Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Economic Corridor Geography

Thanks to Peter Panepento for reinvigorating the Rust Belt Bloggers discussion about launching a mega-regional publication about globalization in the Postindustrial Heartland. One of the issues we are debating is the geographic scope of the beat. The most expansive take would include the GLUE/GLEI construction, which is even more ambitious than the Midwestern collaboratory that Richard Longworth outlines in his book, "Caught in the Middle." Longworth's latest stop on his promotional tour reveals the kind of economic geography I support:

But today, individual states aren't big enough or rich enough to compete on a global scale. A shift in thinking toward a more regional approach is crucial, agrees Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

The council has coined the "I-Q Corridor" a 400-mile swath from Chicago to Minneapolis running through Milwaukee and Madison. That region taken as a whole has the economic strength to be a force in a world economy, Still says.

"It may seem like a long way from Chicago to the Twin Cities but it's a shorter drive or flight than what separates San Diego from Silicon Valley," he said.

The I-Q Corridor appeals to my Goldilocks sensibilities: Big enough, but not too big. Cleveburgh, my current blog muse, would seem to be a shadow of the linkages between Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Imagine a ring around, roughly, Lake Erie and the urban corridors radiating outward (e.g. to Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Ann Arbor). The alpha world city anchoring this mega-region could be Toronto. Whatever the case, the international perspective would be advantageous.

The aim of the publication, if it should ever come to fruition, would be to inform this mega-regional identity and facilitate economic cooperation. We would generate the kind of tacit knowledge that lends itself to transactions of all kinds, including venture capital. That's a sketch of my position and I am planning on fleshing it out for the upcoming Rust Belt Bloggers Summit in Erie this July.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brain Drain: Political Pandering

Another Rust Belt politician pushing the brain drain panic button:

Revenues are down. But tax increases are not a viable option because, in New York, taxes are already too high. [Gov. David A. Paterson] notes with shame that people are leaving, not just rust belt upstate, but many parts of New York, not always because they can’t get jobs, but often because they can create their own jobs and are choosing to do so in New Jersey or Georgia. All eight Western New York counties lost population last year, as did four of the state’s largest five counties, and the entire state grew by just 15,741 residents — well below the national average.

I'm throwing rotting cabbage at the screen. Not too long ago, the Buffalo Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank noted that the problem wasn't brain drain, but brain gain. Nice to see that the Governor of New York has such a firm grasp of the issue.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Immigrants and Innovation

Richard Herman sent along a link to a Kauffman Foundation report assessing American entrepreneurial activity during 2007:

Immigrants far outpaced native-born Americans in entrepreneurial activity, increasing from 0.37 percent in 2006 to 0.46 percent in 2007. Immigrants are now substantially more likely to start businesses than are native-born Americans, which remained constant at 0.27 percent.

Two states with some of the lowest (bottom 10) entrepreneurial activity rates are Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Greater Lake Erie economic region is ripe for an experiment in immigration policy that would attract foreign-born entrepreneurs to the shrinking cities in the area. Some sort of H-1B visa reform is one strategy. I think we could also leverage some effective network migration strategies that would include domestic based talent.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Immigration Economic Development Zones

If the Rust Belt could convince federal politicians to reform the H-1B visa program to benefit the mega-region, then the lawmakers should listen to what Vivek Wadhwa has to say:

H-1B holders can't start companies and can only stay up to six years. If they do decide to become permanent residents, they face long delays in visa processing, especially if they come from the most populous countries. The immigration department is currently processing visas for those Indians and Chinese who filed applications in 2001. Once these workers have filed for permanent residence, they can't change employers or even be promoted to a different job in the same company—or they have to restart the application process and move to the back of the line. Their spouses aren't allowed to work or obtain Social Security numbers—which are usually needed for things like driver's licenses and bank accounts. And these workers can't lay deep roots in American society because of the uncertainty about their future.

The H-1B visa is a bad deal for American workers, talented immigrants, and domestic economic development. If I understand Wadhwa correctly, uncapping the number of visas allocated only in the Rust Belt would do considerable damage to the mega-regional labor market. What would be more effective in terms of job creation would be expedited permanent residency for immigrants involved in the start-up economy. At the very least, the Rust Belt should be the area targeted for the kind of reform that the Programmers Guild suggests and Wadhwa supports.

I'm not sure if IT business titans such as Bill Gates would support these policy innovations. As the above quote from Wadhwa indicates, Microsoft most certainly benefits from the current captive labor market of H-1B visa immigrants. However, Gates and others would have to be very careful how they raise any objections or they could lose the appearance of being concerned about America's brain drain.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Postindustrial Heartland Redux

CEOs for Cities takes a stab at framing the "debate" between Ed Glaeser and Richard Florida concerning Buffalo's future:

Charity Vogel didn't much like Ed Glaeser's admonition to Buffalo to think small. Instead, she urges Buffalo to follow Richard Florida's advice to think big -- as in, mega-region of Rochester, Toronto and Buffalo. Glaeser was asked specifically about the potential of mega-regions, and he response was, essentially, not much.

Think shrink versus think big? I still fail to see a distinction in terms of policy choices. I'm aware that Florida is fond of dreaming mega-regions, but such a consideration could include what Glaeser is suggesting (invest in people, not place). The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive. I'll stop there before I write something I will regret.

Mega-regions such as the Great Lakes Economic Initiative are impressive, but are they geographically coherent enough to serve as an important policy conduit? Via Null Space, we can journey back in time to glimpse the mega-regions of the past-future (still with me?). Mich.Ohio Fingers looks like greater Cleveburgh to me. But there are only four fingers on this mega-regional hand. Might Buffalo be interested in claiming the missing thumb? Or, is that the middle finger I'm seeing?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rust Belt Getting Spiky

Buffalo is still chewing on Ed Glaeser. The link will take you to a commentary that articulates what I think to be the most important takeaway from all this attention to Buffalo's problems:
You can, if you choose, watch the entire two-hour plus event of Glaeser’s appearance by logging onto WNED’s Web site. You’ll discover, when you do, the best news of all — that, for all its decline, we live in a city where people are so passionate about it that they pay $30 a head to hear about it and show up in turnaway crowds on a gorgeous spring day to contemplate their city’s future.

