Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Rural Diaspora

If any region has struggled with recent trends of domestic migration, the Great Plains stands out from the crowd in the game to attract human capital. Ord, Nebraska is overcoming the dire demographics, leveraging an instate advantage of philanthropic investment:

[Ord] has hired a “business coach” to help teach local stores how to sell their goods over the Internet and to match up retiring shop owners with aspiring ones. Schoolchildren learn how to start their own little businesses — like the sixth-grade girl who made a video of the town’s history and sells it at school reunions — so they will not grow up to think the only job opportunities are at big companies in Omaha or St. Louis. Graduates of Ord High School who have moved elsewhere receive mailings telling them about job opportunities back in town.

The article explains the success as a result of the thriving tradition of giving in the American heartland, which is proportionally greater than that of many other regions. However, if money was the main concern, more regions would rebound. One thing Ord has done well is reach out to its own diaspora:

Nebraska does not have a large pool of part-time residents to tap, and it has an outflow of young residents - the children of potential donors - who move away when they go to college and do not return. So virtually every town has tracked down alumni networks, even for grade schools, to draw from the huge intergenerational wealth transfer that could be coming in the next decades.

Ord also possesses a "critical mass of like-minded people." The community pooled together its resources and advanced a well-coordinated agenda that attracted new residents while promoting an entrepreneurial culture. Pittsburgh does not enjoy a similar cohesive vision. There is enough money in the region to reverse the disadvantageous demography, but few people in Pittsburgh are moving in the same direction. We could learn a great deal from Ord and the Nebraska Community Foundation.

No comments: