Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Migration and Trust

Two bits of news in the New York Times concerning immigration: Man Posed as Yale Aide in Swindle of Irish Immigrants and Overhaul of Immigration Law Could Reshape New York. Both pieces speak to the importance of trust in facilitating immigration. From the swindle story:

The Yale reputation was all Mr. Cucciniello needed to establish his credibility.

Many of the well-off Irish immigrants who paid Mr. Cucciniello travel in the same social circles, and routinely assured one another that they were getting the right treatment from a bright assistant at one of the finest universities in America. They never suspected anything was awry until the news of Mr. Cucciniello’s arrest was reported in The Irish Voice this month.

From the immigration reform article:

Yet central to the city’s storied comeback from the precipice of population loss and bankruptcy in the 1970s, most agree, was the big influx of unexpected immigrants — an unintended consequence of the 1965 overhaul, sponsored by an influential Brooklyn representative, Emanuel Celler.

These days, in a Lower East Side neighborhood that has been a cradle of family chain migration to America for 200 years, the deli at Delancey and Allen Streets is a 24-hour operation run by a man from Bangladesh — one of about 70 relatives to follow a Bangladeshi seaman who jumped ship here in 1941. In luxury condominiums nearby, the newest residents include the affluent great-grandchildren of the eastern and southern European immigrants whose teeming poverty in the tenements prompted immigration quotas in the 1920s to keep out their kind.

And when these newcomers need a key, they turn to Good Locksmith Inc. on Grand Street, a business run by the Lai family from China, who finally unlocked their door to America, relative by relative, after being unwelcome by law for a century.

The second quote should make Pittsburgh policymakers sit up and take notice. US immigration reform facilitated New York City's transition to financial solvency and its rise to the top of the global urban hierarchy. One of New York's greatest assets is its long history of attracting newcomers, who in turn share an experience with other newcomers thereby developing a strong sense of community. This is a case when one's non-native status can act as an asset.

On the other hand, the first article about the alleged con artist demonstrates a vulnerability to any circle of trust. The Yale credentials served a purpose, but the affirmation from other Irish immigrants in that particular network validated a fraud. The problem is the informal nature of the network and its lack of sophistication. The quality of information shared is never questioned. Unless the service stumbles into to some expertise, the con is on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Diaspora Knowledge Network

India is formally organizing its overseas human capital assets via a government initiative aiming to encourage investment in the home country:

The objectives of the [Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre] will be to bring the Indian states, Indian business and potential overseas investors on the same platform and to facilitate the investors to identify the investment opportunities, the statement said. The OIFC would provide a host of advisory services including matters such as consular issues, stay in India, investment and financial issues etc. “As regards overseas Indian workers our aim is to help transform them from mere savers to investors. 23 billion dollars which comes as remittance mostly goes into bank deposits and consumption expenditure. The challenge before us is to convert these savings into investments,” [Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi] said.

My recent visits to Pittsburgh tell me that the region has ample innovation capacity, but not enough ideas maturing in the marketplace. Like India, I think Pittsburgh offers a plethora of investment opportunities with the expatriates representing the best (and most likely) source of cash and entrepreneurial expertise. Keep an eye out in the coming months for a CMU-based program that is akin to the OIFC.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Pittsburgh Club

A Florida retirement community is home to hundreds of Pittsburghers, enough to support two Pittsburgh clubs:

Last year, Emily Emigh wanted to join the Pittsburgh Club, but its membership had grown to more than 700.

So she started another club.

“I knew there was a strong contingency of Pittsburghers in The Villages,” Emigh said.

The Pittsburgh II Club (its official name hasn’t been decided yet) held its second organizational meeting Thursday night at Bacall Recreation Center.

“It’s going to be a social club,” Emigh said. “It’s a place where Pittsburghers come together and reminisce about Pittsburgh, to develop friendships with other people who are from the same area, and have fun.”

Before the meeting, several residents chatted about where they lived in the Pittsburgh area. Some came adorned in Pittsburgh Steelers or Penn State Nittany Lions hats and shirts, while others wore Pittsburgh Club shirts.

I don't know if there are other Pittsburgh clubs around the country, but I imagine that there is sufficient demand for them. Then again, the local Steelers fan club may suffice. But Pittsburghers in exile might desire something more than watching a game with fellow fans.

For example, the Newcomer Network in the Charlotte Observer recently connected Pittsburghers who relocated to the region from the same small neighborhood back in the Burgh. Included in that particular column is a story of how one person from Long Island connected with other expatriates in the area:

Newcomer Michael McNally of Indian Trail wrote to say, "After two years in Union County, I discovered our block is a mini Long Island. We have Bayshore, Medford, West Islip, Babylon, Centereach and Wyandanch all represented here in Brandon Oaks.