GLUE is a product of this passion, which is apparent in a recent interview with the co-founders on the radio show Detroit Today. Staying in Michigan, check out this story about ePrize, located in Pleasant Hills:
[ePrize CEO Josh Linkner], the man behind the virtual curtain, earned a bachelor's degree in advertising from the University of Florida, then served as senior vice president for Rare Medium Group, a Web consulting and venture capital firm, before founding ePrize in 1999. After two rounds of financing — and a total of $43 million in investment — ePrize has offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and London.

Linkner's ePrize relies on the Internet, which can be everywhere and anywhere. That means he could locate it anywhere on Earth.

So why is ePrize in Pleasant Ridge?

Linkner explained. He was born in Southfield and now lives in Bloomfield Hills, so it's near home.
But there's much more.

"There are great opportunities to build a technology company here," Linkner said. "There is a rich talent base in Michi-gan, a great work ethic and deep and solid entrepreneurial roots. The cost structure, if anything, is lower than elsewhere."

I emphasized the key passage. What I am learning is that spiky world is flat and heritage is how some talent will make locational decisions. I'm not suggesting that boomerang migration will solve the demographic dilemma that shrinking cities face. The population numbers are not all that useful. Harold Miller makes this distinction concerning Pittsburgh's job creation. A large increase in low wage service positions is nothing to celebrate. Likewise, as Glaeser points out, we obsess population numbers and completely miss the opportunity before us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Debriefing Buffalo

I'm learning a lot from the wake of Edward Glaeser's Buffalo speech. I'm still not sure how Buffalo can operationalize Glaser's astute observations other than to move away from the current slate of policy approaches to the postindustrial economic malaise. The most entertaining response to the Glaeser critique comes from The Buffalo News:

And while some in Buffalo buy Glaeser’s shrinkage theory, others believe Florida’s vision is the one we should focus on.

“Let’s presume he’s right,” said Eva Hassett, at Savarino Companies. “Now what do we do?”

We might start by taking advantage of the fact that Florida, a professor who’s lived in Pittsburgh and Washington, recently relocated to Toronto. So, if you buy his “mega” arguments, he’s a local boy now.

Let’s press that advantage and ask for his help finding ways to make “mega- Buffalo” happen.

Setting Florida in opposition to Glaeser is about as contrived as contending that there is a Spiky World/Flat World dichotomy. Sorry for being unnecessarily snarky, but the author of the above commentary is too smitten with the packaging of Richard Florida's message. I have to wonder how well struggling cities understand what Florida is selling. And if Glaeser causes you to shrug your shoulders as to the proper course of action, where does that leave the Florida policy prescriptions?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Supporting the Other Ohio

Ohio's archaic state-centrism largely stems from the political dominance of Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Business as usual tends to favor these three economic centers. But what about the Other Ohio?

Rick Platt, executive director of the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, said the [Ohio 21st Century Transportation Priorities Task Force's] makeup is reminiscent of the "Other Ohio" movement.

The "Other Ohio" movement, a coalition of newspaper executives and public officials, had a common perception that a disproportionate share of state resources go to the Three C's: Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

The [Toledo Blade's] editorial page was a major supporter of the movement.

"I think it's fair to say there are a lot of gaps in this map," Mr. Platt said referring to the locations of those on the task force.

He is among a seven-county partnership pushing for a Columbus-to-Pittsburgh highway corridor, which calls for completing a 160-mile highway link.

Mr. Platt said he fears that endeavor, as well as the transportation needs of other parts of the state, could be forgotten.

The Other Ohio should get together with the Other Western Pennsylvania (a.k.a. the Other Ohio). Ironically, successfully building the Post-Industrial Research Triangle (Columbus-Cleveland-Pittsburgh) will likely fall to all the communities situated between the three urban centers. Pittsburgh is just as guilty as Columbus and Cleveland for promoting the status quo. However, I appreciate that John Craig and Pittsburgh Today embrace an interstate regional model.

That the Northeast Ohio (NEO) regional project stops cleanly at the state line ignores the economic geography of Youngstown and provides another example of the Other Ohio problem. Worrying about connectivity to Pittsburgh is something of little interest to Cleveland power brokers. Pork from Columbus is the primary concern, instead of a stronger relationship with Youngstown. Unfortunately, NEO re-entrenches the same dysfunctional political geography that Richard Longworth criticizes in his book, "Caught in the Middle."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Primary Pittsburgh Project

The following is my submission to The Primary Pittsburgh Project:

During the seemingly endless coverage of the upcoming Pennsylvania primary vote, I've followed the media representations of the state's human geography. The negative stereotypes range from Rust Belt to Redneck. Overall, the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have faired well, the islands of cosmopolitanism at either end of the state. But as Mike Madison relates over at Pittsblog, the regional landscape of Southwestern Pennsylvania is nationally and locally misunderstood:

I don't do politics on this blog, much, and I'm linking to this [post] and quoting from it less to make a point about Barack Obama or presidential election politics (though I guess a point is unavoidable) and more to make a point about what's authentic and what's manipulable in understanding this region and others like it. In both short and long run, communities and the people who serve them are better off acknowledging the complexities of culture, even while it's cheaper and easier to play off simplified abstractions.

Local politics and development economics aren't immune to the problem; policies and positions here are regularly manufactured to suit an abstraction of the "true Pittsburgher" rather than the million-plus people with diverse interests and needs who inhabit Allegheny and its surrounding counties. Like me, George Packer is a suburban liberal raised in the shadow of San Francisco and educated at an Ivy League university (the same one that I attended, in fact). If he can figure out what's what while sitting in Brooklyn, and I think that he has, surely people closer to Pittsburgh can do the same.

The essence of any place is elusive and I'm deeply skeptical of anyone making claims of authenticity. That said, a person can find whatever "Pittsburgh" he or she has in mind. My Pittsburgh isn't even located in Pennsylvania. I harbor a romantic construction that serves my expatriate interests. I have argued that the only true Pittsburgh to be found is in a football stadium parking lot of a Steelers away game.

