Wednesday, December 31, 2008

TiE Cleveburgh

The Cleveland Plain Dealer provides a follow up to the TiE Ohio story, which mentions a provocative and ambitious mega-regional initiative in the works:

The chapter's next step is to begin matching people who want to launch businesses with experienced entrepreneurs who can coach them.

"That's the TiE model," [said Baiju Shah, president and CEO of BioEnterprise and one of the founders of the local TiE chapter].

The TiE connection will allow Cleveland-area businesses to tap talent and resources from Silicon Valley to London, England, he said.

Organizers plan to hold more focused meetings in the future, exploring topics like biotechnology, Shah said. They also envision convening a Great Lakes conference to foster the concept of a "tech belt" stretching from Chicago through Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

TiE Ohio needs a geography lesson. Not only is the scale too big, but the Rust Belt is really two mega-regions, not one. There is some coherence to the mega-regional conception of the Great Lakes, but I see a number of economic sub-regions, or "corridors". I can imagine (actually, see) venture capital flowing between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but all the way to/from Chicago? And if there is a tech belt for Chicago it is north and west of the city. Something as large as Minneapolis-Chicago might work, but even that is a stretch. Chicago-Milwaukee would be more like it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stop Investing in Shrinking Cities

CEOs for Cities is soliciting opinions about the "City Beautiful" approach to urban economic development. The debate is played out in a Boston Globe article and one economic development expert from New Brunswick lampoons the policy recommendations as evidence of the "Floridian virus" taking hold, referencing the obvious influence of Richard Florida's work on the preferred strategy. The connection between "City Beautiful" and Florida isn't that clear cut, but there exists plenty of common ground between the research in question and the Creative Class hypotheses. But I don't know if one necessarily validates the other. Once again, the dichotomy (e.g. Joel Kotkin versus Richard Florida; Flat World versus Spiky World) strikes me as a false one.

There is another controversy embedded within the conclusions that is much more vexing and it concerns the expected federal economic stimulus package:

If the goal of a stimulus package, or any economic development plan, is to stimulate growth, does it make sense to continue investing in places that will never be attractive?

Many of the 15 variables that Carlino and Saiz have identified as triggers for new growth - like coastlines, historical buildings, and a lack of rainy days - are not something a city can choose to build. Rather, they are permanent elements of place based on irreconcilable fates of history and geography. Why send another federal dollar to bolster manufacturing in Akron when it could support a golf course in sunny Phoenix?

The suggestion is to invest in the places where talent already prefers to live, not the glum cities currently shrinking. Upon my first reading of the Globe article, I immediately thought of Chicago and globalization. Chicago essentially invested in the healthiest part of the city, the rest be damned. Globalization would seem to reward urban triage. Only the fittest places will survive.

Another reading of the article revealed to me a loophole in this geography. What is popular now may not attract talent in the next decade. If Rust Belt Chic is the latest urban fad, then the geographically mobile will stream to rebuilding postindustrial cities. All the money poured into the Sun Belt might go to waste.

I think the main problem is that most Americans are not that geographically mobile. If Obama ignores all the people "stuck" in the Rust Belt, then he risks alienating a large part of his constituency. We all saw how politically divisive the bailout of the American auto industry was and still is. Sometimes the best policy is the worst choice.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cleveburgh Immigration Update

Richard Herman has a new post up. I'll focus on the study from two scholars at the University of Akron that Richard mentions. Part of the long passage Richard presents at his blog:

Population growth normally happens in two different ways. The first is due to natural processes where the number of births exceeds the number of deaths in a given area. The second is due to migration with individuals moving into (immigration) and out of (emigration) the area. For years, the United States and the Northeast Ohio region have faced what has been termed as zero population growth or a relative equity between the number of births and the number of deaths.

However, as the dominant middle-aged population in Northeast Ohio reach their senior years, the pendulum may actually shift to more pronounced negative natural population growth where the number of deaths significantly outnumber births.

In this case, population growth in the region will be even more dependent on immigration.

Attracting more immigrants to the Tech Belt is absolutely vital to the region's economic prosperity. Increasing domestic in-migration or plugging the brain drain will not halt the population decline. Cleveburgh needs to aggressively court foreign-born talent. Despite growing unemployment, worker shortages have not abated. Countries such as Australia and Canada are forging ahead with plans to attract high-skilled immigrants.

The Talent Blueprint Project deserves the full support of anyone concerned with the economic development of Northeast Ohio. As Richard Herman's efforts and this white paper from the University of Akron make clear, the benefits of increasing immigration are undeniable. Unfortunately, Ohio has it backwards. The focus is on decreasing out-migration and cultivating local talent. We've seen these parochial initiatives before and they don't work. Voters and politicians seem to have short memories. These desperate times call for new measures and the Talent Blueprint Project is worthy of your consideration.

Pittsburgh VC

New York Times story about Florida's attempt to grab more of the venture capital market share lists Pittsburgh as a hotbed:

Venture capital is spreading outside its historic hotbeds in Silicon Valley and New England, but so far, Florida has not been getting a significant chunk of the money. The fastest-growing regions for venture capital investment over the last decade are New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia, according to the National Venture Capital Association. Florida will receive only a small fraction of the $30 billion that is expected to be invested in start-ups this year.

I suppose Pittsburgh skeptics could pick apart the numbers. But at some point, the latest renaissance becomes more than regional boosterism. The current economic recession began before most people recognized the downturn. I think Pittsburgh's revitalization is further along than most analysts are willing to admit. My sense is that Pittsburgh has already moved beyond the tipping point.

I'll risk overstating the case by dragging the PNC Bank takeover of National City into consideration:

Pittsburgh-based PNC will be a much more formidable competitor for the remaining local banks and will be a national powerhouse as the fifth-largest bank in the United States. That will make life a little tougher for Northeast Ohio's dozen or so major banks. ...

... While other banks may be breathing a sigh of relief about pricing, they will face a much more daunting competitor than National City was in recent years, said banking expert Fred Cummings, president of Elizabeth Park Capital Management in Beachwood.

PNC, by contrast, is mighty and doesn't have to be distracted by the financial problems that most banks face. It hasn't cut a lot of jobs or its $2.64-per-share annual dividend. PNC actually increased the dividend this year.

Unlike National City, which has been on defense for most of the past two years, PNC will have the luxury of being on offense.

"When you say who are the most stable banks in [Cleveland], you have to say PNC and U.S. Bank," Cummings said.

Pittsburgh's financial district has a sound anchor in PNC. Pittsburgh will fund a big share of Rust Belt redevelopment and entrepreneurial activity. Pittsburgh is booming while other cities and states are going bust. To some extent, the recession is catching up with Southwestern Pennsylvania. But not enough to bury the stark economic contrast with its regional cohort. I'm liking Pittsburgh's position when the national economy starts its recovery.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stuck in Columbus

One of the defining features of the current economic crisis is the large number of Americans unable to relocate for purposes of gainful employment. The "Global Squeeze" is undermining domestic geographic mobility with horrifying results:

In Ohio, which has shed 100,000 jobs in the past year, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and his budget team spend a lot of time delivering bad news to constituents and plotting ways to wring money from the federal government. He announced $640 million in cuts for the budget year ending June 30, for a total of $1.9 billion since the economic crisis began.

