Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rural Areas Virtually Third World

The Burgh Diaspora network is location-dependent. Rural areas such as the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont are likely beyond the reach of the knowledge economy. The irony of distance collaboration is that most of it must take place in densely populated areas that justify the investment in the requisite telecommunications infrastructure. The more people that live in close proximity to each other, the less likely they will need to interact with their neighbors.

Unless the government steps in with subsidies, the urban-rural digital divide will likely continue to increase, discouraging businesses from seeking the cheaper real estate out in the boondocks:

“We have companies that lose money because they don’t have broadband,” said Maureen Connolly, a director at the Economic Development Council of Northern Vermont. “We’re not a third world country. We shouldn’t have to beg for service.”

A response to this trend may be high-density exurbs in rural regions (Blacksburg, VA?). Running a business that requires an online presence may force owners to move to the closest large town that supports broadband service. That might be the only way to keep companies from leaving the region entirely.

This service problem also points in the direction of regional consolidation of government services. Expenses spread over a region may provide the means to keep the remotely located connected to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Global Civic Literacy

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the National Civic Literacy Board warn that American institutions of higher education are failing this country:

The report concludes with five recommendations aimed at improving undergraduate learning about America's history and institutions:

* improve the assessment of learning outcomes at the college and university level;
* increase the number of required history, political science, and economics courses;
* hold higher education more accountable to its mission and fundamental responsibility to prepare its students to be informed, engaged participants in a democratic republic;
* better inform students and their parents, public officials, and taxpayers of a given university's performance in teaching America's history and institutions; and
* build academic centers on campuses to encourage and support the restoration of teaching American history, political science, and economics.

The Institute's unabashed conservative agenda aside, many universities and colleges state civic engagement as part of their mission. I share the Institute's concern, but not in a way they would support. We need to stress civic education at the regional and global scales. The more traditional local/national framework is no longer sufficient for informed citizenship.

Locals deal with more and more issues of globalization, but their education did not prepare them for these problems. I'm less worried about students understanding American history than macroeconomics. I stress geopolitics and international law in my classroom, empowering students to make changes at the global level. I suspect regionalization would benefit from a similar type of restructuring, enabling citizens to leverage more powerful geographies.

Romantic Roadblocks

Lance Armstrong decided to ride across Iowa last summer, generating some positive publicity for another region not well understood by the rest of the United States:

T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, said having an athlete such as Armstrong decide to join the annual bike ride is great for the state.

"Obviously it's tremendous [that Armstrong wants to ride]," Juskiewicz said. "He wants to come join us this summer, and I couldn't think of a better person to come join us.

"He is so well-respected in the cycling world and we welcome him with open arms and I'm sure he'll have a great time with us in Iowa."

Juskiewicz said Armstrong also respects the people of Iowa, one of the reasons he is riding in RAGBRAI.

"He pointed out that one of the reasons he decided to come here is because of the people and because of the communities," Juskiewicz said.

Andrew Bennett, senior in physics and RAGBRAI participant, said Armstrong's decision to ride could help Iowa become recognized nationally.

"After all that Armstrong has done, people love to watch him," Bennett said. "RAGBRAI is already a big event in Iowa - maybe this will get the ride more national attention."

Local word has it that Armstrong enjoyed his ride so much that he mentioned that he intended to move to Iowa. You would be forgiven for missing this public relations coup for the state, but the strong endorsement ignited a debate among Iowegians. Would Armstrong start a rush to the state and destroy everything?

Iowa should be so lucky. What Iowa is selling to the rest of the world would not likely survive a large influx of newcomers. Iowa would cease to be Iowa. This is another example of the development paradox. What assets your region has to attract human capital will likely be lost as more immigrants arrive. Today's hot place to live will soon be overrun with people looking for a piece of the good life.

There are many affluent Iowegians happy with the status quo. They would love their kids to stick around, but they are mainly interested in preserving their bit of heaven. Armstrong should stay in France.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Regionally Speaking

I'm not ready to leave Iowa behind. Via Chris Briem and the blog, you can find an article about Iowa's brush with regionalism. Pittsburghers would recognize the failure of a top-down approach to scale up the voters' sense geography:

It seemed as if the governor's vision for greater regional cooperation and efficiency died almost as soon as it could be expressed. That's the usual fate for regionalism discussions: A group of politicians decides that consolidating government would make tremendous sense, but the idea soon runs into a wall of resistance. Just months before, voters had overwhelmingly rejected a merger between Des Moines and Polk County. And it happened last December, when voters in Shawnee County, Kan., rejected a proposed merger with Topeka.

