Monday, December 10, 2007

Into Shrinking Cities Immigration

Janko, the force behind i will shout youngstown (among other projects), throws down the gauntlet for shrinking city collaboration. He suggests a Rust Belt bloggers summit in Erie. The Rust Belt is a big region and the cultural coherence is a bit suspect. Janko offers a more manageable geography, roughly Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York.

I'm sympathetic to this approach because it outlines my Erie-born mental map and I think people from this area enjoy a shared heritage. This imagined community might help my readers understand why a person born in Erie and currently living in Colorado would be so obsessed with the Burgh Diaspora. (I learned at craft beer school that Pittsburgh is the #1 market for the Erie Brewing Company) However, I'm open to being more inclusive if other shrinking cities are interested in joining our club.

I propose an international immigration project for a group of cities in desperate need of the energy that newcomers bring to any region. I locate the genesis of this idea in Cleveland thanks to the efforts of Chris Varley and Richard Herman. I didn't fully appreciate the scope of Mr. Herman's vision ("Paging Mr. Herman...") until I read an article in the Washington Post about EB-5 immigrant visa program:

Through a little-known visa program that connects international fortunes to depressed economies around the country, Gaithersburg-based NobleOutReach has set out to rebuild parts of New Orleans through investments from wealthy foreigners seeking a gateway for immigration.

The visa program, known as the EB-5 immigrant investor pilot program, is a relatively small one. It reserves 3,000 visas a year for foreign investors who put at least $500,000 into one of 17 projects around the country, all designed to stimulate troubled local economies. One project involves a dairy-farming business in South Dakota, another an ethanol production plant in Texas. There's a project focusing on tourism, technology and trade in Pittsburgh and another that centers on professional business service companies in Milwaukee.

According to this blog, Eastern Ohio and Western New York are not part of this program. We could endeavor to change this, but I'd like to know first what is going on in Pittsburgh and the other 23 PA counties included in the EB-5 visa program. The aim of this policy is to increase foreign direct investment in the region. Are there any wins to report?

What we bloggers can do is publicaly identify key actors and help coordinate the overall initiative. For example, Pittsburgh's Eve Picker is trying to increase immigration to the region. Potential resources for our Shrinking Cities Immigration project include Ms. Picker, Audrey Russo, Sunil Wadhwani, James P. Smith, Jim Kenney, and Khadra Mohammed. I shouldn't leave out Chris Briem over at Null Space. Also, Maureen O'Connor at WPXI helped organize a discussion about legal and illegal immigration. And that reminds me that we could enlist the Pittsburgh Asian American Young Professional Association.

That is just for starters and what Pittsburgh can bring to the table at the "Rust Belt" bloggers summit in Erie.

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