"We're not crying wolf. This is real," Strickland said in an interview in his statehouse office, pointing to charts that project the most serious erosion of state income in 40 years and a two-year budget deficit of $7.3 billion. Revenue shortfalls in the upcoming two-year budget could amount to about 25 percent of the state's discretionary spending.

Strickland recently picked up the telephone and called Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff. When he heard the recorded voice of his former congressional colleague, he left a message: "Rahm, it's Ted. You've never failed me and I need $5 billion."

The despair in Columbus, Ohio is shocking. My image of the city is one of a university town with a growing tech scene attracting a number of talented graduates from Pittsburgh schools. That Columbus still exists. The region is undergoing the same kind of globalization transformation that Chicago endured during the 1980s. Contrast Chicago's East Side neighborhood with that of Lake View, as Ted McClelland does to open his book "The Third Coast", and you'll begin to understand where Columbus is heading.

The New Argonauts of Columbus aren't living in the areas with boarded up houses and long lines of people seeking government assistance. If the regional economy were to collapse, then these economic nomads might move as far away as China. But those lacking a high school diploma, let alone any college experience, have no such options. They have nowhere to go or lack the means to pull up the stakes and head to North Dakota. The Mobility Paradox is coming to fruition.

California Diaspora

Californication is a phenomenon at least two decades old. States such as Colorado and Washington have well established antipathy towards the real estate refugees in search of a more affordable life. That out-migration from California is now news is, well, news:

A noted historian, Joel Kotkin, recently wrote that the net out-migration of residents indicates a state in deep trouble — trouble that will only get worse because of state government’s dysfunction, and the widening gap between California’s rich and poor.

At the same time, however, a study released by the Pew Research Center adds credence to California’s reputation as the place to be — still. While Californians are often depicted as rootless souls in search of the next good wave, the plain truth is that nearly three-quarters of the folks born in this state stay here.

The curious element is that Californians need reassurance that there isn't an exodus going on. Immigration has, for quite some time, kept the state from being America's capital of shrinking cities. And a 75% immobility rate is not worth celebrating.

IF Pittsburgh is sincerely interested in "filling the talent pipeline", then the region should try to tap into this out-flow. I've heard that Pittsburgh could use more software programmers. Look no further than Los Angeles. Pittsburgh has strong links there and the talent could further fuel the growth of the emerging economic niche of distance-trust technologies.

Friday, December 26, 2008

30,000 Jobs Available in Pittsburgh

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development has finally launched its talent initiative. Perhaps I buried the lede in my post about China's quest to reclaim a few choice expatriates from the States. No matter because Bill Toland more than picks up my slack in his latest Diaspora Report:

"This is not a boomerang initiative," says DeWitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. The Alliance, part of the Allegheny Conference, is trying to bend the ears of that fugitive talent via, a new jobs portal that lists 30,000 Pittsburgh-area positions. ...

... "This is a talent initiative," Mr. Peart said. "We need to find a way to fill the talent pipeline in this region ... if someone is looking to relocate, we think Pittsburgh is better off than a lot of other regions."

Why is the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance so adamant in its denial of launching a boomerang initiative? Mr. Toland makes a compelling case that Mr. Peart is playing fast and loose with the facts. The target of the "talent initiative" is the Baltimore/DC area. Granted that a great deal of Pittsburgh's in-migration comes from this region, but there is likely a substantial number of returnees in that flow.

I'd have to see more of the marketing campaign in order to offer a salient critique. I don't know the goals of the talent initiative. However, there are three demographics that could "fill the talent pipeline":

1) Urban professionals looking to start a family or with a young family. This group typically is looking at a move from the city to the suburbs.

2) College graduates are an important group. I'd bet that Mr. Peart is satisfied with the production of local colleges and universities. This talent initiative doesn't appear to be targetting this group.

3) Foreign born talent, particularly those already residing in the United States, is highly geographically mobile. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance is interested in attracting high-skilled immigrants.

Group #1, loosely defined, appears to be on Pittsburgh's radar. Given the evidence available to me, I predict the initiative will fail. However, I suspect that the goal isn't to "fill the talent pipeline" with people for the 30,000 available jobs. Given how Mr. Toland frames his introdution to this Diaspora story, he may share my suspicion. I'm certain that a powerful job aggregator won't spark an influx of workers. Locals will benefit the most from this one-stop job hunt.

From the efforts of Alberta or North Dakota, I've learned how hard it is to attract labor from outside of the region. But Pittsburgh isn't that desperate for talent. The latest from the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance better be a part of a larger picture. Is the plan available for public consumption? I'd like to read it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Diaspora Christmas

The holiday season reminds many of us how difficult geographic mobility is on families and communities:

There's my sister who lives in Virginia and my brother and his family in Nevada. Then there is my other brother who lives in Ontario. I can't forget my aunts, uncles and cousins who live in the Boston area. And I have to connect with my cousin in Washington. Of course, I need to try and connect with the many friends that have moved away from New Brunswick over the years and are now living in Ontario, Alberta, New York and Virginia. I feel worse for my parents as I am the only one of their four children that has remained in New Brunswick.

Think of it as my own little Campbell diaspora or far-flung network of ex-New Brunswickers most of whom left New Brunswick for economic opportunity elsewhere. You can probably see why I am so passionate about fixing the province's structural economic problems. For me it is intensely personal.

If there was more economic opportunity in New Brunswick, would less people leave? Actually, the opposite is true:

Which brings me to this week's mystery: Why do people still live in Detroit, which has suffered so much for so long? Why not move to Chicago or New York? People originally moved to places like Treorchy because there was coal to be mined. Now that the mines have closed—and the Burberry factory too—why do they stay? ...

... Even when we look only at internal migration, the barriers are formidable. Wherever people seem particularly keen to own their own homes—as in the United Kingdom, Spain, and some U.S. states—employment suffers as a result. English economist Andrew Oswald has shown that across European countries, and across U.S. states, high levels of home ownership are correlated with high levels of unemployment. More conventional factors such as generous welfare benefits or high levels of unionization don't explain unemployment nearly as well as the tendency to own houses. Renting your home and staying flexible do wonders for your chances of always finding an interesting job to do.

Recent research in the Economic Journal suggests that people who own their own homes form denser local networks, which help unearth local jobs. Still, the jobs tend to be less well-matched and commuting distances are longer. So, professor Oswald is right to argue that we should do everything possible to free up impediments to renting or to selling a house and buying a new one. It would be handy if we were allowed to build houses near Manhattan, too.

In short, staying put is economically disadvantageous and we tend to see more rooted people in poor areas. Except in extreme cases (acute economic shock), out-migration is lowest in the regions with the fewest jobs.

I'll put it another way: Decreasing geographic mobility is bad for the economy.

Windsor, Ontario is taking the attachment to place to the extreme. The local government is planning to pay for a shuttle service that allows a family to remain while the primary wage earner heads off to the Western Provinces where work is plentiful:

A recent Statistics Canada survey showed Windsor had the worst population decline of any major Canadian census metropolitan area in 2006-07. The Windsor CMA -- which includes Amherstburg, LaSalle, Tecumseh and Lakeshore -- lost a net 1,744 residents due to migration.

The troubling trend prompted Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis to propose a commuter service that would shuttle workers to and from Western Canada. ...

