Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pittsburgh Ascendant

I picked up on this article lauding Pittsburgh's growing tech sector over at Null Space. Low cost of living and low wages, along with ample talent supply, are cited as reasons as to why tech companies are eying Pittsburgh for relocation. But I honed in on the talent supply discussion:

While demand has seen a steady increase, the AeA report also cautions that if changes are not made in the U.S.'s the immigration policies educational system, the supply of workers will continue to decrease, jeopardizing the technology industry in the U.S.

Many high-tech master's degree programs are populated predominantly by foreign nationals, [said Josh James, a senior research analyst at the AeA]. Streamlining the visa process to encourage them to stay in the U.S. after graduation would go a long way to help meet the industry's needs.

"At least half the master's and Ph.D. candidates are foreign nationals. Yet once they [graduate], we make it incredibly difficult for them to stay. We push very strongly for increasing the cap on H-1B visas and streamlining the process for green cards," he explained.

The above concern about the immigration bottleneck is why I wondered if an increase in the H-1B cap would be a good thing for Pittsburgh. I haven't thought this through, but companies might move to Pittsburgh to take advantage of foreign-born talent matriculating at CMU. Plus Pittsburgh generates enough graduates to keep wages relatively low. If tech companies can't use immigration to reduce costs, then they will start taking a longer look at places such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

I have no doubt whatsoever that substantial immigration is necessary to keep expensive regions such as Silicon Valley afloat. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is building an economy that is faring comparatively well during the current economic downturn without the benefit of a large number of immigrants. Once tech companies start relocating to Pittsburgh, the in-migration will follow.

No comments: