Sunday, January 06, 2008

Updating My New Pittsburgh Vision

Today's Post-Gazette offers two perspectives for its Opinion 250 series. Kate Dewey imagines a great future provided Pittsburgh can learn from its past. Dewey reminds us to plan for the "long haul"; embrace the realities of global connectivity; and tap into energy coursing through the region. Much of Dewey's advice for crafting a vision worthy of New Pittsburgh is found in the Burgh Diaspora blog and is well understood by members of IntoPittsburgh.

The other Opinion 250 column takes stock of regional assets and liabilities. The ubiquity of optimism is contrasted with stifling risk aversion. Pittsburgh is a paradox:

Most local leaders gushed about Pittsburgh's quality of life, cultural institutions, parks and stunning topography. One described "its almost European charm, unlike any other American city."

But the character of the people of Pittsburgh was viewed as its greatest asset, even though it may not show up in the statistics by which people judge cities. Genuine, unassuming, sincere and accessible, the people here generate a sense of community that its residents -- indigenous or transplanted -- cherish.

In the end, what was most striking was this dichotomy: Our parochial attitudes are both our biggest liability and our greatest asset.

Ms. Dewey defined the liability, warning that our parochial attitudes inform the region's head-in-the-sand reaction to globalization. I believe that our shortcomings help us identify opportunity. Dynamic economic integration demands increasing labor mobility, which must include migration as a strategy to deal with the inevitable exogenous shocks. Relocation is often the best bet for human capital seeking the greatest return for its labor.

My vision for New Pittsburgh is to embrace the imperative of globalization, leveraging parochialism to a comparative advantage. The folly of trying to discourage migration is another lesson Pittsburgh must learn. The concern over the exodus of talent from shrinking cities has reached the level of hysteria in the Rust Belt region. Policies aimed at keeping people from leaving are excellent examples of the liabilities of parochialism.

Nationalism is a type of parochialism that can lend itself to impressive economic expansion and devastating isolationism. The populist fervor is difficult to keep at bay during the lean times. The movement of people is perceived as a threat, particularly among the most risk averse. Anti-migration policies erode the entrepreneurial culture and starve the economy of mobile talent when it needs it most. The perception of a shrinking pie results in a clamor for short-term relief, prolonging the period of stagnation and adding fuel to the impending economic burst (a bit like suppressing forest fires only to magnify the eventual catastrophe).

To be anti-immigrant is to be anti-migrant. To be anti-migrant is to be anti-immigrant. Jingoism makes this lesson difficult to grasp. Thus, creating an environment that would give someone cause to stay is quite appealing. On the contrary, Pittsburgh should help its citizens seize the best opportunities, wherever they may be. If a budding artist needs to go to New York City, let expatriates pave the way. But the anti-migration mindset prevents this network from flourishing.

I don't sense that Pittsburgh is structurally anti-immigrant. At the very least, the local universities do a great job of attracting outsiders. Regardless, cultivating a pro-immigration climate is difficult at best and a region has better control over the people already present. Pittsburgh can more easily become pro-migrant, helping high school graduates go to the best universities around the United States and the world. Ironically, the "coolest" cities have some of the highest rates of out-migration. What makes these places so vibrant is the large number of people they attract, not retain.

My policy innovation is to increase immigration to the Pittsburgh region by facilitating emigration to economic hotspots. Furthermore, local institutions of post-secondary education should focus on enrolling students from outside of the area. I envision Pittsburgh as a launching pad to globalization. Pittsburgh can then leverage its parochial charms to maintain a long distance relationship with its well-prepared Argonauts benefiting from the Burgh Diaspora network. Wherever you need to go, Pittsburgh can get you there.

How does Pittsburgh benefit from embracing the geographic mobility of labor? One obvious answer is boomerang migration, expatriates looking to give their children the same leg up they currently enjoy. Less apparent is a possible unintended outcome of the Pittsburgh Promise (see Kalamazoo Promise), attracting parents seeking cheaper access to quality higher education for their offspring. If Pittsburgh becomes renown for its human capital exports (who in turn spread the word), then people will migrate to the region seeking the same opportunity.

A big part of my New Pittsburgh vision is building a better launching pad within the city limits of Pittsburgh. The small-scale geographies of innovation demand close proximity. However, the venture capital for the next generation of start-ups should come from Kivaburgh, money located outside of the region. Not only does the program encourage migration to Pittsburgh, but it also increases revenue. Kivaburgh will be the centerpiece of Pittsburgh's network economy, providing the means for a literal return on the City's investment in geographically mobile human capital.

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