... Francis describes his plan as a temporary measure designed to ease both the city and workers through an economic slump that isn't going to turn around anytime soon.

"It's only one element of a broader perspective in terms of economic development here," he says. "Obviously, we need to continue to focus our efforts on creating jobs here, but we also need to be realistic in our assessment of the economic situation and challenges we are facing. The economic challenge we are facing clearly indicates that we are going through a transition. So, we either lose these people for good, as we know is happening. They're moving out west. They're relocating their entire families. Or, we provide this program and keep these people and their skill set."

That is the mother of all commutes. For those not willing to endure the separation, they stay and help to depress local wages:

The Windsor couple tried the long-distance route for almost four months after Duguay, laid off about year-and-a-half ago from Windsor Tool and Die, started working for a company in Wetaskiwin, about 60 kilometres south of Edmonton. He returned home late last month, after securing a position with Northstar Technologies -- a Lakeshore company that services the aerospace industry.

Duguay is taking a $8 an hour pay cut to remain in Windsor, but Alberta's higher cost of living cancels out the higher wages, says Darlene.

This story makes me think of Richard Longworth's book, "Caught in the Middle." The Midwest enjoyed such a long duration of prosperity that its people became used to the idea of sticking around through a number of economic cycles. Cities built by immigrants and labor from the South transformed into museum communities. Multiple generations had no reason to relocate and the workforce, for lack of a better word, eutrophied. To give progeny a reason to stay is replicating the same efforts that handicap the Rust Belt today.

Pittsblog Zombie

Pittsblog is now undead.

Rust Belt Economic Churn

This letter to the editor of the Indy Star reminds me that perception often needs a reality check:

Statistics compiled by the local electronics industry confirm that 80 percent of the companies that leave Indiana go to other Rust Belt states. Ohio is the number one recipient, Illinois second and Michigan third. China, Mexico and California are way down on the list. This trend shows all signs of continuing at the same rate regardless of the positive spin showcased in [the Dec. 13 article "The Silicon Valley of the car industry" by Ted Evanoff].

When businesses leave Rust Belt cities, how far do they actually travel? In my mind, the Indiana electronics industry story makes a good case for more mega-regional collaboration.

Linking Pittsburgh Immigration and Bakery Square

Today's tale begins with an editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review criticizing the EB-5 visa program:

The Philadelphia Convention Center Authority agreed this month to consider a low-interest loan from the "Welcome Fund," overflowing with $73.5 million from 150 Chinese investors.

Public projects are notorious white elephants with voracious appetites for funding. They are no more commercial enterprises than the EB-5 scheme is legitimate immigration policy.

Thanks to a Richard Herman tip, I blogged about the EB-5 investment in the convention center back in July. Initially, the board of the project balked at the foreign capitalization. Given the Trib's admonishment, I gather the money is now flowing.

I gather that the Pittsburgh press is unaware of an EB-5 development in its own backyard. At least, I couldn't find any mention of it. Recently, the EB-5 program in Western Pennsylvania was extended to the entertainment industry. I was trying to find out if anything was in the pipeline and I came across a key actor in Philadelphia's forays into EB-5 investment: CanAm Enterprises.

CanAm Enterprises, based in Brooklyn, specializes in EB-5 investment projects. If you visit the company website you'll see that not only do they help Philadephia, but Western Pennsylvania (i.e. Pittsburgh) and Los Angeles as well. The LA connection concerns the film industry, which helps explain how the entertainment industry in Pittsburgh is now party to this foreign capital pipeline.

CanAm has a projects page with only one investment opportunity listed: Bakery Square in East Liberty (Pittsburgh). CanAm is acting as a broker, looking for 70 investors to the tune $35 million (and 700 local jobs) in exchange for permanent residency in the United States. In my opinion, this is exciting news.

I blog about this EB-5 story in hopes that other capital starved big ideas will explore this option. The visa is not without controversy, but the Tribune Review editorial is muchado about nothing. Foreign investment should be welcome in Pittsburgh. And I'll reiterate that more communities than Pittsburgh are eligible. The geographic scope is quite generous. Pay attention, Erie. You might be able to develop the Koehler Brewery site.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Contemporary Geography of Captive Labor

During my morning round of blog reading, I read a post that started the wheels turning:

He then shocked me by saying that the government needs to go out and attract in the largest multinational player in that specific industry. He said the large players anchor the cluster and use a lot of SMEs in the market. Even if the SME (like this guy’s firm) doesn’t get any work they benefit from the cluster that builds up around the large anchor player (he cited the auto plants in Tennessee). He proceeded to name a number of services that they had to use suppliers in Montreal and beyond - increasing costs and reducing efficiency. These suppliers gravitate to the areas that have the large industry players.

By the way, that response was to my question “How do we create an environment that leads to 50 more firms like yours springing up in New Brunswick”.

Then I said to him that some company leaders have said they don’t want these big firms coming in and bidding up the price of labour and stealing their talent. His response? “That means we just have to work harder and smarter.”

A few months ago, I was doing some background research on Google's presence in Pittsburgh. I read that some business Yinzers were less than thrilled about the new office opening. The reason cited was the competition for talent. Think about that. In a region so anxious about people leaving, the business leadership was complaining about a big company coming in an eating up all the talent. The fears proved to be unfounded and as I've come to appreciate, Pittsburgh has a glut of well educated workers. The local colleges and universities produce many more graduates than the regional economy can consume. There is more than enough labor to go around, which helps explain the relatively low wages. What shortage?

As the Atlantic Canada party talk demonstrates, enterprise appreciates the dividend. I'll let you in on another secret. Politicians are keen to deliver captive labor markets to the parochial captains of industry:

While Ohio's universities provide students with a first-rate education, nearly one-third of graduates leave the state to find work. This brain drain leaves Ohio employers struggling to fill thousands of jobs each year.

Many Ohio businesses have expressed concerns about a growing "skills gap," in which companies struggle to find employees with the right training for high-tech industry jobs.

This first-of-its-kind summit revealed the common challenges Ohio universities face. We determined the need for increased integration and communication between the academic and business communities. We discussed expanding curriculum and degree options, especially those connected with the high-tech industry.

The problem was clear: Ohio has workers without jobs and employers without workers. The question became how to connect the two communities?

Well Senator Sherrod Brown's effort seems worthwhile, he's trying to figure out how to tie down Ohio's labor pool. The unemployed workers tend to be the least educated, and therefore the least geographically mobile:

Highly educated people are much more likely to be mobile: more than three-quarters (77 percent) of college graduates have moved at least once compared to 56 percent of those with a high school diploma. Younger Americans, unmarried people, and those who are foreign-born are among the most likely to move. The Midwest is the most rooted region; the West the most mobile. The main reasons stayers stay: family ties, a desire to stay in their home town.

"Rooted" people will take less money in order to stay in their hometown. Talent isn't leaving Ohio at a remarkable rate and local business isn't that starved for labor. What Ohio enterprise wants is workers at a discount. These companies don't want to compete with Austin, Seattle or Denver for the highly-skilled. Better to grow them locally and dilute the labor pool. Importing labor is expensive and difficult. A better idea is to have the state absorb those costs through subsidized training.

The native constituency eats up these kinds of initiatives. Better to hire an insider than an outsider. Labor is complicit because of the power of place, which greatly serve the interests of industry. But the aim isn't to increase the number of job in a region. The goal is to keep wages low. The best way to do that is to tie workers to a particular location.

The people most willing to move will earn the most money.

US Migration Year In Review

July 1st marks the advent of a new migration year, but the data from the previous year doesn't come out until now:

"People want to go to where it's warm and where there are a lot of amenities. That's a long- term trend in this country," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"But people have stopped moving," he said. "It's a big risk when you move to a new place. You need to know that moving and getting a new mortgage is going to pay off for you."

The big news is that more people are staying put and the population shift to the South and West is abating. Relocation is a scary prospect, the information about a new place far from perfect. The best educated will be the ones moving to improve.

The news is particularly dire in Michigan:

The state's decline is rooted in mobility: The rising number of people who are leaving the state far exceeds the number coming into it. The state had a net loss of 109,257 people to domestic migration, up from 95,787 a year earlier and 57,257 in 2005. Immigration from abroad, once able to balance the domestic losses, continued to decline as well, with just 16,627 coming to Michigan, down from its recent high of 23,328 in 2001.

"It's that out-migration. It keeps going -- more and more and more," said Kurt Metzger, director of the Detroit Area Community Indicators System, a local nonprofit. "There's nothing else."

Births rose and deaths declined for the third consecutive year, pushing the state's "natural increase" up. But it was the loss from movers, many of whom left for economic reasons, which drove the state's population downward.

"When opportunities present themselves, people will move," said Rick Waclawek, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Growth's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

I've commented that Rust Belt states often suffer from natural decline, something overlooked in the brain drain hysteria. So, the natural increase is a surprise. What continues to irk me is the droning about out-migration while citing net migration statistics. I'm not inclined to trust the quoted experts.

Interesting tidbit about Pennsylvania's population:

Sue Copella, director of the Pennsylvania State Data Center, said the state gets more of its growth from international migration than most states. The Census Bureau defines "international migration" as U.S. citizens and foreign nationals moving into or out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

For 2008, international migration accounted for about 40 percent of the state's growth. The only states with a higher percentage were Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. The District of Columbia ranked higher than Pennsylvania.

I'd bet almost all of the immigration occurs in the eastern part of the state. Score another one for immigration glossing over weak domestic in-migration. On the other hand, Texas is gaining population mostly from domestic migration:

Much of Texas' international migration historically hails from Mexico and Central America, where immigrants fled poor conditions. But the surging domestic migration into the Lone Star State is now likely to come from economically depressed states such as Michigan, which lost about 46,000 residents between July 2007 and July 1, 2008. ...

... As domestic migration has increased, international movement into Texas has slowed, dropping from nearly 104,000 in July 2006, to about 90,000 the following year. The Mexican government recently reported a 42 percent drop in the number of people trying to enter the United States illegally in the past two years.

U.S. government officials attribute the decline to stronger border enforcement, while immigrant advocates say it mostly reflects the slowing U.S. economy.

Eschbach cautioned that Texas' role as a magnet for job seekers could diminish as the state's economic troubles begin catching up to the nation's.

University of Houston economist Barton Smith said last month that Houston, Texas' most populous city, was losing its "energy cushion" and moving toward an economy that resembled the rest of the country. He predicted that Houston would lose between 11,000 and 37,500 jobs in 2009.
That's the other big story: Flagging international migration to the United States. I suspect the teetering economy has more to do with the falling numbers in states such as Texas than border enforcement. Actually, I'm sure of it. The best border control is economic decline.

Back to domestic migration, are most of the newcomers really from "economically depressed states such as Michigan"?

Blog Release: Steelers Cheer

From VisitPittsburgh:

It’s time to rally around our Pittsburgh Steelers as they head to the playoffs in January 2009 and VisitPittsburgh wants to see and hear your best Steelers cheer! We want the funniest, wackiest and most creative Steelers cheers our fans have in them. Send a video of you and your favorite fans performing your Steelers fight song to Contestants will be judged in five categories: wardrobe, performance, content, musicality, and originality. The winner will receive a Steelers Jersey and an Official Wilson Super Bowl XL Game Football.

Send video, along with name, email, and phone number to All submissions must be entered by midnight Thursday, January 8. While videos can be tacky and wild, they must be tasteful and legal! VisitPittsburgh will select a winner at on Friday, January 9, 4 p.m., EST. Employees and immediate families of VisitPittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not eligible to win.

No studio videography will be considered. Contestants warrant that the video submission is original and that they are the sole owner and creator of the piece. Entries may not have been copyrighted or published previously in any media including books, magazines, newspapers, postcards, web sites, calendars or advertising/marketing materials. While contestant retains copyright and ownership of his/her original work, it is understood that all submissions become the property of VisitPittsburgh which has the legal right to use, publish, reproduce, alter and give legal consent to others to use the photograph.


The Tennessee Titans beat the listless Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday afternoon. You might be surprised to learn that most of the fans in attendance went home disappointed because the game was played in Nashville:

While watching the game at home, I stepped away at one point to do laundry. After hearing what I was sure was the fan response for a Titans score, I ran into the other room to find out that Pittsburgh had just scored. The Steelers fans were so loud it was hard to distinguish the home team by listening.

While I'm sure a good number of Pittsburgh expatriates live in Tennessee, I suspect a lot of Steelers fans drove to the game from cities such as Charlotte and Atlanta. Steelers Nation (a native Pittsburgher informs me that the proper term is "Steeler Nation") taking over an opposing stadium, something I've experienced firsthand, informed the Burgh Diaspora blog. Something special is going on, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was.

I'm now confident that there is no domestic urban diaspora as prolific and attached to the homeland as the Pittsburgh Diaspora. My new question: Does the uniqueness matter? Figuring out how to task the out-migrants with regional economic development is a tall order. Getting excited about a Steelers game is one thing, but doing something to help Pittsburgh may not be of interest. There is plenty of Pittsburgh pride to go around, but that doesn't mean the Diaspora is interested in returning or seeing their hometown thrive.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cleveburgh Population Growth

Thanks to an influx of immigrants, Cape Cod is booming:

[Between 2000 and 2006], the number of people between the ages of 25 and 34 on the Cape rose slightly, but immigrants — most of them young — were the only reason the region's overall population did not decline, according to the report and population experts.

Barnstable County is among the areas in Massachusetts where international immigration has offset migration away from the region, said Susan Strate, population estimates program manager with the Economic and Public Policy Research Unit at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

Although some immigrants from other countries are here illegally and are less likely to be counted in census figures, it is clear that they come to the Cape and Islands for jobs and that they tend to be younger, Strate said.

There was almost zero growth in the region's native-born working-age population — defined as 16 years or older — between 2000 and 2006. The number of foreign-born members of the working-ge group, meanwhile, jumped by 54 percent, or 6,668 people, according to the Northeastern analysis of census data.

Most Rust Belt communities seem to struggle with understanding their current demographic plight. There are a few exceptions, even in the Anglo haven of Cleveburgh:

"Regions that value people of different backgrounds tend to do better in a global economy," said Denise Zeman, committee chairman of Fund for Our Economic Future. The agency's research shows that integrating minorities and immigrant populations, such as Hispanics, Asians and foreign-born residents, into the economy and the social fabric of the community enhances regional growth and keeps city populations constant. Areas in Texas, California and Hawaii lead in population growth due to immigrants from Central and South America and from Asia.

Strark County and the City of Canton are actively pursuing a more diverse population and trying to attract more immigrants to the region. But how does this area reach out to immigrant populations streaming to places such as Cape Cod?

The Cape Cod story is one of network migration and serendipity. Family reunification plays a big role in enhancing the discovery made while on vacation. Cape Cod doesn't register with immigrant populations unless there is a reason to go there in the first place. I'm seeing some indication that just such a migration stage is coming together:

Taken together, two reports from the Department of Labor suggested that immigrants were needed to fill the coming worker shortage. The Report on the American Workforce predicted that by 2008 there would be 155 million workers in the United States. The other, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected there would be 161 million jobs.

Not surprisingly Labor Secretary Elaine Chao warned of the "Incredible Shrinking Workforce" and explained that, among other things, the U.S. would need to fill the gap by helping immigrants come to "the land of opportunity for a new start and a brighter future."

Those were the early days of the Bush administration: Chao had just taken office and her department was trying to determine what labor challenges the U.S. would face in the early 21st century. Unemployment had reached a 30-year low by 1999, and immigrants were entering the country in record numbers.

That was before the attacks of Sept. 11 triggered one recession and undermined immigration reform. Now, in late 2008, the U.S. is in the midst of another recession that threatens to last for some time, and unemployment rates are climbing. ...


The Pew report also found that for the first time since 2003, a "significant" share of Hispanic immigrants has withdrawn from the U.S. labor force altogether. The study's author, Rakesh Kochhar, said that among working age Hispanic immigrants who came between 1990 and 1999, 234,000 are no longer working or seeking jobs. This 4-percent reduction, too high to be due solely to deaths, suggests that some migrants are leaving the country.

Interestingly, this departure may have less to do with the state of the economy than a pattern of reverse migration, according to Manuel Orozco, remittance expert at Inter American Dialogue. Traditionally around seven percent of immigrants return to their countries after being here for 17 years. They were already preparing to go when the recession hit, he said.

A recession instead is more likely to put immigrants on the road within the country. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has found, in a study to be released next month, that immigrants will work in other sectors of the economy and will move to other parts of the country to do so, rather than participate in a mass exodus.

Regional economies doing relatively better than the rest of country could be a destination for the domestic shift of the foreign born workforce. However, I have no idea how this labor force is going to stumble upon Pittsburgh. But if there is a low-skill shortage, then enterprise should take a hard look at this geographically mobile group. Otherwise, they may all end up in North Dakota. Pittsburgh in particular should be planning a strategy to tap into the demographic reordering. Establishing a few pathways of network migration is paramount if the region is to see any significant population growth in the near the future.

Aging Quebec

One aspect of US population policy I rarely encounter is natural decline. Regions without relatively strong flows of immigration tend to sport a birth rate well below replacement. The Rust Belt could learn a thing or two from Quebec:

The Quebec government has made a huge effort over the past decade or more to make the province a supportive, friendly place for young working parents. Accessible, inexpensive childcare, widely available after-school care and improved and expanded parental leaves have helped convince many couples that both parents of young children can work. Not as much has been done for stay-at-home-parent families unfortunately, but all the same the net result of policy choices and other factors has been a higher birth rate.

I'm not sure how the above encourages couples to have more children, but I can imagine how such pro-working family policies might attract professional thirtysomethings to Montreal. But the article goes on to explain that retaining talent is still a big problem. Being a "friendly place for young working parents" isn't enough of a reason to stay put.

Actually, I doubt out-migration is to blame for slow population growth. Attraction is still the name of the game and even the secondary migration of immigrants is far from unusual. If the pro-family policies of Quebec are better than that of other provinces, then the policymakers need to figure out how to effectively broadcast that message to the most desirable demographic. Furthermore, Quebec has a reputation as being hostile towards Anglophones. Undeserved or not, that's a barrier to in-migration. Quebec is no Saskatchewan. I also suspect that Quebec would rather hold onto native Quebecers and maintain some semblance of cultural integrity.

Glass City Comeback

ABC News reports an industrial renaissance is occurring in Toledo. Solar panel manufacturers, such as Solar Fields and Xunlight, are helping to revive Northwestern Ohio's economy. What caught my eye is the age of the workers interviewed and the indication that there is a labor shortage. Experienced executive talent is likely the hardest to come by. Regardless, nice to see Toledo getting some positive press.

Braddock Boosting

Chris Briem revisits Braddock in a recent Null Space blog post. Be sure to check out the comment about the Monthly Review article, which is now available online:

“We’ve had about twenty newcomers this way so far. That number is still small,” the Mayor concedes, “But what I think is important to look at is that these are creative people who are coming from what are called key cities—places like Providence, San Francisco, New York City, Boston. If people are making a choice to leave cultural capitals like that for a place like here, which does not necessarily have the amenities they’re accustomed to, I think it says something good for our ability to repopulate Braddock.”

Fetterman’s leg of the Braddock tour then ends up at the site of an old, long-abandoned Catholic school and convent that he and some of those new citizens of Braddock are renovating into an art gallery. Michael LeFevre—a young commercial painter who moved here with his wife in order to buy a home they would not have been able to afford back in Portland, Oregon—is lending a hand to finish the building’s ceiling. Two more Braddock revivalists, Jeb Feldman and Helen Wachter (a newcomer and a lifelong resident of the region, respectively) show off the fruits of their labor, reviewing the precious and historic architecture that has been saved and put to new use.

Feldman—who arrived in Braddock several years ago at Fetterman’s invitation to serve in the entirely voluntary post of deputy mayor—goes to great lengths to emphasize the respectful intentions of newcomers like himself. Artists moving in to poor urban neighborhoods like this one often have the unintended effect of sparking real estate development that displaces existing residents, and although Braddock has lost most of its people, there are still three thousand reasons to be worried about gentrification there. Feldman insists, however, “I’ve heard people we know in other places in Pittsburgh kind of scoff at what we’re doing, and say they think we’ll displace people. But I have never heard that from anyone who actually lives here.”

Longtime North Braddock resident and executive director of the Braddock Carnegie Library, Vicky Vargo, is pleased with the work of the newcomers, but does acknowledge some concern about their potential impact. “I do think it’s possible, that they may get so many people to move here that it changes things. But what I think is important,” she continues, “is that they don’t storm in, use the town up, and then move on to the next hip spot later on.” The new Braddock pioneers that she’s met, however, “have been very respectful. The ones I have met went out of their way to ask the community that has stuck it out here what their needs are, what their vision for the town is.”

The concerns about gentrification serve as a reminder about why brain drain initiatives are popular with voters. Residents don't want to lose control of their community. The sense of place, even in a struggling neighborhood such as Braddock, is of great value and outsiders threaten it. Ideally, population would stabilize or even grow as a result of retention, higher fertility rates, and the return of expatriates. But the demographic reality is that such an approach won't work.

The old Braddock no longer attracts people. The new Braddock could. That would require change. Radical change. No place is actually static. Those areas that get close to freezing in time are not healthy. Attract newcomers or die.

American Strength Grows Weaker

I've read a number of articles about the lack of geographic mobility in Europe and Canada. This propensity to stay put is understood as a problem to be solved. Relocation is an effective strategy to deal with economic crisis. However, US labor flows are dynamic. But that advantage is now on the wane:

The monthly Current Population Survey found that fewer than 12 percent of Americans moved since 2007, a decline of nearly a full percentage point compared with the year before. In the 1950s and 1960s, the number of movers hovered near 20 percent. ...

... According to the census' American Community Survey, New York retained first place in the proportion of residents who were born in the state - more than 81 percent - with those from outside the New York City area generally less mobile.

The top five also included Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, generally Rust Belt states with older populations.

In contrast, fewer than 14 percent of Nevadans and 28 percent of Arizonans were born in those states.

Measuring the percentage of people born in a state who still live there, Texas ranked first, with nearly 76 percent.

Alaska recorded the smallest share of people born in the state and still living there, 28 percent, followed by Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana.

An aging population is one explanation for the immobility in the Rust Belt. I suspect another issue is the growing linkage between educational attainment and geographic mobility. People are often stuck in poor neighborhoods, unable or unwilling to move. My hypothesis is that if you mapped the mobility of your region, the most inert places would also be the most economically distressed.

Robust out-migration is a signal of economic health, more now than ever. It doesn't seem that way when in-migration is just a trickle. Even in locations with little labor churn, the best talent will figure out a way to leave. Yet I wonder about Texas. The Great Lone Star State Boomerang Migration?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Boondoggles and Socialism: The Palin Plan to Save Rural Alaska

"Real" America is in demographic trouble. More people than any time in history are flocking to the city. Just the same, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin wants to build a migration bridge to nowhere:

Gov. Sarah Palin appointed members of her Cabinet on Thursday to a new group charged with finding ways to make Alaska's rural areas better places to live.

Called the Rural Subcabinet, the group of top department heads will be told to look at two big issues, energy costs and out-migration from rural Alaska, and make proposals aimed at creating well-paying jobs, stronger schools, safer communities and better public works facilities.

In announcing the new subcabinet, Palin said that while some out-migration was natural, it isn't always.

"I want the Rural Subcabinet to look for ways to make certain migration is a result of personal decisions, not despair or a lack of choice resulting from economic pressures or other factors," she said.

Currying favor with a constituency makes politicians say funny things. Moving as a result of economic pressures is a personal decision. Should you be able to keep your job because you like it?

Governor Palin's mandate is clear: Put the jobs where people want to live. To do so, spend gobs of money to build up the infrastructure in places where the least of people reside. In a nutshell, that is "The Bridge to Nowhere." Think of it in term of dollars per capita:

[Kathie Wasserman, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League,] said keeping a few families in town can sometimes make all the difference.

"If you have two families leave, that's a huge chunk of your community," she said. "It might not mean a lot to Anchorage, but it means a lot to Pelican."

How much will it cost Alaska to keep those two families in Pelican? Palin is looking for a rural bailout. How quaint.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Newfoundland Diaspora

Not all diasporas are created equal. And like universities, each urban alumni network has a different potential. I'm beginning to appreciate the particular kind of landscape that produces such a robust expatriate connection. Newfoundland has "it" in spades:

There is nothing quiet about Newfoundland’s push for betterment. Newfoundlanders are also a people with a fierce pride of origin. Some wrongly characterize or exploit it for political purposes as a form of victimhood. But victims Newfoundlanders are not. They are explorers and adventurers unafraid to cast off the bow lines and set sail to create opportunity.

Newfoundland has its own diaspora. Canadians are familiar with the outmigration of Newfoundlanders to the tar sands of Alberta or the manufacturing heartland of Ontario. Newfoundlanders with a healthy sense of place, like Rick Hillier, have run the military. Moya Greene, a prominent islander, runs Canada Post. WestJet Airlines is headed by Sean Durfy of Corner Brook. The Canadian oil industry is littered with executives who cut their teeth on the Grand Banks oil developments.

The accomplishments of these people are cherished at home and serve as an inspirational road-map for future generations. Equally, these corporate leaders become effective proponents of the province in the rest of Canada and the world. They speak about Newfoundland and in so doing become its brand. They are, in sporting parlance, "homers." Homers are those who taste success and attribute it, in part, to the work ethic, passion and support they received at "home." Their pride drives them to give back; it is something ingrained in the psyche of the Rock.

If you have ever known a Newfoundlander, then I can picture you nodding your head in agreement. Most people are proud of their homeland, but how can we explain the peculiar passion of a Newfie? The drive to give back is a rare form of nationalism.

I think geographic isolation has something to do with it. Cultural archipelagos inform an identity that stands out even in a sea of outsiders. There are newcomers to Alberta and then there are the workers from Newfoundland. Prolonged out-migration, coupled with anemic to non-existent in-migration, is another attribute of strong diaspora networks. Not only does this help sustain homogeneity, but it establishes a tradition of leaving home in search of opportunity. The homeland is dependent on these adventurers as a result of the lack of immigration. The entrenched parochialism also makes outsiders feel unwelcome, preserving the integrity of the cultural archipelago.

While a hyperactive sense of place has harmed the economic development of Newfoundland, the relatively powerful civic pride is an asset beyond the pale. In the age of migration, trust is a scarce commodity. One Newfoundlander will readily hire another because of a sense of shared values. Furthermore, there is a local return on investment in education. The best students leave every region, but few feel the same drive to give back as those from Newfoundland. If in-migration wanes in a boomtown, then there is no diaspora to help. The more geographically fickle talent becomes, the greater advantage for the world's great cultural archipelagos.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Poet Laureate of the Burgh Diaspora

From Writing the Polish Diaspora:

Polish-American poet Joseph Lisowski grew up in the shadow of the Heppenstal Steel Mill in Pittsburgh among Poles and Polish Americans who still remembered the work they did in the old country, in Katowice and Lublin and Gdansk. What they taught him was that a man's life was mostly spent in exile, and much of Lisowski's life has been spent away from them and Pittsburgh.

Na Zdrowie!

Saint Louis Blues

My morning sweep of "brain drain" articles yielded a gem about the troubling demography of St. Louis:

Statistically quantifying St. Louis’s "brain drain" problem is an exercise in frustration because current statistics used to bracket the issue only show small shards of a large statistical mirror needed for St. Louis and the region to reflect on its true severity and ramifications. Whether "brain drain" is a crisis, overblown perception, or lies somewhere in the nether region between the two, a host of organizations exist to attract and/or retain young professional talent to the region, including FOCUS St. Louis, Insight St. Louis, The River City Professionals, the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association, (RCGA), Metropolis St. Louis and many others.

How bad is the "brain drain" problem?

FOCUS St. Louis, a 12-year-old, regional, non-profit, booster organization released an 18-page report in July 2002 entitled "Preparing St. Louis for Leadership in the 21st Century Economy." The report’s subtitle is "An Economic Crisis on the Horizon: The St. Louis Region Must Attract and Retain Young Knowledge Workers." Separated into six sections, the report, at its core, maintains that "a dearth of young workers is a crisis for our regional economy." Buttressing this assertion are statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census that show St. Louis had a 15.1 percent drop in the number of people aged 20-34 from 1990 to 2000. Cities like Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Portland and Seattle had double digit increases in the same timeframe. This report, which also included other recommendations to maximize St. Louis’s potential, sounded a clear alarm bell that St. Louis must fight to recruit and retain young professional talent.

However, this call to arms was somewhat blunted by the spring 2004 release of "The Corps of Rediscovery: St. Louis in the 21st Century," a regional talent project report by famed urbanist Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, California. This 61-page study, sponsored by the RCGA and the Greater St. Louis Economic Development Council, painted a picture of a glass half full instead of half empty.

Kotkin’s expansive report, which placed a greater emphasis on recruiting and retaining thirty-somethings than twenty-somethings, stressed that "the long-term persistent out-migration out of St. Louis has now virtually ceased" and notes that "some of the most rapid rates of out-migration can be found in many of the so-called ‘creative’ cities, such as New York and San Francisco." The report also focuses on the "demographic recovery of the Midwest" as a region and highlights several important statistics, such as St. Louis’s comparatively high percentage of people under 18, its low annual rate of migration compared to other Midwestern cities, and its low cost of living compared to other "cool" cities.

I put in bold type the part of the extended quotation that meshes with my understanding of Rust Belt brain drain. Whether we look at St. Louis, Detroit or Pittsburgh; out-migration isn't the issue that city boosters make it out to be. I'd also agree with Mr. Kotkin that any initiative should go after thirtysomethings as opposed to the geographically fickle twentysomethings.

More germane to this post, all the St. Louis organizations trying to improve the city are not on the same page. I've encountered the same thing in Pittsburgh. There is no unified vision and one part of the city often has no idea what is going on in another part. As one well-networked Pittsburgher once told me, there is no one place to shop your ideas for a better region.

Furthermore, there appears to be two diametrically opposed paradigms for urban redevelopment. Kotkin is no fan of the Richard Florida-inspired "Cool Cities" program. Polemics (see Flat World versus Spiky World) make the approaches seem vastly different than they really are, but the ideologically inclined polity is comfortable with picking a side. I'm concerned because attracting new talent is given nothing more than lip-service while talent retention gets all the money.

Migration and Economic Downturns

The current recession would seem deep enough to trigger a demographic re-ordering. The pressure to emigrate is growing in Ireland. On the other hand, like India, China is seeing a return of wayward talent:

Some cities and firms in China are quick to exploit the opportunity to lure back native talent. Saturday's fair was led by the Shanghai municipal government and organized by about two dozen banks, insurers and securities firms from the city, including the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the two stock exchanges in mainland China.

New York was the last stop in the delegation's efforts to poach back up to as many as 170 seasoned specialists in such fields as risk management and private wealth management. Its two earlier recruiting sessions in London and Chicago attracted a total of 1,200 people.

The jury is still out on whether Pittsburgh is trending towards Ireland or represents boomerang opportunities like China. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance is actively courting labor from beyond the pale. But I'm not sure how seriously to take this talent search. I doubt we will see Pittsburgh companies going from city to city looking for workers like the Canadian province of Alberta has done.

There is a talent shortage in Pittsburgh. Cleveland faces the same problem:

Among myriad efforts to build the region's economy, one ingredient is missing -- seasoned entrepreneurs who can take our innovations to market.

That's the view of Thomas Bradshaw, a successful businessman who sat among heavy hitters in economic development Wednesday during a "Transforming the Region's Economy" luncheon at the City Club of Cleveland.

The region is spawning early-stage companies and attracting venture capital, Bradshaw told 200 listeners.

"What we're missing in Cleveland is the [seasoned] entrepreneurs," said Bradshaw, vice chairman of the board at NorTech, which fosters growth of tech companies. "We need to recruit from the East and West coasts."

I've heard this concern voiced while in Pittsburgh for the PodCamp unconference and I keep reading articles highlighting this problem. You might note that China's American talent swing is intended to yield a modest number of expatriates, "170 seasoned specialists." Why not employ Carl Kurlander's movie and Steeltown Entertainment, along with the Pittsburgh Tech Council, to attract this experience from among the Burgh Diaspora?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cosmopolitan Cleveburgh

I received another e-mail full of stories about foreign born talent from Richard Herman. I'll attempt to weave together the articles for Cleveburgh policy purposes. The journey starts in Ohio, a state surprisingly rich in high-skilled immigrants:

Ohio did rank fourth in the country in the immigration of highly skilled foreign workers. Atkinson said the study [I added the link to the study] cites that number because educated immigrants form high-growth companies at a faster rate than their American counterparts.

Ohio's research universities help attract these people, who in turn help the economy, Griffin said.

"Someone that has left their home country to come to the U.S. tends to be the entrepreneur," Griffin said. "They tend to be the risk taker, and they are who will start up companies."

Richard highlighted that passage in his message. Of all the talent initiatives on the table, attracting and better retaining "highly skilled foreign workers" should be a priority from the standpoint of job creation. At risk of stirring up an old debate, I'd recommend chasing foreign born entrepreneurs with strong startup executive experience.

Regardless, the lack of immigration to Cleveburgh is well known. Thus, the lack of a robust startup culture should surprise no one since immigrants are much more likely to be entrepreneurs. The good news is that talent from other countries continues to seek out American universities. Cleveburgh has the educational infrastructure to accommodate them.

The vision is for a cosmopolitan Cleveburgh. The IndUS Entrepreneurs now have an organizational presence in both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The next step is a collaborative effort to grow the Tech Belt corridor's global connectivity. 2009 is the year for all Cleveburgh boosters and stakeholders to buy in and work to increase immigration to our region.

Blog Release: Calling Home Burgh Diaspora

From 1905 Productions:

1905 Productions' "My Tale of Two Cities," the Surprise Hit of the Season, is Back in Theaters; DVD Now Available for the Holidays

Just in time for the holidays, "My Tale of Two Cities," a "heartfelt and funny valentine to Pittsburgh," is back for families and friends to celebrate the season and their hometown. After opening the Three Rivers Film Festival, selling out a red carpet screening at the Byham Theater, and the sale of 1000 DVDs in less than two weeks, My Tale of Two Cities, will be playing at The Oaks Theater at 5 p.m. from Friday Dec. 19-Dec. 23rd as the DVD is now available for the holidays.

“The Little Movie That Could”

Just in time for the holidays, 1905 Productions' "My Tale of Two Cities," a "heartfelt and funny valentine to Pittsburgh," is back for families and friends to come together and celebrate the season and their hometown. After opening the Three Rivers Film Festival, selling out more than 1200 seats at a red carpet screening at the Byham Theater, a weeklong run at the Penn Hills Cinemas, and the sale of 1000 DVDs in less than two weeks, "My Tale of Two Cities, will be playing at The Oaks Theater at 5 p.m. from Friday December 19-Tuesday December 23rd. These screenings will be kicked off with a Special Guest Appearance on Friday December 19th when Mr. McFeely of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" (actor David Newell) will be there to talk about the film and sign DVDs.

Part of the proceeds from these screenings will benefit the Steeltown Entertainment Project's "Youth and Media" Initiative being done with Holy Family Institute.

"My Tale of Two Cities" is a feel-good "comeback" story starring the city of Pittsburgh and some of the its favorite neighbors, including Franco Harris, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the late Mayor Bob O’ Connor, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’ Neill, “Mr. McFeely” of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Mrs.” Joanne Rogers, and many others.

Meanwhile, the movie has defied traditionally convention, and actually sold briskly while the film is in theaters, as the the DVD has become a popular “Pittsburgh” gift for the holidays.

For those who can't make it to the theater, the DVD is now available in stores and online at, by phone at WQED at 1-800-274-1307. Those ordering online or by phone should order by Dec. 19th to have the DVD delivered by Christmas.

The DVD is also available at The Pleasant Present in Squirrel Hill, Kards Unlimited in Shadyside, The PG Store, Dreaming Ant in Oakland and Bloomfield, The Heinz History Center, Heidioptics in Downtown Pittsburgh, La Vita restaurant in Greensburg, and the Sewickley Public Library.

After opening the Three Rivers Film Festival to a packed house, at a screening Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Charlie Humphrey called "a filmmakers’ dream," "My Tale of Two Cities," played at The Byham to over 1200 people, who laughed, cried, and gave the film a standing ovation. Audiences responded to the inspiring and uplifting story of this city, as told through the voice of St. Elmo's Fire screenwriter Carl Kurlander, who ended up on The Oprah Winfrey Show for acting out the fantasy of many a Pittsburgh expatriate and coming back to his hometown. But as Kurlander proves in a heartfelt and humorous way, coming home is not as easy as it may sound. Just as Kurlander and his wife Natalie told Oprah how happy they were raising their daughter in Pittsburgh, the city lost its favorite neighbor and was declared "financially distressed."

"My Tale of Two Cities" tells the story of coming home and of one of America's great cities reinventing itself for a new age. In the film, Kurlander tosses a football with Franco Harris, goes shopping in The Strip with Teresa Heinz Kerry, has breakfast at Ritter’s Diner with Paul O’ Neill, asking them and many other Pittsburgh neighbors (including Kurlander’s old gym teacher and the girl who inspired the movie St. Elmo’s Fire) how this city─ which built America with its steel, conquered polio, and invented everything from Aluminum to the Big Mac─ can once again become "The City of Champions." Franco Harris, who has a crowd-pleasing scene in the film with his son F. Dok Harris (one of a new generation of Pittsburgh repatriates dedicated to improving their hometown), has said that he feels this film could help with the city's comeback. In fact, to entice friends and family to consider all the merits of Pittsburgh, Franco has already purchased 15 DVDS himself as gifts.

But Franco’s not the only one sending the DVD to friends and family. “Pittsburghers are buying this DVD as a Christmas gift for friends and family around the country. And we’re already receiving requests to screen it in places as far away as New York, Florida, and California,” says Kurlander. “If this keeps up, maybe people will realize what I’ve found out: When it comes to Pittsburghers and the city they love, ‘it’s never too late to come back.’”

Visit for clips from the movie and more information. For more information on Steeltown Entertainment Project and its “Youth & Media Initiative,” please visit:

"My Tale of Two Cities" was produced by 1905 Productions, a Pittsburgh-based production company.

1905 Productions,
Stephanie Dangel, Producer
“My Tale of Two Cities”


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joke About Baltimore Ravens

'Tis the season for Steelers fever:

On Penn Avenue in the Strip District, where street vendors sell black-and-gold striped socks, toggle caps and team jerseys, a gift shop called Art of Steel posts a daily joke on a sandwich board out front. The sign one day this week: “What do you call 40 guys watching the Super Bowl on television? The Baltimore Ravens.”

If you think that is funny, then you are part of the Burgh Diaspora.

Cultural Geography: Youngstown

In the wake of my last post, I'm thinking again about what defines "Great Lakes" as an economic region. Youngstown is a city where the tension between the Great Lakes (Cleveland) and Appalachia (Pittsburgh) is most evident. Youngstown is located in a cultural shatterbelt:

One of these North American shatterbelts emerged within the struggle for independence of the English colonies, a civil war in which colonists split amongst themselves either for loyalty or opposition to the English crown. On the strategic level, the British faced rivalry from France and Spain, the former instrumental in assisting the English colonists to eventual victory and independence from England. The shatterbelt could not have formed had not the French decided to side with the colonists against their British masters and had not the colonists chosen to accept French involvement. And clearly the French were opposing the English on both strategic and regional levels, wanting to weaken the English colonial hold as a way to weaken the English in other world areas as well. Had not this shatterbelt appeared, North American independence would not have succeeded at the time, or at least would have been significantly postponed. and this shatterbelt later ended with eventual British acceptance of North American sovereignty over its Atlantic seaboard and the Ohio valley territories in today's Middle West.

Just as there are two (perhaps three) Pennsylvanias, there are two Ohios. The Buckeye State is torn between New England influences and Virginian westward expansion. Youngstown can claim the best of both worlds: Cleveland and Pittsburgh are at home in the Mohoning Valley.

Youngstown is a riparian industrial city with strong ties to lake ports of call. The similarities to Pittsburgh (along with proximity) are obvious. But the shared history with places such as Erie are less recognized. As an Erie native, I'm well versed in the mythology of Youngstown organized crime. You might think of Erie as the Y-town Riveria, at least in the recent past. Youngstown might be the northern most city in the United States claiming economic, political and cultural influences of the Great Lakes and Appalachia.

How about Indianapolis? Columbus?

Boomerang Appalachia

I'm working on a blog series about distance-trust and Pittsburgh, but I've got some more research to do before I launch it. Meanwhile, read about another boomerang migration tale:

My father, who was from eastern Kentucky, headed with millions of other Appalachian people for the “promised land” after the great depression. The promised land in that day consisted of cities such as Dayton, Detroit, Gary, and Cincinnati, out of which rose great factories that employed thousands on giant “campuses.” ...

... Today the world is different. Many of the workers who left for jobs in other cities are returning home to Appalachia – and not entirely by choice. Many of them are being laid off from the auto factories with little else to turn to but family and ties to “place”.

This creates a new challenge to areas like Appalachia and my region, eastern Kentucky. These are no longer inevitable geographies of distress; certainly they are no more challenged that those of the former dreamscapes up north around the Great Lakes.

The author of the essay goes on to describe a more nuanced landscape that national media often overlooks while latching on to the traditional stereotypes of Appalachia as economically distressed and culturally backward. By and large, this is also the Pittsburgh story.

While Pittsburgh (along with Cincinnati) is one of the "dreamscapes", I consider the city to be part of Appalachia. Lumping Ohio River urbanity in with industrial powerhouses of the Great Lakes region as some sort of Appalachian other is an odd distinction. I might even go so far as to claim that the big cities with a southern mountain flavor are at the front of the economic revitalization wave.

There is a cultural crescent roughly following the Ohio River westward from Pittsburgh and then up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Within that region is the boomerang migration hotbed and the top three domestic urban diasporas (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis). The jury is still out on Louisville, but I've seen evidence of the same potential for that city.

I blog about this geography because it is part of Pittsburgh's impressive sphere of influence. Far from "increasing irrelevancy", Pittsburgh is where the Midwest and Appalachia meet the cosmopolitan Northeast. Pittsburgh's domestic orientation is unique and powerful. So much so that the global connections are tenuous at best. That critique issued, I envision Pittsburgh as the global city of flyover parts of Appalachia and the Midwest. While the rest of America retains its misinformed views about this part of the world, Pittsburgh is in perfect position to drive economic growth.

Tech Belt News

Pittsburgh sits is the nexus of two innovation corridors:

Corridor Venture Partners is targeting $50 million at early-stage life science companies located between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and in a corridor from Columbus to State College, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Pop City has a story about the new venture capital fund based in Pittsburgh.