Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blog Release: Fish Engine



A special workshop and chamber performance of Butoh-influenced movement. Join us in the Cultural District to welcome Japanese/German dance theatre artists Mitsuru and Jennifer Sasaki for their first appearance in the US.

SATURDAY, AUG 2: Introduction to Butoh Workshop
from 3pm-6pm at 947 Liberty Avenue
Admission: No charge

(This is for anyone working with the body. No specific experience in dance or Butoh is required.)

SUNDAY, AUG 3: Chamber Performance of Butoh-Inspired Movement
7:30PM at 947 Liberty Avenue
Suggested donation: $10 at the door

All live, all improvised. Vignettes and movement meditations on “Fish Engine” by Mitsuru and Jennifer Sasaki, Gia Cacalano, and an assembled troupe of Pittsburgh movement artists.

> to RSVP, email us at
(please specify which events you wish to attend)

A short introduction to Butoh will lead off the Sunday evening performance. Butoh is an avant-garde performance art with origins in Japan in the 1960's. Butoh is no one thing, no single style, but it always has at its center a fragile transformative spark.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Income and Migration

Income disparity between geographic regions is a good predictor of migration. People move to where there is more opportunity. However, the characteristics of the migrants who actually seek better wages are surprising:

... According to the Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008, immigrants tend to flow from poor to wealthy countries. For this reason, many people assume that it is the poor rather than the rich people in these poor countries who wish to migrate. Gallup Poll data clearly reveal that this is not the case.

People may also assume that personal poverty fuels migration because they confuse economic dissatisfaction with economic deprivation. In poor and wealthy countries, the Gallup Polls show that people who say they are dissatisfied with their standard of living are more likely than those who say they are satisfied with their standard of living to report that they would like to migrate. However, dissatisfaction with one's standard of living is not the same as poverty. In fact, statistical analyses of personal income and satisfaction with one's standard of living revealed that each of these variables was uniquely associated with the reported desire to migrate. Within a given country, it is those who are wealthy and dissatisfied with their standard of living who are more likely to report that they wish to migrate.

Explaining interstate migration appears to be similar to models of US domestic migration. People who are relatively the wealthiest and best educated tend to move the longest distances. The levels of education and lifetime income are positively correlated, which shouldn't be news to anyone. The crux of the misperception:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...

The stereotype of migrants is one of desperation, not a person of means making a rationale choice. Any community that does a good job of improving the station of the next generation is likely to spur out-migration, a.k.a. brain drain. With each progressive graduation, the more likely a young adult is to leave. Until taxpayers wrap their heads around this fact of life, I expect the annual march of misguided migration policy to continue.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gen X Nomads

I spent my twenties (~ the decade of the 1990s) wandering from college town to college town. I wasn't always playing student during that time. I worked through a brief blue collar romantic period and eventually realized that I enjoyed the world of ideas. My run with intellectual masturbation, best articulated in the movie "Slacker," also had a short shelf life. Late night ramblings about Michel Foucault were much more fun if I could talk about firsthand applications of theory.

Which brings me to Brewed Fresh Daily and a musing about Thinkers and Drinkers (the movable salon in need of a website). The progenitor of conversation, at least as far as Youngstown Renaissance is concerned, is an article in the New York Times about college students who stay on long after they graduate:

What's our brand? If we were listed in this article, how would we be listed? I was talking with a fellow Youngstown blogger this weekend who is getting e-mails from YSU students saying, "How can we help out downtown? We want to be here and pitch in." That's exciting! What are they seeing?

The above blog post passage reminds me of a juicy bit of reflection from the Urbanophile about (my understanding) finding your city's niche in the global economy. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but I think the Phil Kidd story is the answer to the brand question. The impression that a city can make on an outsider describes the magic of place.

To me, Youngstown is the place where Generation X Rust Belt dreams can find expression. Austin was great for cutting my teeth on philosophy, but the Yo is where I want to get my hands dirty. The density of ideas is settling in the Mahoning Valley, The Magic Mountain meeting life in the flood plain. How can a university spill over effectively into the surrounding community? I think that answer can be found in Youngstown, the oasis in a desert of Rust Belt inertia.

Brain Drain Report

More hard hitting news from the front lines of out-migration ...

Indiana wants to outsource its state lottery in hopes of generating more revenue to invest in higher education. While the stated goal is to stem the brain drain, the money would be used to attract better faculty to state universities. I would like to see the study that indicates improving research at instate schools will keep college graduates from leaving. I see a strategy to improve in-migration, but the politicians still don't know how to sell the policy honestly to voters.

Heading east to Ohio, a letter to the Newark Advocate highlights the policy conundrum of investing in local human capital during an era of increasing geographic mobility:

A column by state Rep. Jay Hottinger said we have "brain drain" in Ohio. A great percentage of graduates leave Ohio within six months of graduating. The ones who remain do the less-demanding jobs, marry and have a family. Both parents must work in order to live a decent life. Our tax dollars have gone for nothing, except to make senior citizens lives miserable.