While acknowledging the geographic variation of SWPA, I find abstractions and generalizations useful. My sense is that parochialism and risk aversion predominate. This is the result of years of anemic in-migration (NOT strong out-migration). In Pittsburgh, political innovation is not forthcoming. Yet to consider Pittsburgh chained down to its past would be a mistake. Unconventional political and economic spaces are wide open, rich with opportunity. Thus, the Pittsburgh I see is vibrant and on the verge of a major breakthrough (no thanks to the local leadership).

Welcome to America's Yugoslavia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rust Belt Geographic Mobility

Megan McArdle, blogger at The Atlantic, distills the geographic mobility paradox:

More importantly, poor people in New Orleans had virtually no financial capital; instead, they had very rich social capital. Networks of friends, family, and neighbors substituted for things like credit and savings when they had personal or financial problems. In a strange city, with no network and no financial resources, they feel incredibly helpless and exposed--with good reason.

Those are the same reasons that many people in declining rural and industrial cities stay where they are. When I was doing an article on the economy of upstate New York, one of the most striking things I noticed was that people who talked about moving in search of better jobs almost all had at least one close relative who had already left. The people who were afraid to go were the ones who didn't know anyone outside of Buffalo, or Rochester, or Syracuse, or Wayne County. That's a problem it would be pretty hard for the government to fix.

Network migration, what a novel concept! I'm jealous that Ms. McArdle makes crystal clear in one post what I've struggled to articulate since I started this blog. The world is indeed flat for those lucky few who benefit from a diaspora of tacit knowledge.

Temporary Boomerang Migration

If you can't entice your best and brightest to stay, then perhaps they will move back at a later date? Professor Bryan Gaensler recommends a better boomerang policy, albeit for Australia:

Our expatriates make an enormous economic and intellectual contribution, but very little of this benefits Australia. Like a vast mineral or gas deposit that is marked on all the maps but that nobody shows any interest in exploring, our overseas community largely sits there unused. I believe the time has come to mobilise the Australian diaspora, and to establish a co-ordinated framework through which our high-achieving expats can direct their knowledge and experience back home.

A simple, low-cost, starting point would be a Federal Government program of "return fellowships", through which expats from a range of backgrounds could come home for repeated short visits - perhaps two to three months a year for five successive years. Such a scheme would provide Australia with access to brilliant minds from prestigious overseas-based institutions, at a cost vastly lower than that needed to lure these people back home permanently. Return fellowships would also give our brightest international stars the chance to contribute to Australia's economy, productivity and intellectual output, without forcing them to "choose" between the Australian and overseas experiences.

I'll restate that I'm not adverse to helping people who want to stay, stay. I also support aiding the return of human capital that wishes to do so. But for those folks who want to leave and prefer living far from Pittsburgh, the region should not turn its back on this wealth of talent.

I understand the motivation to call a city's favorite daughters and sons home. But the better approach is to figure out a way to tap the Cleveburgh Diaspora, putting it to work in our shrinking communities. Establishing Cleveburgh Return Fellowships would be a great first step.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rust Belt Showdown

Edward Glaeser will speak in Buffalo tomorrow (Friday) and he doesn't expect a cordial welcome:

Judging by the response to Glaeser’s article, he should have a large turnout.

“A lot of bloggers were pretty angry with me. I was surprised at the extent to which an attempt to understand the past history of a city can be construed as a personal insult, but that’s my own naivete,” he said.

Glaeser’s article traces the history of Buffalo’s economic rise and fall and chronicles what he calls the “scores of close to worthless urban projects [that] have received government funding” during its attempt at renaissance.

Such blunt criticism has gotten Glaeser — who is also director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute — into hot water in the past. Responses to the columns he writes for the New York Sun and the Boston Globe can be swift and brutal.

Shrinking city boosters have notoriously thin skins and there is too much hand wringing over the national or global image of the Rust Belt. I'm not trying to single out Buffalo. Defending one's hometown is common. Of course, disparaging where one grew up is also par for the course. But a problem arises when local jingoism results in bad policy.

Glaeser's contention that Buffalo should invest in human capital strikes at the heart of Rust Belt urban anxiety. Why spend a fortune on education if the graduates will likely leave the region? What the locals see is their tax dollars heading to Charlotte, NC. Whereas, they can keep tabs on the new houses and industrial parks.

I've noted similar responses to my suggestion that the daily stream of stories about Rust Belt brain drain are more myth than reality. Yet the policy responses to this perceived crisis are very real: Keep them from leaving or at least bring them back. I recommend helping them to go.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cleveburgh as Mega-Regional Pivot Point

Last weekend, avid blog readers and urban aficionados were treated to a brief exchange between Richard Florida and Paul Krugman concerning the importance of mega-regional economic geography. Florida with the crux of the debate:

At the end of the day, mega-regions have large geographically defined markets, and people are more mobile across mega-regions than across nations (Krugman even calls his own mega, Acelaland, after the fast train). My hunch is that people are also much more likely to relocate within megas than across them, say from NY to Boston or to DC, and in fact recent conversations with many journalists, non-fiction writers and editors suggest a shift from NY to DC, Krugman's Times colleague, David Leonhardt being a case in point, though more research needs to be done on this issue of mega-mobility.

Krugman contends that a closer look at geographic labor mobility would not reveal a mega-regional landscape, but a national one. My initial reaction is to rush on over to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network to look at some data. US urban connectivity profiles are primarily domestic (save NYC), but a cursory glance doesn't reveal clear mega-regions.

Since I'm aware of most of the migration studies for Pittsburgh, I can speak to this particular case. Pittsburgh "labor mobility" would support Krugman's position since Washington, DC is the most important relocation partner. And as it happens, DC is also the most important city for Pittsburgh economic connectivity per Peter Taylor's work. But in terms of domestic migration theory, Krugman has an uphill battle. We'd expect intra-regional relocation to be the rule, not the exception. Yet I think careful study would prove Krugman to be closer to the mark. Besides, Florida is no stranger to hopping between mega-regions.

