I have a different approach. What if communities focused on developing people instead of place? All of the above are about developing place in order to attract/retain people. I've concluded that place-making doesn't work. Worse, it is counterproductive. We need a new theory of talent migration.
The ball got rolling once I realized that Richard Florida's ideas about tolerance and Creative Class migration didn't make sense. I've moved to and lived in a few cool cities. They were not particularly welcoming. Quite to the contrary, I found them to be downright xenophobic. I reconciled that anecdotal impression with the horror stories of making a go of it in talent attraction champion New York City. Domestic or international, migrants overcome a lot of adversity in order to succeed. Nothing would stand between them and personal economic development.
Another clue is that the biggest winners are also the biggest losers. New York's appeal to talent is above reproach. Ironically, NYC tops the list for negative net migration. Every year, thousands more leave than arrive. New York is dying. People vote with their feet. Shrinking city. All nonsense. For every college-educated person New York attracts, the metro spits out two without a degree. There is brain gain in the face of demographic decline.
College-educated people leave New York, too. Many of them return home, literally richer for the experience. New York, perhaps better than any other city in the world, develops people. That's the attraction. That's why migrants put up with all the adversity and high cost of living. It's worth it.
That said, why would anyone swap "San Francisco, Seattle and New York for the Rust Belt"?
In Detroit, so down on its luck for so long, never underestimate the sheer joy the sound of jackhammers brings. "You are seeing construction. It is pretty exciting," said Jim Xiao, a financial analyst for Detroit Venture Partners, the driving force behind the M@dison and an investor in new tech firms in the city.
Xiao, a 24-year-old who evaluates tech firms for DVP to finance, has trouble concealing his enthusiasm. He lives in one of the converted buildings nearby, socialises at the new downtown bars and has a keen sense of mission about tech's role in the city's future. "Where else in the country can you make an actual impact on a whole city when you are in your 20s?" he said.
As a former resident of Seattle and Microsoft employee, Xiao is typical of the breed of tech engineers and entrepreneurs popping up in Detroit.
Emphasis added. Big fish, small pond talent migration. People develop, not places. It isn't the urban amenities. It isn't the tolerance and diversity. You don't move to Detroit to live out your Portland fantasy on the cheap. You certainly don't leave Seattle in hopes of a place-making upgrade. You migrate for opportunity, despite the challenges and the warts. Detroit offers something that New York does not.
Xiao's migration doesn't make any sense in a Creative Class context. Swapping Seattle for Detroit doesn't lend itself to a spikier world. Seeking geographic arbitrage isn't an indicator of agglomeration. It's a sign of economic convergence. Sticking with the "New Geography of Jobs" terminology, talent is moving from a thick labor market to a high-risk locale. The rationale is difficult to fathom in a place-centric world.
Talent is slamming into a ceiling in the thick labor market metros. They can find a better return on their skills in Rust Belt cities such as Detroit. Each migration is a brain gain. In a people-centric world, there is no brain drain. Talent attraction and retention are of no consequence. Place-making, in its current incarnation, is a waste of resources.