Local identity and lack of trust stand in the way of most regional political consolidation efforts. Regional identity is logical and cost effective, but policy experts tend to underestimate the power of a sense of place. In our schools, we teach our children to cultivate civic pride. You swear allegiance to your town and your country.

When I lived in Olympia, WA, I spoke with an educator about helping newcomers develop a sense of place. She talked about a project to help students identify with the regional ecosystem, instead of the school district or hometown. The students went on field trips to see different parts of the area's watershed to learn about the salmon migration. The children would associate the salmon with where they lived, picking up an environmental sensitivity in the process. Thus, these children grew up thinking about what was going on upstream and downstream. They were linked to all the other people who also lived along the salmon run.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Social Geography of Virtual Pittsburgh

College students across the country, and around the world, are connecting at Facebook, "an online directory that connects people through social networks." Venture capitalists have noticed and the company intends to expand:

Much of Facebook’s hope for growth rests on a planned expansion beyond its core audience in the college market. Sometime soon, it will open up membership to anyone in the world, a change that may alienate its existing members, who have become used to its exclusive college-only atmosphere.

Social networking sites are attracting more than attention and web traffic. They are drawing buy-outs worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The return on investment demands these sites expand, substantially increasing advertising revenues. This is risky business. As the stories about failed attempts at regionalization remind us, expanding the communal parameters to include more people is often an exercise in futility.

Instead of measuring the value of a virtual social network in terms of the quantity of members, we could assess the quality of participation. Core members of Digg and Wikipedia drive the success of those communities. Digg culture is a great example of a successful model of a productive virtual neighborhood:

Digg is a user driven social content website. Ok, so what the heck does that mean? Well, everything on digg is submitted by the digg user community (that would be you). After you submit content, other digg users read your submission and digg what they like best. If your story rocks and receives enough diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of digg visitors to see.

Plenty of people may browse this site, but there is more than just traffic moving around. Hard core members (~500,000) are busy producing valuable knowledge. The social software facilitates collaboration at a massive scale. Notice that the site creators distinguish between "digg visitors" and the "digg user community." The valuation model employed right now concerns digg visitors, but that could change.

Imagine evaluating a social network site in terms of the production of its user community instead of the number of hits. You would need a different type of collaborative tool, a metric to measure quality of production, and the means to improve the quality of production. This would be one way to harness the human capital of the Burgh Diaspora.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Part Time Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh needs to do better job of anticipating the future. I recommend embracing mobile labor markets. The region could establish leadership on this front building the requisite infrastructure to serve the Mobile Class (WiFi downtown is a step in the right direction), but restructuring business practices should be the location of the most dramatic changes. Splitting time between two home bases is becoming increasingly feasible and even desirable. Employers are beginning to catch on to this trend:

It turns out that Thompson's employer, Carondelet Health Network, offers what many believe will become, as the population ages, the hottest thing in job benefits since the 401(k): seamless employment in two or more places.

Most workers taking advantage of those programs are so-called snowbirds, who live in the North but flee the freezing temperatures from January through March. For a lot of reasons, the population of working snowbirds is expected to explode over the next few decades. For one thing, baby boomers are just beginning to enter their Florida years. Many are determined to keep working on their own terms--some because they want to, others because they must.

I offer that Pittsburgh-centered businesses co-locate in key Burgh Diaspora locations. Workers could own homes in the relatively cheaper Pittsburgh and rent apartments (perhaps at the company's expense) in the other city for use when face-to-face interaction is necessary. Workers could spend 3 days telecommuting from home and then 2 days at the office in another region. A business could invest in shell outposts in the network, with Pittsburgh serving as the hub.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Iowa Diaspora

Pittsburgh's demographic problems pale in comparison to that of the Great Plains. Out-migration in that region is so bad that professors Deborah and Frank Popper suggested that the people remaining there submit to the inevitable, surrendering a large swath of the United States to free range buffalo grazing.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a Pittsburgh native, is fighting back. Vilsack toured the country trying to entice Iowa expatriates to return home:

Vilsack insists, "Everything you can do in a Chicago or New York, you can do in Iowa." Even in today's lean times, he's remained committed to his "Vision Iowa" program, a $2 billion effort to juice up the state's culture and recreation opportunities.