I'm content to let the experts hash it out because my interest in the dialog is decidedly parochial. Enter the research of William Frey and Ruy Teixeira, "The Political Geography of Pennsylvania: Not Another Rust Belt State." As Pittsburgh demographics indicate, "Pennsylvania is becoming a demographic 'bridge' between Midwestern states like Ohio and other Northeastern states like New Jersey, as its new growth is tied to urban coastal regions."

Cleveburgh effectively straddles two mega-regions. Perhaps this is less clear as you get closer to Cleveland in the corridor, but there is no doubt about Pittsburgh's Janus Face. Putting Pittsburgh in the Chicago mega-region makes more of the festival of lights than we should. Cleveburgh is a strategic regional nexus that confounds traditional conceptions of US mega-regions.

Managing Cleveburgh Human Capital

While Ed Glaeser is getting ready for a showdown in Buffalo, he made a low profile appearance in Cleveland. After listening to Glaeser's talk at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Chris Varley takes a stab at answering my riddle:

I think Ed has an answer for Jim. Or at least part of one. Not all cities that invest heavily in human capital will thrive, but any city that does not is guaranteed to perish. Developing talent is no longer about building a fixed workforce that will stay in one place forever. Rather, it is about managing and growing the flow of smart people into and through your community in ways that make it possible for some of them to stick, to create new industries, and by so doing begin to attract other smart people to come to your city and stay.

Portland, Oregon might be a good example of this approach. In the Pittsburgh case, you would expect strategies to help university students stick. H-1B visa reform could be one piece of that puzzle. Regardless, the idea is to develop human capital in order to attract human capital (not retain it). Keeping those people and attracting more stems from job creation. That framework tells me plenty about the types of domestic and international immigrants Cleveburgh should be targeting.

I would actively promote out-migration, sending the best talent to work with Cleveburgh expatriates in the most economically vital world cities. Some of that brain drain is bound to turn into brain circulation if the diaspora network is cultivated. Deepening the links between Cleveburgh and businesses elsewhere is an added bonus.

We don't have to wait for the political leadership to embrace this perspective. Bloggers can create the necessary links and drive the network economy for Cleveburgh.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pittsburgh's Film Diaspora

I found another article discussing the Pittsburgh party at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival:

Although it is the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, Pittsburgh garnered a lot of attention this weekend. Filmmaker Carl Kurlander's documentary, "My Tale of Two Cities," looks at the metamorphosis Pittsburgh underwent from the city he remembered as a boy to the city he retuned to 30 years later.

Kurlander, a Pittsburgh native, hosted a Pittsburgh-themed party at Steiners Tavern on Friday night that would have taken earmuffs to miss.

More than 70 people, most of them Pittsburgh natives, packed the bar to watch the Penguins hockey game, complete with themed tailgating food such as ham sandwiches with Heinz condiments, peanuts and pretzels. The event even attracted a reporter from Pittsburgh Magazine who flew out to capture the party.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Return of the Shrinking Cities Diaspora

Thanks to I Will Shout Youngstown, I'm aware of an article detailing the reinvention of the Cleveburgh "pivot point." Perhaps an urban network is developing:

But now, Youngstown's infrastructure-paring strategy may yet become a model for other Rust-Belt cities that must recreate themselves after years of decline.

Already, delegations from smaller, post-industrial cities like Flint, Mich.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Dayton, Ohio, have come to Youngstown to study the plan.

While Wheeling is currently looking longingly at Pittsburgh, Youngstown is a better model. Remaking the political landscape is a hard slog and a strong comparative disadvantage for entire Rust Belt mega-region. The Youngstown edge appears to be absence of spoils that continue to string struggling cities such as Buffalo along.

Again, I'll put in a plug for Youngstown as the site of the Postindustrial Globalization mega-regional think tank that Richard Longworth is promoting. Youngstown offers the kind of frontier geography that would make the perfect urban laboratory for cutting edge policies designed to deal with exogenous shocks that Longworth describes in both of his books.

Rust Belt Culture

I contend that "Slap Shot" is the official movie of the Burgh Diaspora. But I wouldn't be surprised if much of the Hockey Diaspora feels the same way. To those of you who know who Dave Hanson is, you'll enjoy this story about his son:

It might be the Hanson name was never a burden because he didn't realize its impact until too late. At a hockey tournament in Calgary when he was 16, Christian looked up to see some commotion in the crowd. He shrugged it off. Then a parent approached him afterward and said Dave Hanson couldn't even watch the game.

"Why not?" Christian asked.

"Team Germany absolutely swarmed him," the parent said.

"That's when it really hit me, who he was," Christian Hanson said. "It's not even something that's [only] famous in the U.S. It's global."

The reach of Rust Belt mythos is impressive.

Islay's in Sonoma

The Burgh Diaspora parties at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival:

At Steiner's bar on the plaza, staff was recovering from a Pittsburgh-themed party for "My Tale of Two Cities," a film about the steel town.

"We had 75 people from Pittsburgh. They flew in special food -- ham sandwiches with all Heinz condiments, the works. We've still got tons of special pretzels and peanuts," said manager Megan Mahoney.

I hope to learn more about the gathering.

Detroit Turns to Pittsburgh

Two of Pittsburgh's blogosphere luminaries, Chris Briem and Mike Madison, make the pages of the Detroit Free Press in a story about what Detroit can learn from Pittsburgh. While not quite as glowing as the David Ignatius account of "Roboburgh," the region looks to be in good economic health, at least when compared to Detroit. The spillovers of Pittsburgh pride are cited as one of the renaissance lessons:

More than anything else, Pittsburghers' devotion to their city seems to have kept it from becoming a wasteland. Those who didn't leave town when the mills closed have formed an emotional attachment to the area on par with the fierce loyalty exhibited by Pittsburgh Steelers fans across the nation.

"People love this city like no other city in the world," said Michael Madison, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who writes Pittsblog, a blog about the area.

