times is long overdue. But researching the city's image turns up more than a few good words such as this piece in a 2003 issue of Next American City. Better to say that some people did notice. No one believed what they were reading. Chattanooga may be cleaner. But it ain't cool. I'm moving to Portland.

I blame mesofacts. Our impression of place is slower to change than economic development. And that's saying something. In fact, Mr. Mesofacts himself (Samuel Arbesman) recently penned a post for Atlantic Cities about the relationship between rankings and our perception of large metros:

Every region rates coastal cities high, with Denver the only inland city making the top five according to any region. On the flip side, all regions rate inland cities near the bottom, with only the Midwest including two cities from the coast – Houston and Los Angeles – in its bottom five.

Further, if we search for cities that yield significantly divergent opinions depending on the region that's rating it, certain cities jump out. Just for example, San Francisco shows distinct sentiment differences depending on the region doing the rating. Respondents in the South and Midwest have less favorable views of the Bay Area city than it enjoys in the Northeast and West.

While certain cities are positively viewed by all regions, each region has a better view of its own cities than those cities of other regions. The South likes southern cities, the West western cities, and so forth. The Midwest appears to be the most self-hating (or at least the least positive toward itself) of the Census regions.

To some extent, Midwestern cities do have a branding problem. Domestic migrants are just discovering Pittsburgh and Chattanooga. I expect the favorable light to open up other Rust Belt cities for consideration. The mental maps, they are a-changin'.

Baltimore Wants More Immigrants

The obsession with population numbers has to stop. Yes, a shrinking city presents a host of problems. More people living in the city is a good thing. But reversing decline should not be a policy goal. Picked up via Chris Briem's (Null Space) Twitter feed, Baltimore's mayor wants to attract immigrants in order to grow the population:

To reach the mayor's goal, courting such immigrants has "definitely got to be a significant component of the strategy," said Thomas Stosur, director of the city's Planning Department. He thinks the "aggressive" goal is feasible as long as the economy continues to improve. ...

... "One thing we know about immigrant settlement is that social networks are important to get the word out that a place has opportunities" such as jobs and easy access to housing, said Audrey Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied immigration's effects on metropolitan areas. "Job opportunities [are] probably the single most important thing for attracting immigrants."

Improving the regional economy and creating jobs will bring more immigrants to the region, boosting the population. Isn't that bizarre? I'd rather the mayor be more welcoming to immigrants in order to improve the regional economy and create jobs.

Population growth presents its own challenges. The numbers going up do not equal prosperity, far from it. I've discussed Reading, PA. Reading is attracting immigrants. Reading is growing. Reading is devastated by poverty. Baltimore would like to be more like Reading. Have at it.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Brooklyn Is Dying

Brooklyn is passé. That's not news. The exodus of the creative vanguard has been in the paper for the last few years. This borough of NYC has been the center of many talent universes. The latest to leave is rap:

Last year, Sha Stimuli, a 33-year-old Brooklyn rapper, packed up and moved to Atlanta.  He wanted to widen his audience, he says, and the South beckoned. He’s not the only one moving on.

In recent years, there is a growing sense among hip-hop heads that New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is passé. While there are still stars emerging from the borough, the action, the excitement is taking place elsewhere.

“In the last decade, New York has been left behind,” says Sha Stimuli. Although being a Brooklyn rapper may have helped his career ten years ago, today he sees it more as a disadvantage. “Me saying I’m from Brooklyn doesn’t actually help, because there is no novelty there,” he says. “People got bored of Brooklyn and New York.”

Brooklyn is proof that Spiky World is getting flatter. Talent can leave an alpha city such as Toronto and thrive in a small market such as Halifax. A city cannot thrive on hipsters alone. Portland should know.

The impact of globalization on urbanization is one of pricing people out of the most successful cities. "I have to be in New York" is replaced by "I can do this in Pittsburgh." You can DIY in Youngstown as well as Brooklyn. That's the magic sauce of the Youngstown Business Incubator. Better to freelance in the Rust Belt than Park Slope.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why Portland Sucks And Pittsburgh Does Not

Pittsburgh is better than Portland. That will surprise a lot of people. It shouldn't. Portland imports talent. The region does a lousy job of producing it:

Portland poet Floyd Skloot says he’s stunned to learn that nobody in Portland has won a MacArthur. After looking at the roster of poetry and literature winners, Skloot understands why the city lacks a winner. Portland, he says, for all its belief in itself as a magnet for young creatives, lacks the infrastructure to support young literary geniuses.