Michael, who moved here from Medford, shared this small-world story: "While the kids were finishing school on Long Island, I was in North Carolina, working and watching the construction of our beautiful new home," he wrote. "One day, while driving and admiring the neighborhood, I almost crashed into a young lady and her children. She was at the stop sign while I was gazing at the beautiful homes being built.

"I noticed her license was a N.Y. plate. I apologized for my reckless driving and asked where she was from. She was from Medford, N.Y. She lives five houses down from me now. She lived less than two miles from me in Medford. We shopped at the same markets and stores. It turns out that her next-door neighbor is her best friend who moved here from, yes, Medford."

The woman whose car he nearly dented, Kristen Cuccia, "is now a close friend and neighbor," Michael said. "Our kids play together. When one of us heads back north for a visit, we bring back whatever it is that is missed from Long Island: Italian bread, bagels, Ba-Tampte pickles, Chubs' Butcher Sausage."

A Pittsburgh or Long Island club in regions experiencing a large influx of the economically displaced could help assure that such useful encounters are not left to chance. In a sea of suburban sprawl, the culturally like-minded can find each other and build a new sense of community in a place far from home.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Haunting Pittsburgh's Dead

A rather odd and morbid subject for this blog, but I couldn't resist writing about a New York Times article concerning new markets for old cemeteries. Besides, life's end and the diaspora are grounds I've already tread. The NYT must be researching the death economy. The cemetery crisis is as follows:

As Americans choose cremation in record numbers, Victorian cemeteries like Laurel Hill and Green-Wood in Brooklyn are repositioning themselves for the afterlife: their own. Repositories of architectural and sculptural treasures, like Tiffany windows and weeping marble maidens atop tombs, the cemeteries face dwindling endowments, years of vandalism and neglect, shrinking space for new arrivals and a society that, until recently, collectively distanced itself from their meandering byways.

I don't know if Pittsburgh is experiencing a squeeze on cememtery plots or if there is a similar problem to that of these historical gems in Brooklyn. But I'm attracted to the idea of Pittsburgh cemeteries as popular public places (e.g. Allegheny Cemetery) and that the Burgh Diaspora might desire to rest for eternity among the Three Rivers.

Would a cemetery dedicated to the successful and famous among the Burgh Diaspora sell? As where we live and what constitutes home continue to become increasingly dislocated, I could imagine some room for opportunity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Understanding Chain (Network) Migration

While economic forces pushed people out of Pittsburgh, relationships often informed which locations pulled in these domestic migrants. Job opportunities in the Sun Belt or other booming regions didn't necessarily prove to be the draw card. To illustrate this point, I offer the story of an expert noodle maker who currently resides in the Denver area:

[Noodle maker Billy Lam] has been doing it his way since he was a kid growing up in Can Tho, a city in the Mekong Delta of the then-South Vietnam.

"My dad had a restaurant in Can Tho called Hoi Ky. We served dim sum, coffee, and rice-and-noodle dishes. That's where I learn," Lam said.

The aftermath of the Vietnam War abruptly ended his apprenticeship in 1978.

"First, I took a boat to Malaysia and stayed in a refugee camp for four months," he said. "That was one of the most difficult times in my life."

Through a friend, he made his way to Pittsburgh where he cooked for two years and learned English before moving on to Boston and New York. The American West called his name in 1981.

"I knew one friend here. We lived in the refugee camp together. He said, 'Come to Denver.' "

Lam's network first landed him in Pittsburgh and then ultimately Denver. A good economy wasn't the issue, though a regional recession may have pushed him out of Pittsburgh along with everyone else who left in the 70s and 80s. The location of trusted friends informed his place choices, particularly the big leap from a refugee camp in Malaysia to Pittsburgh.

What is so worrying about Pittsburgh's low rate of international immigration is the shrinking number of friends who could pull other people to the region. That goes for domestic immigration as well. Non-native new arrivals can bring family, friends and colleagues in tow. Until that critical mass of chain migrants develops, Pittsburgh will rely on the hoped for boomerang set returning home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Relocation Pittsburgh

Among other things, Pittsburgh's inexpensive housing stock makes the region a great place for family relocation. At least, so says the mobility services industry:

The ease with which a family can relocate to a new city is impacted by a variety of measurable factors. Traditional variables such as an area’s cost of living, crime rates, education and climate are combined with more abstract factors such as a city’s arts and culture scene, focus on diversity, and number of physicians per capita.

Conducted each spring, this is the third year Primacy and Worldwide ERC have partnered on the list. This year’s city size categories of large, medium and small were adjusted to reflect the larger population areas to which families are most likely to relocate, to 1.25 million and above, 575,000 – 1.25 million, and 350,000 – 575,000, respectively. Additionally, the 2007 study placed a special emphasis on the housing market, which has significantly impacted the relocation industry and an employer’s ability to transfer employees. The variables which weigh heavily in this category include home price, home affordability index, appreciation rates, and property tax.

“Without a doubt, the state of the housing market is having a huge impact on relocation decisions of both employers and the families who are being transferred,” said Michelle Vallejo, SCRP, GMS, President of Primacy, The Americas. “The cities on this list represent some of the stronger real estate markets and places that are most conducive to a successful family relocation.”

Several new categories were added to this year’s rankings, including recreation and leisure, arts and culture, air quality, watershed quality, sales tax, unemployment rate, job growth, high school and higher education index, school expenditures per student, students in public school, SAT/ACT percentile, and population growth. These new categories allow for a more robust range of variables which impact not only a family’s decision of where to move, but their ability to get settled once they arrive.

Pittsburgh ranked 6th in the Large Market category. The same group surveys the best relocation cities for singles in the fall. The criteria are different and Pittsburgh doesn't rate as highly, 63rd among the top 100 metros (in terms of size). Like Vermont, Pittsburgh is more attractive to an older demographic.

Pittsburgh should focus its efforts on leveraging regional strengths. While young adults comprise the most coveted age group, there is value in other demographics. If the City of Pittsburgh would like to benefit from the migration of families to the area, it should lower property taxes. Not that Pittsburgh can afford another shortcoming of revenue, but short-term pain should result in substantial long-term gains. The mobile class shouldn't have too many dependents in tow and they will do much to improve their neighborhoods of residence. Otherwise, the suburbs will continue to steal all the talent and wealth with young-hip Pittsburgh nowhere on the horizon.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Brain Circulation Vermont

The demographic of concern is young people in the 25-to 29-year-old range. A shrinking population in this bracket seems to define brain drain, which many cities and states see as a crisis. Why is there such an obsession with 20-somethings? Considering that criterion, Vermont must be brain dead. But when you look at the numbers for people in their 30s and 40s, the landscape looks much brighter. Young people do indeed leave Vermont, but many of them eventually return:

The Vermont report suggested the problem exists but may need to be looked at in a new way, replacing the term "brain drain" with "brain circulation."

"Most young people have the need to leave the nest, and they come wandering back," said Rebecca Ryan, founder and CEO of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis.

Ryan said she believed Vermont was way ahead of other states and communities because it remains an alluring place to live, even for its former residents.

Vermont also has a strong "brand" perception other states don't, according to Karen Beard, an economic analyst with Austin, Texas-based TIP Strategies.

There is a certain cachet to living in Vermont that gives it an edge in winning back residents, Beard said, although not necessarily in retaining young college graduates.

In a survey conducted for the Next Generation Workforce report, about 40 percent of college graduates said they had considered returning to Vermont. A 2006 study found that while 75 percent of those living in Maine saw themselves staying there for the next five years, only 12 percent living outside the state saw themselves returning.

Vermont may not have the assets to attract youth, but it does sell well to an older demographic. Furthermore, the geographic fickleness of young adults makes them a bad bet for almost any region. 20-somethings do more than leave the nest. They may need to relocate a few times, chasing an ever-evolving career track and experiencing the latest cool city.

Trying to keep young people from leaving is doing them a disservice. Vermont should help them find the best location to advance their lives. Those same nomads will mature and remember the lift the state provided them. What better place is there to raise your own children?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

H-1B Pittsburgh Redux

The immigration reform debate is on and Pittsburgh has a stake. Cleveland compatriot Chris Varley blogs at Tech Futures about promoting a policy that would benefit struggling Rust Belt cities. Chris provides immigration lawyer Richard Herman with a venue to discuss the opportunity:

Congress is currently debating Comprehensive Immigration Law Reform. The President is pushing for immigration law change, not only to provide a path to legalize millions of undocumented workers, but also to place greater emphasis on high-tech immigration (e.g., increasing H1B visa caps, increase numbers of employment based immigrant visas, etc.)