If I still have some of the attention of the Shrinking Cities Diaspora, what do you think about the above claim? I've been mulling over a larger diaspora project covering the entire Postindustrial Heartland. You can always find a few people passionate about any city. However, I don't know if there exists a critical mass. I suppose that's a subject GLUE is exploring.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cleveburgh's Third Wheel

The Columbus-Pittsburgh corridor is back in the news (here and here). If you aren't familiar with the corridor project, there is a website. The goal is to connect the Columbus and Pittsburgh markets. I envision a Postindustrial Heartland research triangle between parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Cleveburgh Human Capital

In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harold Miller takes a closer look at the region's migration woes. As expected, out-migration isn't the problem. The issue is attracting more people, including international migrants:

In the past Pittsburgh ranked dead last in the rate of international immigration, but that may be starting to change. While still very low, in the past few years the rate has increased significantly and has moved ahead of places such as Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis. We also have one of the highest rates of growth in our foreign-born population among major regions. That's because we're starting with such a small base (we have the smallest proportion of foreign-born people among the top 40 regions) that even our low rate of immigration increases our foreign-born population significantly.

Fair to say that the demographic worm is turning, but there is plenty of work yet to be done. On that front, Bill Toland takes a cue from the Cleveburgh Diaspora blog and tackles the annual American talent squeeze:

"We need more qualified people in this country than we have," said Jim Marczak, chief executive of Sycor Americas and its Montreal sister company. Sycor, an IT consulting firm, applied for 40 of the visas, meaning they've agreed to employment contracts with 40 foreign workers, most of them from India and Eastern Europe.

If Sycor should happen to win some of the visas for which it has petitioned, those temporary workers won't be able to work here until October, the beginning of the federal fiscal year. (In Canada, they'd clear immigration in eight weeks.) Those who don't win a visa have been promised back-up offers in Sycor's German and Canadian operations, even though, Mr. Marczak said, "I would have preferred to focus here in Pittsburgh" rather than abroad.

Labor economics aside, I'm intrigued with how Sycor is coping with the Gordian Knot of American immigration law. I'm reminded of Vivek Wadhwa's suggestion to look to India for innovation. I'm familiar enough with the history US border control to understand that the policy will never stabilize and will continue to be subject to political whim. The more durable solution is the kind of ad hoc approach Sycor is employing, taking advantage of more favorable immigration terms wherever they may be. But I would bet that the opportunity costs are a bit more in Canada or Germany than it is in the United States.

If we couldn't bank on H-1B reform, then how might we address the short term labor shortage? I'm still all for Rust Belt "High-Skill Immigration Zones" but I wouldn't bet my business on it happening.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Atlantic Canada Migration

East Coast Connected (ECC) is the premier sub-national diaspora network. If you are aware of a better one, let me know (jimrussell [at] globalburgh [dot] com). At the very least, ECC is off to a strong start:

Mr. Crowell's idea seems to have struck a chord with Atlantic Canadians both on the East Coast and in Ontario, the destination of choice for the region's university graduates, according to a 2007 survey.

More than 300 people showed up at the glitzy launch party in Toronto, with another 200 on the other end of a massive video conference in Halifax.

Since then, 1,200 people have signed up for the group's mailing list, which alerts members to events designed to connect Atlantic Canadians in Toronto with businesses and government back home.

What may be of interest to the GLUE crowd is the mega-regional scope of the initiative. Atlantic Canada, if you are not familiar with the geography, includes four Canadian provinces and suffers from the same human capital issues plaguing the Postindustrial Heartland. The difference is that the talent that out-migrated is concentrated in one place, Toronto.

If the Great Lakes mega-region could network with only one city beyond the pale, which one would it be? For Pittsburgh, the answer is easy: Washington, DC. For Buffalo, I would guess Charlotte, which could work for Pittsburgh as well. My sense is that the most of the shrinking cities in the Great Lakes Union share one or two brain drain cities that might help to define the mega-region.

Jews of Asia

Here is a lesson for Pittsburgh and all the other shrinking cities of the Postindustrial Heartland:

I've come to Changle trying to solve a riddle: Why would hundreds of thousands of people leave this area, often risking their lives in the process, to move to America and live as illegal aliens, making minimum wage or worse, when Fujian province has never been, by any stretch, the poorest part of China? As part of Deng Xiaoping's reforms in the 1970s and '80s, several Fujianese cities, including Fuzhou, became special economic zones, where some free enterprise was tolerated. During the 1990s, when people were leaving Changle in epic numbers, the economy was experiencing double-digit growth.

Migration specialists have looked into this, and it turns out that it is not absolute poverty that drives people to leave one country for another. When everyone shares the same meager lifestyle, there is less of an inclination (and less means, presumably) to leave. Instead, economic migration in places like Changle is driven by "relative deprivation": income disparities and the experience of watching your neighbor do better than you. So, ironically, economic development sometimes causes people to leave.

The story ends well as brain drain turns to brain circulation. What interests me is the detail used to describe the migration network that would benefit Changle. My intention is to build something similar for Pittsburgh, but doing so for the entire mega-region also makes sense.

Globalization Tales: Holland, MI

The tale is of two communities: Holland and Greenville. Globalization hasn't been all bad for Michigan, but the balance is decidedly destructive without enough replacement jobs. I would understand someone reading this article and concluding that Holland and Greenville are competing with each other for foreign investment, but I don't think that is the case. The real problem is that there doesn't seem to be enough crumbs to go around. The geographic variation of economic development is astounding:

As foreign buyers descend upon the United States, capturing widening swaths of the industrial landscape and putting millions of Americans to work for new owners, these two cities offer sharply competing narratives for a nation still uneasy about being on the selling end of the global economy.

And with the dollar losing much value in recent years, the pace is picking up again, as some of the country's most valuable assets go on the block at bargain-basement prices.

For many communities, like Holland, Michigan, the consequences include new jobs at decent pay, fresh capital to finance expansion and links to markets around the globe.

Yet many others, like Greenville, are suffering from being branded redundant by huge enterprises with factories around the world.