Last spring, Governor Vilsack was in Atlanta, continuing his extensive tour of the Iowa Diaspora. Like Pittsburgh and Buffalo, Iowa hopes its native sons and daughters will return. The Iowa Careers Consortium (ICC) is spearheading the effort:

The ICC incorporates several marketing strategies to help achieve our mission. Some of these include "the Cube" student connection, recruitment trips to areas with a high concentration of Iowa alumni or targeted skilled workers, national and in-state public relations, participation in special events and career fairs, and development of collateral materials. The cornerstone of the marketing program is

Not that I advocate such a strategy, but I am impressed with the vigor Iowa is reaching out to its diaspora in order to foster greater boomerang migration. Regions seem loathe to embrace the fresh perspectives that novel immigrants bring. This is the tolerance factor (or lack thereof) that forms the foundation of Richard Florida's evangelical movement to embrace the "Creative Class." A less cynical perspective on my part would be the notion that the Iowa Diaspora would be more likely to relocate and thus provide a better return on the ICC's marketing dollar.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Calling All Steelers Fans

As the residents of Jacksonville can tell you, there are no NFL fans quite like Pittsburgh Steelers fans. The Steelers Nation was disappointed with one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory and fansites are buzzing this morning with scathing criticism. Despite the team's poor showing, this diaspora has never been stronger. When the Steelers get on a roll, fans come out of the woodwork. And they are everywhere, including Jacksonville.

As captured in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, enter Steeler Fans United:

Steeler Fans United (S.F.U.) will take on the mission to unite organized Pittsburgh Steelers fan clubs worldwide as well as fans who wish to be linked within the global community known as STEELERS NATION. The mission of S.F.U. is to open communication lines between said organized clubs and established internet Steelers fan clubs in an effort to distribute methods of running an efficient Steelers fan club, attract new members and clubs in each region represented by members of the board of directors, and give Steelers fans worldwide the opportunity to have a place they can call home in the event they are traveling to or through the city of any of the member clubs. S.F.U.’s bottom line is to ensure that the growth of Steelers Nation continues and that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the best represented fan base in the National Football League as well as any other professional sports league.

According to the Post-Gazette, S.F.U. (not to be confused with S.T.F.U.) also intends to organize a convention (site yet-to-be-determined) for Steelers fans.

This is the first concerted effort I have seen to organize the Burgh Diaspora. Why hasn't anyone tried to create this network before now? If there have been efforts, why did they fail? The Post-Gazette knows a marketing opportunity when they see it and the newspaper is the most visible touchpoint connecting the Burgh Diaspora. I'd love to know what kind of advertising they can sell given this farflung demographic.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Serendipity Pittsburgh

Ode to Jon Udell's most recent blog post...

While I am unlikely to bump into the like-minded in the Golden Triangle (mostly because I live in the Front Range of Colorado), I don't have any problem working my way into Pittsburgh online social circles. Richard Florida describes a regional comparative advantage of tolerance, which helps attract and retain the creative class. Pittsburgh is a tough nut to crack, but there is much more social tolerance on the web. I doubt that any region can compete, on Florida's terms, with the burgeoning virtual knowledge networks.

My early 20s were spent as an American vagabond. I hopped from one college town to the next because I was familiar with academic communities and I craved an exchange of ideas. In order to quench my thirst for knowledge, I needed to be on or near campus. Now, if I am looking for good conversation, I'd rather surf the internet than head to a coffee shop adjacent to the University of Colorado at Boulder. In fact, my current virtual learning environment is superior to that of my days as a graduate student. I no longer live in Boulder and I have no need to go there. For the first time in my adult life, I'm not physically attached to institution of higher learning.