This might be a good time to propose to Congress/Administration the creation of “High Skill Immigration Zones” in parts of the country that are struggling to making the transition to a knowledge-based economy (e.g., Rust Belt Cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.), and which are progressively depopulating and destabilizing.

Richard offers a compelling case for a regional H-1B initiative, but local stakeholders need to step up to the plate and push for a big piece of the highly prized talent seeking access to the United States. Despite the dire numbers for international migration to Pittsburgh, Chris Briem points out that there is still a significant local demand for H-1B visas. As a "High Skill Immigration Zone", Pittsburgh would be allotted more H-1B visas than immigrant rich regions such as Silicon Valley. This would encourage companies such as Google to expand operations in Pittsburgh thanks to Pittsburgh's ability to tap foreign talent.

The infrastructure to support the migration of foreign talent to Pittsburgh is already in place, as Pitt and CMU can attest. All that is left to do is for Pittsburgh to aggressively enter into the debate for immigration reform. There are allies in Cleveland if Pittsburgh cares to look in that direction.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Deep Affinity Pittsburgh

The New York Times is reporting on a new marketing opportunity for American colleges and universities, offering alumni a place on campus to intern their ashes. This story may, at first glance, seem to be a strange subject for a blog post about the Burgh Diaspora. But take a look at the reason why these post-secondary institutions think they have a product that will sell:

In an era when many people are highly mobile and do not settle in one place for long, a college can have a strong allure as a final resting place, [college officials] say. And officials point out that colleges have a special resonance for many people, who have forged life-long relationships as undergraduates.

Given the likelihood of multiple relocations over a lifetime, the deepest relationship with a place may be where you went to university. I figure that the strong attachment expatriates have with Pittsburgh is similar to that of the connection to one's college. I wonder if the Burgh identity trumps that of alumni. I suspect that it does, but I'm only speculating.

Regardless, colleges and universities are taking advantage of the trend towards greater mobility. What is Pittsburgh's plan?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Branding Global Pittsburgh

Carnegie Mellon University has settled its mascot issue. CMU chose tradition over current academic strengths, embracing its founder's Scottish heritage with a Scottish terrier:

According to junior women's soccer player Jennifer Howard, many in the athletic community want to keep the Scottie dog and simply update its image.

"There is a lot that can be done with that," said Howard. "It doesn't need to look anything like the current one. I think it's very important to continue the Scottish heritage and tradition of the mascot. I like the idea of giving it a name like Terry or Andy."

Calling on Pittsburgh icon Andrew Carnegie taps into an internationally recognized brand. A rugby team in Yorkshire, UK even renamed itself Leeds Carnegie (previously Leeds Tykes). Freakonomics author Steven Levitt recently said, "Pittsburgh has really reinvented itself pretty effectively." But that doesn't mean that the region should turn its back on its industrial past.

On the contrary, Carnegie's contemporary face is a great global image for Pittsburgh to project. CMU did well to remind students and alumni of its Scotland connection. Pittsburgh would be wise to follow CMU's lead. Might a partnership with Scotland be in the offing?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Migration Opportunities

New Zealand's Minister of Immigration recently presented a new plan for taking advantage of emerging patterns of global migration. The policy shift is a reaction to perceived out-dated efforts to address immigration concerns that existed 20 years ago. The new immigration landscape is the result of 4 agents of change:

Circulation – there are now greater people flows around the world. In general, people are more transient now than they were 20 years ago.

Competition – the global competition for skills, labour and talent. As labour mobility increases, countries will increasingly compete for migrants.

Diversity – New Zealand is becoming more culturally diverse. One in five Kiwis were born overseas. We must identify what this diversity means for our communities and respond by ensuring the best settlement outcomes for migrants.

Heightened risk and pressure on the border – Unfortunately, a sign of our times is the heightened threat of international terrorism, illegal migration and trans-national organised crime.

Pittsburgh should be concerned with the first two agents, circulation and competition. Again, the trend is towards increased labor mobility. Migration used to be a reaction to economic transformation (e.g. Pittsburgh's youth exodus). Now, migration is a primary feature of economic transformation (e.g. transnationalism and co-location). Unfortunately, Pittsburgh appears to be consumed with the former migration pattern.

New Zealand isn't above such misunderstanding, hoping to attract talented immigrants to their country. As competition for talent increases, barriers of entry around the world will lower, allowing global nomads to act like multinational corporations and constantly seek better location opportunities. In order to compensate for the likely out-migration, New Zealand will need more immigrants than the polity will tolerate.