To travel Michigan today is to experience America's often ambivalent relationship with the global economy.

Globalization is notoriously uneven, somewhat confounding regional initiatives. Buying into the Great Lakes Union might help, but there are no guarantees. So, when boom goes bust, the mega-region might fall apart. Frequent political mood swings will make GLEI difficult, if not impossible.

That's why I'm skeptical of top-down solutions. I think they are unsustainable. Any collaboration will result in a fragile compromise, which the Greenvilles of mega-region will attack. The fact is that a large number of postindustrial communities will fail to make the economic transition. No politician will want to be associated with this bad news.

Friday, April 11, 2008

No Great Lakes Union!

As if I needed to be reminded of the anti-globalization seething just beneath the surface, not everyone is sold on the idea of a mega-regional think tank:

The hard truth is that the Midwest is never going to be truly competitive in the sort of extreme global market our unregulated, greedy economy is evolving toward. We are not globally fashionable, and no amount of selling, branding, marketing or lying will make us so. In this dire situation we are fortunate, however, for we will have to develop self-sufficient, localized economies long before our more advanced and innovative fellow Americans. The age of globalism is already showing signs of becoming the next dark ages as our culture and land become more and more polluted with the crap we generate daily.

If we Midwesterners are in need of wisdom (and who isn’t?), let us look not to our political, academic and corporate leaders. Let us listen, instead, to those who love the land, who work for themselves, who work for their neighbors, who read and think slowly, who do the old, small things well, who give a damn and care. Why should we abandon what remains of our sustaining agrarian heritage for the corrupt fantasies of the rich and powerful?

The above is another way of going about the business of improving the Midwest. Alternatives should be welcome, but the use of stereotypes and stock caricatures is counterproductive. I'm certain that Richard Longworth gives a damn. There will always be a question of motives. And globalization will continue to churn.

Mega-Regionally Thinking

Over at Brewed Fresh Daily, Ed Morrison does a good job of summarizing recent Great Lakes Union activity. I'm catching most of the Milwaukee news via Ed's posts:

Last night, I had dinner with John Schmid, the best reporter covering the Great Lakes economy, in my view. John is doing an excellent job turning over rocks to find the core strengths of the Milwaukee region, like medical technology and water technology.

Ed is at the forefront of many of the regional initiatives cooking around the Postindustrial Heartland. I write this by way of tracking all the major players involved in moving the Great Lakes economic mega-region forward. Given what I know about the Pittsburgh scene, which is far from exhaustive, I figure I'm looking at the tip of the iceberg. Nonetheless, I'm enjoying piecing the story together.


The Economist weighs in on America's dysfunctional H-1B visa program:

Consider the annual April Fool's joke played on applicants for H1B visas, which allow companies to sponsor highly-educated foreigners to work in America for three years or so. The powers-that-be have set the number of visas so low—at 85,000—that the annual allotment is taken up as soon as applications open on April 1st. America then deals with the mismatch between supply and demand in the worst possible way, allocating the visas by lottery. The result is that hundreds of thousands of highly qualified people—entrepreneurs who want to start companies, doctors who want to save lives, scientists who want to explore the frontiers of knowledge—are kept waiting on the spin of a roulette wheel and then, more often than not, denied the chance to work in the United States.

The article does slop up the Bill Gates histrionics, but the lottery is ridiculous and the nativist sentiment is idiotic. That's the current state of the political landscape. The benefits of expedited green cards for the foreign-born job creators must be explained to American voters. As it stands now, the H-1B visa program privileges the Microsofts of the world and no one else.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Globalization Milwaukee

I've been reading a lot of promising news about Milwaukee. The region would seem to be ready to leverage globalization to its own benefit. But parochial geographies are creating a drag, as this editorial indicates:

The Midwest now is fragmented into political entities that spend too much time competing with each other and too little time cooperating. And even when they're not competing, political realities make cooperation difficult. Milwaukee and Chicago should be natural partners, bound by a lake and the I-94 corridor. But they're tied politically to Madison and Springfield, leaving - as the Journal Sentinel's John Schmid has noted - a gaping coordination vacuum within the Chicago-Milwaukee metroplex.

How can we get around these "political realities" and take aim at the opportunities? Ask India.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Mega-Regional Media

Updating the Richard Longworth front, he is due to visit the Quad-Cities on Thursday (tomorrow) and he'll address the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Madison on Tuesday, April 22nd. Concerning the latter announcement, I'm intrigued with the Wisconsin Tech Council termed "I-Q Corridor" that stretches from Chicago to Minneapolis. This is similar to my suggestion that the Great Lakes mega-region, or whatever you want to call it, contains smaller-scale geographies that are economically coherent. I think it important that these corridors cross state boundaries in order to help deconstruct the parochial political divisions frustrating the Rust Belt's ability to deal with globalization.

Along those lines, check out the following paragraph from a recent article in the Boston Review about dealing with suburban blight:

A second conclusion is that many of the current political structures and leaders are either unable or unwilling to deal with these new realities. When you find the exceptions, like a reluctantly persuaded but then fully committed Mayor Ed Koch or a housing commissioner like Felice Michetti, fine. But waiting for most to act or blaming them when they don’t are often not constructive responses. This puts the burden of thinking and acting back on a new type of civic leader: a volunteer with a real following in a local community, but also with a range of analysis and understanding that crosses town or county or city boundaries. The renewal of most of the failed cities of the failed state of Ohio—Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown, Sandusky, Lorain, and many others—depends on men and women who live in and care about those cities. But they will need to relate to leaders well beyond their own towns. And they will need to become a kind of ad hoc economic strategy team for their area, for their state, and for the struggling midwestern region described in Richard Longworth’s fine book, Caught in the Middle.

Of course, my one critique would be that the author stops just short of the kind of transformational geography I advocate. The "range of analysis" should extend across state borders as well, Youngstown being the exemplar of the benefits of that perspective. This scope of understanding finally brings me to the central point of this post, new media for the Great Lakes Mega-Region.

Mr. Longworth dropped by Rust Belt Bloggers to reply to our discussion about his idea for a mega-regional publication covering issues of globalization:

My original idea called for a Financial Times-type newspaper. I'm an old newspaper guy and this is the way I think. But this is 20th-century thinking, and we're talking about a publication to meet a 21st-century need. The consensus seems to be that a print newspaper wouldn't work, and some online or web publication is the way to go. This is probably right. But this begs the question:

What's the content and how can this be put together? The medium is not the message. The message is the message. We're talking about a Midwestern regional news source that delivers quality journalism, both from this region and from the rest of the world as it relates to this region. How do you do this?

First, with all respect to bloggers, blog are not the answer. Gathering and delivering quality news is hard work, and it's expensive. Bloggers can make valuable contributions -- in spotting stories, in giving local background, in correcting errors, in suggesting sources, frequently in contributing local stories. But good journalism isn't something that's done in one's spare time. It's full-time work, by professionals. In this case, it requires linking the global to the local, which means global journalism done by reporters who both understand the world and understand the local audience for which they're writing. Often, this sort of glocal connecting can only be done by professional editors who know both the global and the local.

In other words, we're talking real expenses. At some point, on-line publications are going to figure out how to make money from the web, to pay for their coverage. In the meantime, foundation grants or other funding may be the way to go.

Like Mr. Longworth, I don't consider blogging to be journalism and I share his concern about properly funding the venture. However, I do think that blogs are the best medium for knowledge exchange, which is the fundamental problem we are trying to address. I would welcome a Postindustrial Heartland publication dealing with economic globalization, but I disagree that we would need a professional journalist or editor to make the glocal connections. As someone who spends time each day surfing for stories relevant to Pittsburgh's economic development, there is plenty of fodder already in existence. Most of the articles are written by professional journalists and I even dabble in engaging academic research, something I contend I can do better than most journalists. For more about how contemporary geographies frustrate traditional media, give Dan Schultz's blog a read.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Blog Release: Sticky City Round-Ups

From GLUE:


Tonight and Thursday, GLUE will convene the first of monthly mega-regional meetings, or "Sticky City Round-Ups," to build shared identity and relationships across the Great Lakes Region. The Round-Ups, open to the public and occurring in at least six locations on each night, will ask attendees to discuss their city within the context of the mega-region, and to swap targeted, scribed brainstorms with a partner city in another state.

"The response to this concept has been encouraging, and it's exciting to have reached the 'exchange' part of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange," Detroit-based Co-Founder Sarah Szurpicki said. "We believe that opening this exchange up to the public is the best way to really find out what's happening in these cities, and what they share."

This week's meeting, What's Your Laundry List?, will elicit from participants the city-focused 'big problems' and 'wild ideas' that may be shared by similarly challenged GLUE cities. The stories, challenges, and ideas that emerge from this first meeting will determine the topics for GLUE's activities moving forward. Feedback and, where possible, footage will be made available on Future Round-Ups will each focus on a particular issue, and will continue to take place on the second Tuesday or Thursday of each month.


Also available at

Buffalo: Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm EST, Spot Coffee

Chicago: Tuesday, April 8, 6 pm CST, Mercury Cafe

Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown: Thursday, April 10, 7 pm EST, WKYC-TV Studios, 1333 Lakeside Avenue

Columbus: Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm EST, Los Camperos - 3610 S High St.

Detroit: Thursday, April 10, 7 pm EST, Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID)

Duluth: Thursday, April 10, 6 pm EST Minnesota Power

Flint: Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm EST, the office of the Flint Club

Indianapolis: Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm EST, The Coffee Shop at Moe and Johnny's

Milwaukee: Tuesday, April 8, 6 pm CST, Bucketworks

Pittsburgh: Thursday, April 10, 7 pm EST, The Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave.

Rochester: Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm EST, Boulder Coffee Company, 100 Alexander St.

St. Louis: Thursday, April 10, 6 pm CST, the Commonspace at the Soulard Fine Arts Building, 1007 Russell Blvd.

Toledo: Thursday, April 10, 7 pm EST, Manhattan's Restaurant




GLUE, a coalition comprised of post-boomer urbanists located in the "rustbelt," was founded to promote the power, aide in the positive transformation, and address the shared challenges of similarly-storied older industrial cities situated in the Great Lakes watershed. Among the ranks of GLUE coalition members are community organizers, urban planners, artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and students living and working in over twenty cities in ten states. GLUE operates on four guiding principles:

Urbanism: Cities are our world's economic drivers. Decision makers cannot afford to underestimate their value nor overlook their needs.

Regionalism: Great Lakes urban centers need to overcome outlooks of despair and isolation by forging a shared perspective and developing strength in numbers.

Storytelling: White papers alone cannot propel an agenda, particularly for the emerging generation of leadership. No need is expressed more powerfully than via human narrative.

Building Networks: Connecting people and institutions who share challenges and objectives will foster regional collaboration and transfer examples of success throughout the basin.

GLUE was developed in the fall of 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. GLUE's permanent online home,, is in development at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. Visit GLUE's temporary blog ( for a complete list of involved cities and the latest on their activities.

Buffalo as Rust Belt Poster Child

Anthony Armstrong, guest posting over at the GLUE blog, asks the urban network of young adults to consider Edward Glaeser's admonishment of Buffalo's (local, state, and federal) economic policies:

Nevertheless, I encourage you to read this article. Why? Members of the GLUE network will see pretty clearly that Buffalo herein serves merely as a trope for any Great Lakes (f/k/a Rust Belt) city. So how would you respond (in a productive way) if this article had been about your city instead, and if you had been asked to represent the ‘younger leader’ contingent here in a public forum? I have. Please post your thoughts here or get in contact with me to discuss.

While I would agree that all GLUE cities have suffered from having their "water-based advantages eroded," I don't think Glaeser's somewhat dire assessment of Buffalo applies ubiquitously. Leveling the same charges at Pittsburgh would reveal many of the top-down follies that Glaeser contends hasn't and won't work in Buffalo. However, there also exist the very same investments in human capital that Glaeser celebrates in the cases of NYC, Boston, and Minneapolis.

I'm on board with Glaeser's recommendations. But how should shrinking cities go about developing the necessary human capital? That's what I would ask Glaeser if I was attending the public forum in Buffalo.

Blog Release: GLUEsletter

From GLUE, of course:

Sticky Cities Alert
Sticky City Round Ups are taking place across the region on Tuesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 10 at 7 pm EST/6 pm CST. You'll find the city schedule on the sidebar to your left. For location details on your local meeting, visit GLUEspace's Local Page. We'll be using this first meeting to identify, with the aid of local citizen-experts (that means you), what our cities need, what they share, how they compare, and how GLUE's regional networks can be deployed to move them forward together. In other words, in your wildest dreams - what could the Great Lakes region's urban future look like? What should it look like? What must it not look like?

Local meetings will allow you to drive this conversation by connecting with regionalists in your city and its peers via Sticky City idea swaps. You will brainstorm with fellow locals around a series of targeted questions, and trade ideas and feedback with like-minded folks in other GLUE cities. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a pen pal.

If your city does not have an April Round Up and you would like to make sure you schedule one for May, please email We're looking for organizers in Cincinnati, Erie, Dayton, Lansing, Fort Wayne, and other cities.

Sticky Cities Schedule

Tuesday, April 8
at 7 pm EST, 6 pm CST:

Buffalo, NY
Chicago, IL
Columbus, OH
Flint, MI
Indianapolis, IN
Milwaukee, WI
Rochester, NY

Thursday, April 10
at 7 pm EST, 6 pm CST:

Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown, OH
Detroit, MI
Duluth, MN
Pittsburgh, PA
St. Louis, MO
Toledo, OH
Flint, MI
Indianapolis, IN

Special Report from Canada: "Lakes great for us, too."
In case you've been looking at a map and realizing that based just on geography, we can't do this all alone - you might be wondering, "Is anyone working on some sort of bi-national strategy for the region that includes our dear neighbors to the north?" Look no further.

Last week, the Brookings Institution's and Great Lakes Economic Initiative released The Vital Connection: Reclaiming Great Lakes Economic Leadership in the Bi-National US-Canadian Region.

And if that's not enough, GLUE HQ in Pittsburgh was popping with excitment around a recent op-ed in the Post-Gazette, calling for cross-border Great Lakes regional cooperation. Author Jim Marczak urges, "Let's face it, Pittsburgh is not really competing with Cleveland and Buffalo and Toronto. The entire Great Lakes region is competing for the next international investment dollar with Shanghai and Mumbai and Dubai, and we must work together to make it more attractive to investors."

GLUEsters Wanted
In addition to organizing or attending one of GLUE's Sticky City Round Ups, you can get involved this spring or summer by:

  • Giving voice to the professional event planner in you. Help us plan a large public art event to coincide with and announce the launch of our new website. Events will be taking place in Buffalo, Detroit, St. Louis, and Duluth in late July or early August. We need a team of people in each city, and nearby, to help with logistics, media, fundraising, etc.
  • Joining a GLUE Issue Committee. Keep us current and build our web content on a variety of issues that our cities face. If you have time, energy, and expertise to make this commitment, we welcome your involvement in our: Environmental Justice & Sustainability, Responsible Economic Development, Quality of Place, Empowerment of Communities & Individuals, or Civic Participation & Government Transparency committee
  • Sharing photos with us! If you are a member of Flickr, join the "GLUE" group and add city photos to our rapidly growing image pool. Not only will these images be featured in GLUEsletters in the future, they will populate GLUEspace in anticipation of our summer launches.

Presidential Politics Update
Competitive and significant "Great Lakes" primaries in Indiana (May 6) and Pennsylvania (April 22) mean GLUE city residents just might get some face time with the front runners.

If we had them at a dinner table (or a Presidential debate at the end of September...), GLUE would like each candidate to commit to developing and implementing an urban agenda for our region.

What specifically should we hold front runners accountable for in the region? Comment on GLUEspace or email us:

Hot off the Presses:

A recent Akron Beacon Journal column observed that there is a movement afoot in the Great Lakes region, and GLUE is at the forefront.

Thanks for reading. Onward, friends!

Great Lakes Urban Exchange

Monday, April 07, 2008

Geographically Contingent Innovation

Similar to Richard Herman's Rust Belt High-Skilled Immigration Zone idea and Vivek Wadhwa's suggestion to focus on talent that helps to create jobs, here is a policy approach that combines both Herman and Wadhwa:

Much of the debate these days seems to be whether or not the government should either support local entrepreneurship or attract industry (the battle is crazily couched in either/or terms). I have been pondering lately a hybrid. How to attract entrepreneurs.

This is not that crazy. Iowa and several other states have VC funds that start ups can access, providing they locate in the state.

This is an interesting variation on that theme ...

The "interesting variation" is Scotland's global competition to develop green energy technologies, with one catch:

The Saltire Prize is a £10 million award (US$20 million) designed to galvanise world scientists to push the frontiers of innovation in the crucial area of clean, green energy. Entrants for the prize will demonstrate their innovations in Scotland.

Noting that Scotland is a world leader in alternative energy, Mr Salmond said that the Saltire Prize will put Scotland at the very heart of the battle against climate change and will promote collaboration and partnerships with scientists in Scotland and across the world. In turn, it will deliver clear economic benefits at home as well as pushing forward the boundaries of research with a world-wide impact and benefit.

The contest looks like an extension of the Globalscot project, which networks Scottish human capital all around the world. Now there is a political geography in tune with Generation Nomad.

Generation Nomad

Curious anecdote at CEO for Cities blog:

Connect this to the comment a smart Yale law school student told me this week: My class is not thinking of going anywhere other than New York, LA, San Francisco or Washington. And they are completely nomadic. They don't imagine themselves staying in one place for long.

A generation of nomads ... Now what does that mean for cities?

The first thing that comes to my mind is Richard Florida's Spiky World View. On a second consideration, I don't know of many political geographies oriented towards the churn of human capital. I'm ready for a generation of nomads. How about your city?