I see a tension between the emerging knowledge economy and traditional knowledge production. Creativity is remarkably inefficient. You have to relocate (costly), buy real estate in a means metro (costly), and then figure out how to make the most of your opportunity (crap shoot). Cutting to the chase, I think universities are killing creativity. Academic society is relatively intolerant and the community is closed. I'd speculate that most knowledge workers fear transparency. I'd sooner recommend a blog to a student of mine interested in geopolitics than point her in the direction of a good university course. I think she would benefit more from the former interaction because of the visible archive of thinking.

We should be in the business of making knowledge production accessible to more people, not bounding innovation in creative clusters located in a few lucky regions. I do not think an urban-university synergy will pave the way to prosperity in a knowledge economy. To the extent a region can foster creativity outside of the ivory tower will be the measure of its knowledge production capacity.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

American Knowledge Worker Geography

The second Richard Florida article I want to discuss, Where the Brains Are, is in the October edition of the Atlantic Monthly. Florida describes and attempts to explain the current "great migration" of highly skilled labor in the United States. The trend is from an even distribution of human capital across America in 1970 to the current landscape of knowledge clusters in a handful of cities that Florida terms "means metros." Florida's short list of winners includes Los Angeles, Austin, Silicon Valley, Boston, and Denver. This is the lineup of the usual suspects. As you already guessed, Pittsburgh is among the losers in the domestic "means migration" game.

There are two reasons why Knowledgeburgh shouldn't be too concerned. Chris Briem made the first case: When pondering Pittsburgh's desired future state, you should consider migration trends and age demographics together. Pittsburgh may not attract many highly skilled workers in the near term, but the city is beginning a journey of getting younger by the day thus revealing another means metro (though without the associated rise in real estate prices). I suspect that the demographic shift will encourage more knowledge workers to move to Pittsburgh.

Florida's explanation of the means migration frames the second reason. He employs classic urban geography: "increasingly, the most talented and ambitious people need to live in a means metro in order to realize their full economic value." The advantage is the opportunity to rub elbows with other knowledge workers resulting in a force multiplier effect. In other words, the rich get richer. However, as the affluent and educated flock to city-center, real estate prices skyrocket (as Florida notes). There is a significant cost to enjoying all the face time with other smart, creative types. I figure that there will be increasing economic incentive to develop virtual collaborative networks mitigating the need to move where the brains are. This should free up the knowledge worker to seek lower rents and usher in a new great migration pattern.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh should enjoy considerable regional comparative advantage with a large highly educated population and cheap real estate.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pittsburgh's Stealth Creative Class

In the September 16th edition of The Economist, Pittsburgh receives a rave review. My favorite Burghonomist describes the young talent that Richard Florida overlooks:

Although the region's overall education levels are not that impressive, says Chris Briem, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh, those figures are partly skewed by its high ratio of elderly residents. Among Pittsburghers 25-34 years old, by contrast, 41.9% have graduated from university, placing the city among America's top ten. More than 17% of those young people have also earned an additional graduate or professional degree: the fourth-highest share in the country, behind only Washington, DC (think lawyers), Boston and San Francisco.

That's some impressive company. Florida's demographic analysis measures the brain migration flows a bit differently, thus missing Pittsburgh's potential:

Concern has been mounting in the United States and elsewhere over the so-called brain drain, or the movement of talented university graduates from one region or state to another. Many regions are trying to figure out ways to keep graduates from leaving or to lure them back when they get older. But no place retains all the people it educates, and the most successful regions both generate talent and attract it from other places. Numerous studies have shown that the availability of a strong pool of local talent can trump both good physical resources and low costs in attracting corporations to a region and growing the local economy.

To identify such regions, we developed a measure we call the "Brain Drain/Gain Index." We calculated it as the percent of the population age 25 and over with a B.A. degree or above, divided by the percent of the population age 18 to 34 attending college. A region with an index above 1.0 is a "brain gain" region, while one with an index below 1.0 is a "brain drain" region. Only 10 percent of the more than 300 metropolitan areas that we studied were net attractors of talent. Just 10 regions boast scores of 1.25 or above; another five score higher than 1.20; and eight score more than 1.15. In San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Fe, and Washington, college students make up more than 30 percent of the population, and more than 40 percent of the work force has a college degree.

