Friday, September 15, 2006

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?

1 comment:

Kosmo said...

I am confused. Not about the value of the Pittsburgh Diaspora, but with the discontinuity between the clarity of what you propose and what is apparently being done by the Pittsburgh regional stewards.

Numerous nationally renowned institutions are convinced that quality of life is driven by economic prosperity and social inclusiveness. Given the forces of globalization, socialization and the new economy, they contend that “innovation” is the critical competency for every region if they are to thrive let alone survive. The raw materials of innovation being talent and ideas.

The Pittsburgh region is one of the top creators of innovation capacity and it is a natural force of life for this capacity to become globally distributed. The Pittsburgh culture or state of being is one of the most powerful, so their Diaspora are most favorably predisposed to allocate their innovative capacity for the benefit of the Pittsburgh region. The aforementioned forces have redefined space more as a flow of energies and not limited by geography. And lastly there exists virtual communities of practice to connect Pittsburgh region opportunities to these Diaspora.

Do I understand you correctly? If I do, then why has the Pittsburgh region done little to commercialize this powerful innovative capacity?