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.

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