Friday, June 13, 2008

Rust Belt Ontario

I would like to increase the connectivity with our brethren in Ontario, but I'm not sure how to set about doing so. While I am currently unable, John Austin is busy building bridges to Canada in the Great Lakes mega-region. Remarkably, Pittsburgh is the shiny example of what is to be done:

Also the beneficiary of a $26-billion ecological restoration effort that wold tripled the region's value in terms of property costs, new jobs, and development, it would be a pristine system of lakes, rivers and streams. Perhaps as important, it would be a laboratory for the clean-tech economy: a vast, lucrative research and development project that would attract the best and brightest. "Young talent wants to be part of the solution," said Mr. Austin. "Not the problem."

The approach has a winning precedent. When Pittsburgh was cleaning up its grimy image after a destructive downturn in the early 80s, it drew on its former brand as an academic and corporate powerhouse.

Earlier in the last century, the Steel City, along with New York and Chicago, was a major destination for Fortune 500 companies. It didn't hurt that such recognizable`names as Heinz, Carnegie and Mellon had set up shop there. Hilly and breathtaking in parts, with lots of parks, the city had physical allure, if one could see through the purple haze of pollution. Once it cleaned itself up and poured money into its research centres such as Carnegie Mellon University, the city's relatively low cost of living and appealing quality of life retained students and drew in families, which in turn brought in business.

"I'd like to say that our success is based on Eds and Meds: education and medical research," said Bill Flanagan, Executive Vice President for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. "We have 35 colleges and universities in this region. It's a great base for intellectual capital and young knowledge workers."

Often cited as one of the great Rust Belt turnarounds, the revivification still took a decade and it still has not restored it to its former glory. "We still lag in the national average of job and small business creation," concedes Mr. Flanagan, "But our comeback is still one of the great comebacks of any city in this region."

Improving job creation is a tough nut for Pittsburgh to crack. Via the Pittsburgh Today blog, we can see how the region is growing in terms of entrepreneurship. How Pittsburgh can continue this upward trend is unclear. However, I'm encouraged by the iPort project:

iPort is a program launched and managed by TiE-Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, with the objective of promoting business development in the Pittsburgh region by promoting the region’s business interaction with India. Specifically, iPort focuses on three objectives:

  • To attract investment and business presence from businesses in India into the Pittsburgh region by educating them of advantages offered by the region and assisting them in their initial exploration / set up efforts in the region.
  • To attract investors/entrepreneurs of Indian origin to the Pittsburgh region by educating them about opportunities offered by the Pittsburgh region.
  • To assist companies in the Pittsburgh region with their expansion strategy to India by providing them information, contacts, networking opportunities and guidance about doing business in India.

I would suggest something akin to iPort for the entire Great Lakes mega-region. I can imagine this approach working for Cleveburgh. The first step is Rust Belt cities networking with each other. Windsor can do more than learn from Pittsburgh. Windsor should collaborate with Pittsburgh.

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