Skloot’s daughter, Rebecca Skloot, wrote the nationally acclaimed book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” A few years ago, when Rebecca was looking to nurture her interest in creative nonfiction, she knew she had to leave Portland, Skloot says. Her journey took her to the University of Pittsburgh, Manhattan and now Chicago, places with respected masters of fine arts and writers workshop programs.

Floyd Skloot also says Portland lacks what he calls “a tastemaker.” That could be an influential literary arts magazine or press. The closest in recent years, he says, might have been Oregon poet laureate William Stafford, much revered but “the anti-MacArthur,” according to Skloot. The list of MacArthur winners for poetry is studded with writers exploring new styles, Skloot says, not traditional storytellers. Stafford, in line with local tradition, promoted making poetry more accessible even at the cost of innovation.

Quite simply, Pittsburgh is better at supporting creative and innovative endeavors. The Land of Three Rivers is a cauldron of talent. Portland is a lovely place to while away your twenties.

The article continues:

David Schiff, a nationally respected composer and Reed College professor, says he’s not surprised to learn no one in Portland has won one of the genius awards.

“We’re a small town that does not have a major university, that does not have a major arts school,” Schiff says. “We’re off the map in a number of ways.”

Succinctly put. That's the Rust Belt competitive advantage, the bright side to legacy costs. Without shrinking city talent, Portland isn't cool. The inability to produce talent organically will keep Portland poor.

More damnation:

The theory that the MacArthur board doesn’t respect the Pacific Northwest loses credence considering that at least 15 of the genius awards have been won by Seattle residents.

That’s the part that worries Schiff.

“The comparison between Seattle and Portland is quite horrifying, and it shows us that something needs to be done,” he says.

Schiff says it makes a difference that the University of Washington is in Seattle and the University of Oregon is based in Eugene. It also matters that Portland needs a new orchestra hall and opera house. Even more, Schiff says, local arts groups are torn between supporting local musicians and bringing in stars from the outside.
“That tension,” he says, “keeps us from nourishing our young.”

Outside of independent rock, there really isn’t much of a cutting-edge music scene in Portland, according to Schiff.

“What happens is that people interested in that may spend a couple years here because rent is cheap and then they realize they have to be in New York,” he says.

Portland is a Creative Class layover. Pittsburgh is a viable alternative to New York. Like Seattle, Pittsburgh has at least one major research university at its heart. The school in Ann Arbor doesn't really help Detroit. Boulder is a green belt too far for Denver. Portland is just an urban playground for Eugene.

The lesson? Better to be a producer of talent and suffer brain drain then to live off of imported talent. Eventually the flow turns around. Now Pittsburgh benefits from both. As for Portland, hipsters are a fickle lot. What's left after the scene dies?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Keep Portland Annoying

Pittsburgh is on the hipster migration map. Portland is over, which is good news for the regional economy. The Washington Post throws dirt on Portland's self-important urbanity:

“Portland has overextended its welcome as the destination for hipsters who want to find themselves, while frolicking in beautiful scenery and reasonable rents,” says Hesse. “Pittsburgh is reasonable-rents, nice scenery, nice downtown, and the people are, in general, just far less insufferable.”

Pittsburgh is Portland with jobs and ambition. Monica Hesse didn't say that. I did. In fact, I've written that Portland could use a few more people from Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh:

That Rust Belt work ethic is a competitive edge in hip Portland. The best and brightest leaving states such as Ohio are rock stars wherever they go. They compete. They thrive. They propel the city forward. Not all members of the Creative Class are like this. If you want a dynamo, then recruit graduates from Big 10 universities.

There's a caveat to the magical demographic. It's the talent that leaves that is most desirable. Those who move the furtherest from home are the entrepreneurs that Portland needs. Ideally, they come from Pittsburgh or Cleveland. Shrinking cities don't produce many Peter Pans. That's particularly true in the hearth of Rust Belt Chic.

But everyone knows how great Portland is. Few, even the people who live there, appreciate Pittsburgh. As the commercial real estate market demonstrates, that's changed:

After years of often being uncharted territory for large out-of-town and institutional investors, Pittsburgh’s commercial real estate began seeing new interest from different kinds of buyers in 2011 as evidenced by the biggest sales for the year. ...

... PPG Place was snapped up by a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust, North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties Inc., which stretched beyond its geographic territory and out of its suburban strategy to acquire a trophy Downtown building. Perhaps more eyebrow-raising to some, the sale of 11 Stanwix, a former Westinghouse headquarters now occupied by First Niagara, was acquired by a German investment fund, Munich-based GLL Real Estate Partners for $66 million, a deal with some observers noted marked a rare foray for a European firm to buy an American office property outside first-tier metros such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Emphasis added. Pittsburgh is no longer "uncharted territory". That's key for migration. We go where we know, even if it is annoying.