Florida's article doesn't show all the regional brain drain/gain scores, but he does conclude that regions such as Pittsburgh "lack the talent and tolerance to compete at the cutting edge." Pittsburgh does not rank well on Florida's index because of the large number of old people in the area. As the elderly die over the next 25 years, Pittsburgh's substantial knowledge capital will move to center stage while the currently booming Sun Belt cities deal with the same aging demographic problem that is hindering Pittsburgh now.

Disaggregating Brain Drain

Recently, Richard Florida published two new articles. This post concerns the piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Regions and Universities Together Can Foster a Creative Economy. Florida's annoying propensity to flaut academic credentials aside (Listen up, "Important economists" talking...), I take his empirical work very seriously. His conclusions conflict with my knowledge worker migration hypothesis, resulting in a blog reckoning.

My take is that the higher the education, the greater the mobility. The way to win the migration game is to attract knowledge workers. Don't bother trying to retain the ones already in the area. As long as more talent arrives than leaves, the regional economy comes out ahead. Florida's work suggests an arrow or flow of creative capital. I agree with Florida's model of attraction, but I disagree with his narrative about why the creative leave a region:

Talented and creative people vote with their feet, and they tend to move away from communities where their ideas and identities are not accepted. That is why regions with large numbers of high-tech engineers and entrepreneurs also tend to be havens for artists, musicians, and culturally creative people. Austin, Boston, and Seattle are cases in point.

I contend that all talented and creative people tend to move, regardless of place of origin. On a per capita basis, do less creative people leave Seattle than exit Pittsburgh? The research that Florida offers to make his case doesn't speak to that. But Florida alludes to old industrial regions pushing the creative out:

Of the largest industrial regions, Chicago does quite well on the University-Creativity Index, but other large industrial regions — Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis — lag behind. The problem in those regions, according to our analysis, is not their research universities, which are quite strong, but rather that the regions are not capitalizing on the science, technology, and innovation coming out of those universities. Bluntly put, such regions lack the talent and tolerance to compete at the cutting edge. They need to work on their ability to absorb the signals that their universities are sending out.

Because of the environment, ideas and talent are leaving these areas. I don't buy this argument. Ideas and talent leave every urban area. I do think that the number of destinations for the creative class is shrinking, but that only explains the pull factor. I'd like to see a regional comparison of creative outmigration. I'd also be interested in research on secondary migrations. How many times do the creatively inclined move out of their region of residence during their lifetime?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Browns Diaspora Implodes

Rust Belt sibling, Cleveland, is experiencing a difficult time. The Browns dropped a turd at home in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. So far, owner Randy Lerner's efforts to exorcise the bad taste head coach Butch Davis left in the fanbase's mouth have failed. But we are only in the beginning of Year Two of that experiment. The thrust of Lerner's team makeover is returning to the traditions of the franchise:

The previous regime of Butch Davis riddled the Browns' roster with Florida natives and former University of Miami recruits. Those were the Florida Browns. Before that, Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark relied on their history with the San Francisco 49ers to stock the team in its formative years after expansion. They were the Cleveland 49ers.

Now the Browns have a distinctive northeast Ohio flavor. The new additions join quarterback Charlie Frye (University of Akron and Willard, Ohio), kick returner and receiver Joshua Cribbs (Kent State) and defensive lineman Simon Fraser (Ohio State) to form a core group of players who understand that games against the Pittsburgh Steelers are not "just another game."

"The previous group [headed by Davis] didn't acknowledge Ohio football's pretty good," Savage said.

If the team fails this year, the essence of Cleveland fails. Lerner is pandering to the romantic musings of the fans. Fair enough, if you want to transform the Cleveland region into a museum piece. Disparaging Davis' Florida football connections stinks of xenophobia. We should put up signs at the Ohio border, "Fresh Ideas Go Home."

The identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers provides a similar case. There is a mythic "Steeler Way" and the team's success depends on the respect of these tenets. A quiet revolution is under way and I gather that most Steelers fans don't like it. I call it the "All in on Ben" paradigm.

Pittsburghers don't appreciate quarterbacks, ironic since some of the greatest QBs in the history of the game hail from the region. Current head coach Bill Cowher has internalized this antipathy, his defensive scheme designed to demonstrate the weaknesses of putting your team's fate in the hands of your quarterback. Eating up clock and controlling the ball, the offense supported the defense. When the Steelers drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, the Rooneys signaled a change in philosophy.

When the RB Jerome Bettis retired, the smashmouth football era came to a close. The Steelers Diaspora demanded an heir. Instead they got Fast Willie Parker and a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, Ohio State's Santonio Holmes. Pittsburgh is slow to recognize the shift, but smashmouth football didn't deliver the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Cowher.

Pittsburgh is busy rebranding itself. I'm not convinced that the region is willing to embrace reinvention to the extent that is needed. The most recent bold new vision doesn't jive with the Same Old Steelers. I don't think that any Pittsburgh marketing campaign can get out from under the shadow of the football team. At the very least, the Steelers Diaspora hopes the song remains the same.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Burgh Diaspora Anecdote

I spend Saturday evenings trolling the 'net trying to figure out the best way to find other members of the Burgh Diaspora besides the obvious Steelers touch point. I've stumbled upon some evidence, while playing around on LexisNexis, of Pittsburgh Clubs in Florida. Immigrants to the United States often established clubs for people from the same homeland. I've also heard about Vermont clubs popping up around the United States during the height of that state's exodus in the 19th century. One of my Burgh dreams includes a network of Pittsburgh clubs around the country. There are already a number of Steelers fans clubs, so I might not need to reinvent the wheel.

I can't shake my fascination with the DC Burgh Diaspora. When I stumbled upon
this blog entry, I felt compelled to write about it:

The Washington, DC area is a popular landing place for members of the Pittsburgh Diaspora- the people who grew up in the Steel City, found that they didn't particularly want to work in banking/education/medicine/biotech (the major industries that sprung up there after the closure of the steel mills), and left for greener pastures and better weather. Probably every 4th person I meet here is either from Pittsburgh, went to school in Pittsburgh, is dating someone from Pittsburgh, etc.

You can take the football fan out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take the Pittsburgh out of the football fan, and with so many Pittsburgh expats here, DC is sort of like a colony state of the Steelers Nation.

These claims are far from scientific, but I challenge anyone to find as compelling an anecdote about the presence of the Burgh Diaspora as this one. I've connected with my fair share of Burgh expats in the Front Range of Colorado, but I wouldn't go as far as the above blogger did in her description of the DC region. Regardless, the Indian Diaspora better watch out. Seriously, why can't we do what DesiPundit is doing?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Desperately Seeking Burgh Brain Circulation

Why migration doesn't mean brain drain. That article title grabbed my attention. Some of you out there are familiar with the work of AnnaLee Saxenian. I don't see why her perspective on international migration wouldn't apply domestically:

The pluses are that these regions have historically been peripheral. And this allows peripheral regions to enter the global technology economy very quickly. They link into the production networks of suppliers of components and software that eventually turn into leading-edge technology products.

For example, we see Israel providing security and networking software now. There's also been a shift from Taiwan, a Silicon Valley sibling. It started out in the 1980s providing low-cost assembly and manufacturing, and over time became a Silicon Valley partner because companies there innovated in process and manufacturing to such an extent that their expertise is unparalleled in the world now.

It's a massive transfer of talent in a way that creates new opportunities for new regions.

I wouldn't label Pittsburgh as a historically peripheral region, but we are witnessing a similar economic migration pattern. What is missing is the geographic relationship that places such as Bangalore enjoy. In this sense, we could see a boomerang effect if the requisite network was developed. Maybe there is something like that already in place, but I haven't seen it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Solidarity Pittsburgh

Burgh expat Damon Boughamer mourns the passing of Mayor Bob O'Connor:


I have gathered over my twelve years away that you have mixed feelings about those who leave you, even if we have nothing but affection for you. It's largely understandable. My mom split for the suburbs before I was even born. I skipped western Pennsylvania altogether. A fine lot of good we're doing for the economy and tax base. Bob O'Connor was the simply the latest mayor who probably would have found us less than useful!

But he was still our mayor. The mayor of Pittsburgh always will be. We hope that you don't mind that we think so, and that we added our prayers from Charlotte and Phoenix and even Shrewsbury, York County to those from Bloomfield and Glenwood and Shadyside.

