Friday, April 04, 2008


While on my blog sabbatical, I received a few e-mail messages from immigration lawyer Richard Herman. I already commented on the InformationWeek article that mentions the Rust Belt high-skill immigration zone policy. I wouldn't bother reading the responses (more of the same hyperbole you can find just about anywhere) to the IW H-1B visa update. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal advocates for H-1B liberalization and doing away with the cap. That's a tough sell and unlikely to happen. The same stories are recycled each year as we approach the H-1B lottery and no substantive reforms are enacted.

The freshest perspective on the "talent shortage" problem comes from Vivek Wadhwa, who recently participated in a webcast courtesy of the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) and Sree Sreenivasan. If you listened to the podcast of Wadhwa's visit to Cleveland, you needn't take the hour to hear what he had to say to Mr. Sreenivasan. Nonetheless, I will summarize his main argument and touch on a few of his policy suggestions that I think Pittsburgh should seriously consider.

Mr. Wadhwa would scrap the H-1B visa program, opting instead for expedited green cards for the most promising entrepreneurs. The focus is on job creation, not the demand for engineers and scientists. Furthermore, Wadhwa eschews the top-down approach to innovation, particularly found in China. The bottom-up foment of ideas is America's comparative advantage and if native students should be studying anything, Mr. Wadhwa suggests geography.

That last point is Wadhwa's tongue-and-cheek way of saying that Americans need to understand globalization better, which is the same message that Richard Longworth is evangelizing. What resonated with me is Wadhwa's instruction that the United States should now learn from India as it once did from Japan. Microsoft might be starved for talent, but Indian high-tech companies have a much tougher go of it. The ability of Indian entrepreneurs to work around the political and cultural barriers is impressive. The lesson is that a government-led initiative, such as attracting more students to the fields of science and engineering, is not the answer.

Concerning Pittsburgh, looking to India for different approach would seem to be a natural fit. In the latest Pittsburgh Quarterly, Dennis Unkovic maps Pittsburgh geopolitics. The economic bet is between India and China. Mr. Unkovic chooses India as Pittsburgh's best partner. What is good for India is good for Pittsburgh:

India’s growth may end up helping some cities and regions. Pittsburgh has lots of connections with India because so many Indians have attended college or graduate school there. Because the emerging industries in Pittsburgh are the very ones gaining traction in India (technology- and knowledge-based services, biotechnology, medicine and software development) Pittsburgh may ride India’s coattails to growth.

As for China, Unkovic considers its relationship with Pittsburgh to be a wash. As Pittsburgh begins to grapple with how to best manage its human capital assets, the region best heed what Mr. Unkovic and Mr. Wadwha have to say about taking a closer look at India.

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