Thursday, December 27, 2007

IntoPittsburgh: Project Gumbanders

If you are wondering about the logistics of aiding the Diaspora's return to Pittsburgh, then take a gander at the El Paso Expatriate project. I even discovered a blog titled El Paso Diaspora:

I recently phoned a friend to ask her about her stance on the El Paso Downtown Revitalization Plan A year ago we would have had a friendly and polite conversation, but this time her words were cautious, as were they measured. I do not pretend to know the dynamics of present day El Paso, not having lived there since 1997. I now live in Bryan, Texas, and have formerly lived in Tucson and before that, in Buffalo, New York, but in the last ten years I have visited the El Paso more times than I can remember and I maintain close and deep ties with community persons, artists and writers there.

The above blogger seems to have lost interest in shouting into the void, but the El Paso Expatriate project is quite active and recently put a survey online to learn more about the El Paso Diaspora. You can read some of the responses here.

I'm impressed with the sophistication of the project and I think it would be a fine model for Pittsburgh to emulate. In fact, we can use the El Paso results to better focus our target demographic:

[El Paso Representative Susie Byrd] believes there are two types of expats: those who are looking to build a comfortable life with a clear career ladder and not much risk; and those who are entrepreneurs, the ones willing to take risks.

While she said she finds nothing wrong with those who have invested in their education and are looking for a stable career path, she feels that El Paso might not be the city to pursue those goals because the city’s wages are not competitive enough.

“But, hopefully, people like that (entrepreneurs) will see opportunity here,” she said. “We have a lot of folks like that in our economy right now, and we need even more of those.”

The survey results also reveal that established entrepreneurs are not likely to be interested in relocating their businesses to El Paso. Instead, people who are now exploring start-up or self-employment opportunities find the prospect of returning home appealing. Helping these types of boomerangers ("gumbanders" in Pittsburghese parlance) is how the Burgh Diaspora project can inform economic development in the Pittsburgh region. Pittsburgh is a great place to freelance and I've heard from those bold enough to start their own businesses that there is ample support to do so.

Ironically, beggars can be choosers in this migration game. The desire to become an economic pioneer is the kind of motivation necessary to make the most of the opportunity in Pittsburgh, where competition for venture capital isn't as stiff as it is in entrepreneurial hotspots. I imagine an ideas competition with a prize of funding for the start-up, moving costs, and even a job for your spouse (if applicable). IntoPittsburgh will help you move back if you are ready and willing to help Pittsburgh.

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