We are always rooting for the person who holds that job. His or her successes are times when we applaud, and his or her failures are blows not just for the Steel City, but for its sons and daughters scattered across the country.

We miss you, and we're sorry we didn't make it back for this, even if all we could have done was sit, troubled, watching the events unfold on KDKA, instead of reading about it at

Our thoughts are with the O'Connor family and with new Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. We hear lots of folks are calling him "Mayor Luke." We like that, by the way; sounds like Pittsburgh to us.

Hang in there. We're with you.

Any readers of Salman Rushdie and other postcolonial writers will recognize the angst about homeland ambivalence (if not outright rejection) concerning the people who leave. I didn't realize this until now, but the Burgh Diaspora can lay claim to the same liminal experience that Rushdie explores in his novels. This is a tragic tale of unrequited love and the price pioneers pay for exploring the global frontier.

Network Pittsburgh

A great deal of talent left the Pittsburgh region over the past 30-40 years. They took with them their education, Pittsburgh's investment in human capital. If your school district does a good job of educating your kids, they will become mobile knowledge workers and explore job opportunities in other regions. During this odyssey, your children will encounter new cultures and ideas. And they will expose others to the essence of Pittsburgh. The result is a more resilient and productive society. How might Pittsburgh benefit from these rich exchange networks?

The established answer is to attract the educated children from other regions. But Pittsburgh is having trouble pulling non-native knowledge workers to the area. Pittsburgh is not a dot on the mental map of the Mobile Class. Given the Balkanization of the political landscape, every township and neighborhood for itself, this is unlikely to change. Without any replacement knowledge capital, Pittsburgh is indeed experiencing a brain drain and the return on investment for education looks like a bad bet for the region.

An alternative solution to this problem is emerging. Sorry, I'm not talking about a Boomerang Burgh effect. These rich exchange networks are appearing online, the driving force behind Web 2.0. "Trust circles" and "content connectors" are weaving together a knowledge production engine that would rival any research university. The term "trust circle" is new to my lexicon, by way of Jon Udell. His blog is my means for staying on top of the Web 2.0 revolution. He imagines a searchable database of trusted experts. In other words, he wants an archived rich exchange network.

Likewise, the Burgh Diaspora could enable an online rich exchange network, including people within the geographically defined Pittsburgh region. Then, Pittsburgh could begin to benefit from the experiences of its expatriates and see some return on its investment in the education of its children. The Pittsburgh region is already networking, but there is little evidence of this among emigrants, save the Steeler Nation. The means to do this are already in place.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cadre of the Creative Class

Richard Florida, with a few partners in crime, is blogging. Almost all of the posts at The Creativity Exchange make great fodder for musings here. Sticking with a recent theme, the investment in human capital continues to confound lawmakers.

I'm not interested in the
source article, but the resulting blog trail. In this case, the concern is about South Carolina high school students leaving the state to go to college (typically in neighboring Georgia and North Carolina) and the flagship university (University of South Carolina at Columbia) claiming to import "intellectual capital" for the public good.

The problem is trying to draw a line around the public, which state universities allegedly serve. Florida would liberalize the polity and welcome out-of-state students with open arms. Others, the locals, would demand special treatment for instate students given the tax burden. And then there are those who lament the outmigration of talent to other states. I think all of these perspectives misunderstand the migration pattern.

There is not a Georgia for Georgians. But there are Georgians for Georgia. And then there are Bulldawgs for the University of Georgia, and vice versa. Like UGA, Pitt and CMU cater first to their respective academic communities, not the Pittsburgh Region or the State of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, there is not a Pittsburgh for Pittsburghers, but there are Pittsburghers for Pittsburgh.

Public universities often do claim to serve their state in a mission statement. Pitt is committed to contributing to "social, intellectual, and economic development in the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world." The truth is that the nation and the world now come before the Commonwealth thanks to the vitality of the university being the primary concern.

Pitt claims that the "international prestige of the University enhances the image of Pennsylvania throughout the world." I think that the international community can (and does) make the distinction between the university and where it is located. Universities are global places, more networked with each other than with the immediate locality.

Meanwhile, if someone who was born and raised in Pittsburgh graduates from West Virginia University, then he or she won't be cheering for the Panthers on Saturdays. Pittsburgh proud only goes so far.