Pittsburgh will demand similar population churn to thrive. Promoting immigration is a good idea, but trying to stop emigration is futile. I think the trick is to encourage emigration, cultivating a loyal relationship between expatriate and hometown. I hypothesize that Pittsburgh could brand itself as a useful stopping point on the journey to personal prosperity and a high quality of life. Pittsburgh should put itself in the path of those seeking to take full advantage of labor mobility.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

King Connectivity

My inner geographer appreciated the Post-Gazette story about the efforts to improve the Hill District via a greenways project. However, I couldn't find an angle for a blog post when I read the article the first time. A Google news search of "Pittsburgh diaspora" produced a link to the very same piece and I revisited the text to find out how the diaspora figures into the narrative:

Mr. Candy, a community-development consultant, established Find the Rivers! in 2002 to seek remedies for the severed ties the Hill suffered when highways and the Mellon Arena were built, displacing thousands of Lower Hill residents. He was inspired to action, he said, by French urban designer Michel Cantal-DuPart and author Mindy Fullilove, whose book "Root Shock" dealt in part with the Hill District diaspora.

Root Shock served as Chris Briem's first "book of the (undetermined time period) club." He kindly linked to his review of the book, helping me to understand the relevance of the diaspora to the Hill District story:

The uprooted communities -- the author estimates there are more than 1,600 across the country -- were concentrated in the African-American communities of America's large cities.

The consistent theme is that the wholesale displacement of neighborhoods had an impact more traumatic and longer-lasting than is understood.

"Root shock ... ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass," Fullilove writes. It caused the destruction of the interconnections that "were essential to the survival of the community."

That the urban renewal project influenced out-migration in and of itself is not a bad thing for the community. The problem concerns the disruption of connectivity patterns, the lifeline of any place. The Hill District greenways project is an attempt to reconnect the neighborhood, to itself and the rest of the Pittsburgh.

I imagine a larger project for the Hill District: Re-establish the ties to the formally displaced residents who share the memory of a once great community.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Asian American Pittsburgh

Celebrating a Pittsburgh connection doesn't necessarily mean residing in the region. There is value in the occasional pilgrimage back to the Burgh, as a story in the Trib about the greater Asian American community demonstrates:

The key to expanding Silk Screen's reach, according to [Silk Screen founder Harish Saluja], is to reconnect with the Pittsburgh diaspora -- particularly those who came here for school, and left.

"People came from San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York City -- these are people I met personally," Saluja says. "Someone showed up from Japan. She said her husband used to work here many years ago, and someone sent her an e-mail. She paid her way from Japan, paid for a gala ticket, then gave me $100 cash and apologized for not giving more. She said she'd try to make it most years, and bring her friends, and use it as an excuse to come back.

"I've heard that everybody has an aunt in Pittsburgh," he adds. "Next year, even more, we're going to find people and friends in all the cities through our six degrees of separation, so it becomes a destination for Middle America once a year, like people go to Sundance and Telluride."

Pittsburgh needs to re-establish a relationship with the Asian Americans who spent some time in the city. Saluja offers the means to do this. I hope he finds the backing to realize his dream of building an Asian Center in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Exporting Innovation

While back in the Burgh, I enjoyed breakfast with two of Pittsburgh's poster children for young entrepreneurs. I don't want to burn any bridges, for me or for them, so they will remain well-placed anonymous sources. I'm under the impression that one of the nameless is not long for Pittsburgh, expressing a great deal of frustration with the lack of opportunities available in the region. However, the other start-up story is a glowing account of how Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to grow a business.

I won't try to reconcile these two versions of Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Instead, I'll focus on the fear that both innovators share: The unfortunate consequences of leaving Pittsburgh for greener pastures.

Dogging the tale of success is the certainty that the pursuit of other opportunities elsewhere, no matter how sound the reasoning for relocation, will result in the drying up of her/his Pittsburgh network. Understand that once you leave Pittsburgh, you are dead to it.

Thus, the region celebrates those who stay or return, but ignores Pittsburghers who thrive beyond the pale. Instead of sharing in the accomplishments of its expatriates, Pittsburgh turns a cold shoulder. That would be akin to a university failing to highlight successful alumni because they fell too far from the school.

Ahem, CMU...

The unhappy ending is already upon the other entrepreneur. Waiting for him/her is a life in exile, a sacrifice for the sake of the business. Both entrepreneurs benefited from various Pittsburgh positives, but neither will be an ambassador for those attributes because the city feels scorned. Then no one ever hears about how great Pittsburgh is for sparking a start-up. Pittsburgh could help companies make the best move for the next stage, but a bruised ego prohibits the parent from doing everything it can to help its children.