As a senior citizen whose schooling was not in Newark, I do not feel I should pay for some child who doesn't give a darn about me.

As demographics shift to favor empty nest households, the money spent to address the brain drain issue will come under more fire. The parochial forms of funding education are horribly out-dated. Politicians are not advancing a strong case as to why residents should pay higher taxes. The red herring of young adults leaving in droves is shameful and indicative of political impotence. I don't blame voters for thinking they are being asked to consider another boondoggle.

In Illinois, the political ineptitude is fomenting an impressive backlash. The concerned citizen notes that the government largess is failing to improve the local economy. Once again, the inability to justify all the tax dollars is stupefying. Citizens are getting tired of hearing or reading that more money will solve the population decline eroding state pride. Are there any politicians with enough courage to sell the people on a viable policy to improve the economy? I would be happy with a few politicos who understand that the concern about the out-migration of graduates is bogus.

Monday, July 28, 2008

War for Talent: Diasporonomics

Despite London's position as an alpha world city, the United Kingdom still frets about brain drain. The good news, from the British perspective, is that the UK is out-hustling the United States concerning the business of attracting talent. Read about all of the above here, but pay particular attention to the future of national talent management strategies:

Nevertheless, Robertson is confident that the UK is likely to continue to attract high numbers of international staff as the academic world continues to become more globalised. And she has also identified a trend that suggests the loss of a few brains to other countries may not be as draining as it seems. New Zealand and Scotland have both introduced schemes designed to tap into the knowledge and experience of academic nationals who have gone overseas and encourage them to feed back what they have learned for the benefit of their mother country. "It's an interesting twist on the idea of the academic abroad," she says.

Australia is another country doing a good job of tapping its diaspora assets. I'm unaware of native talent leaving the United State en masse, unless you consider the forced boomerang migration of foreign born university graduates. Domestic geographic mobility of labor is the US challenge. At the national scale, America benefits from this kind of worker flexibility. But for regions and at the state level, there is a brain drain crisis.

The first cultural hurdle to be cleared is that the brains of outsiders are as good, if not better, than the brains of locals. However, the native bias might provide a distinct advantage in world of depreciating social capital. That is the diaspora dividend, which Scotland and New Zealand are beginning to collect. Getting expatriates to move back is all well and good, but such projects are horribly inefficient. Yet boomerang initiatives abound, but I have not encountered even one domestic diaspora network.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Third Coast Diaspora

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reviews a book searching for the heart of Northern culture:

McClelland seems least entranced by Lake Erie. Buffalo, he declares, leads the Midwest in the rust-belt death cycle. Erie is painted as a tired, dreary repository for Big Lots stores and chain restaurants. Detroit's highlight is Heidelberg Street in the ghetto known as Black Bottom, "the poorest neighborhood in the poorest city in the United States."

If you haven't guessed, "Third Coast" is about the Great Lakes cultural region, with Lake Erie serving as the backwater. I'm not interested in retorting with a list of Rust Belt charms located in the hearth of my own identity. My rationale for posting about the book review is how Lake Erie is a unique place that could serve as the foundation for economic collaboration.

Or, how about America's Slovak Heartland? Pirohi Diaspora?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pittsburgh Jobs

With the quest for talent heating up even in places such as Pittsburgh, I'm attempting to link the workers of Steelers Nation with the employment opportunities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I've fostered a connection between the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Steel City Insider, the most professional Steelers fansite out there. If you are Steelers fan interested in working in the Pittsburgh region, then please visit the front page of Steel City Insider. The link to Pittsburgh Jobs is on the left hand side, panning down a bit, under Site Extras.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blog Release: This Weekend In Youngstown

This Saturday (tomorrow) would be a great opportunity to check out all downtown Youngstown has to offer. From the lovely Brooke Slanina:

There will be two tents bursting with artists selling their wears and working, artists doing live painting, plus lots of vendor tables for local non-profits (like the Oakland!). Plus, look for tattoo artists and piercers on site, not to mention fortune tellers, dancers, and street performers. BBQ provided by the Royal Oaks, everyone's fave Ytown tradition, and wash it all down with a cold one from the beer tents.

Two stages will be located in the area, each packed with talented musicians. Nick Celio, November Loop, 5 Elements, THE Realtime Digimob, Geo C and the Storm, The Starlight Darlings and soooo many more will be on stage for your listening pleasure.

3-5 is family-friendly time with fun activities for kids and The Stage, a drum circle, Julie Thomas' Tara Dance, and a kick-off from Mayor Jay Williams and a blessing from Father Noga.

Oh, and you read that right: THE STAGE will be making its outdoor premiere from 3-4 pm with performances from Dr. Ray's Amazing Sideshow of Science, musician/storyteller Chris Leone, a reading from Chris Barzak, song selections from Don Connors (before he heads off to Texas), and a selection from Lucasville which takes off for its Fringe Fest performances in NYC the first week of August! Support your Stage acts as many of them are also playing the regular schedule...even Eric Alleman of To Box With Man, who wowed the Stage crowd at our first Thanksgiving Stage 2 years ago!

Not only will yours truly be hosting the Stage, but I'll be hosting THE stage, emceeing the event until the last note is hit.

So please, make plans downtown for Saturday night. Between this amazing arts fest, the Thunder game, and the premiere of Chris Rutushin's Fine Tune/after-party at Cedars featuring Koebel, Matt Palka and the Caravan, Pretty Demons, and The Zou, there's more than enough to go around!!

See you on the grassy knoll....

Update: Rust Belt High Skilled Immigration Zone

Northeast Ohio is still debating the merits of attracting more immigrants to the region. Richard Herman chimes in (via an e-mail message) with a newly minted rationale for promoting immigration reform with an eye towards Rust Belt revitalization:

A loosening of immigration restrictions for high-skilled immigrants could unleash a wave of talent, entrepreneurship and capital into the Great Lakes region.

A targeted lowering of hiring barriers for high-skilled immigrants will greatly benefit Great Lakes regional economy, not only because of economic arguments that high-skilled immigrants fill vacant job slots and create new jobs and new industries, but because the demographic data indicates that the Great Lakes region is perhaps the #1 region in the country in terms of attracting the most educated immigrants to the U.S.

Immigration restrictions (and the great "unwelcoming") severely inhibit the region from retaining and leveraging this talent advantage.

Lowering the immigration barriers will allow the Great Lakes region to better utilize its rich high skill global talent base, which in turn will create new jobs, new industries, and serve as a magnet for more talent to migrate to the region.

In terms of attracting international students to colleges/universities, the Great Lakes region is simply unparalleled:

New York: #2 in country
Illinois: #5
Pennsylvania: #7
Michigan: #8
Ohio: #10
Source: National Association of Foreign Student Advisors


In terms of attracting immigrants with a bachelor's degree or higher:

Ohio: #7 (out of 51)
Illinois: #8
Michigan: #11
Pennsylvania #13
Source, Migration Policy Institute/U.S. Census


In terms of employer filings with U.S. Dept of Labor, Foreign Labor Certifications (initial step in Employment Based Green Card process):

New York: #2 (64% had bachelor degree or higher; average salary $65,232)
Illinois: #6 (86% had bachelor degree or higher; average salary $66,771)
Michigan: #10 (94% had bachelor degree or higher; average salary $70,304)
Pennsylvania #11 (85% had bachelors degree or higher; average salary $64,856)
Ohio: #16 (86% had bachelor degree or higher; average salary $74,574)
Source, "Attracting Global Talent to Support Regional U.S. Economies" February, 2008

Without scouring the data, it appears that no 4 or 5 state region in the country is comparable to the Great Lakes states in terms of scoring so high in attracting the most educated immigrants in the U.S.

I think it is also true that states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have some of the lowest percentages of foreign born in the country; have some of the fastest depopulating cities in the country; and in some cases, have some of the lowest rates of entrepreneurship in the country.

Scraping Off the Rust

Buffalo is another Rust Belt city weathering the current economic downturn relatively well. The numbers still won't turn the heads of economists, but they do indicate some progress and restructuring:

The local job market’s relative strength, in itself, is unusual. The Buffalo Niagara region, because of its heavy reliance on cyclical manufacturing, historically has tended to fall earlier and harder when the economy begins to slow.

That hasn’t happened in this current slowdown because manufacturing now is a much smaller part of the overall economy here, despite the continued struggles of the auto industry, which remains a big part of the local manufacturing sector.

“We’ve become a much more diversified economy. That can help us at times like this,” said Richard Deitz, the regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Buffalo branch.

National and even global economic disconnect is both good news and bad. How can Buffalo capitalize on the good? Hopefully, Buffalo can reconnect to global flows from a more commanding position. The current respite of splendid isolation is unsustainable. Autarky is not the answer, at least in the long view.

Not every city turtling through the recession will emerge from the storm as the next boomtown. My bet is that Pittsburgh will and Louisville, KY keeps grabbing my attention as a city ready for rapid growth (although I need to learn much more about the economic landscape there). I recall Seattle and Minneapolis getting out of the gate quickly after the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Austin was probably another city with a similar head start at that time.

Rust Belt Rescaling

I'm tracking the diffusion of the PolicyLink report about the assets of smaller US industrial cities. Thus far, the news splash is minimal. Toledo hones in on the success of Youngtown's 2010 redevelopment plan. Scranton, like Youngstown, takes a bow for being one of the models for successful urban policy:

“To Be Strong Again: Renewing the Promise in Smaller Industrial Cities,” highlights Scranton’s parks, specifically how Mayor Chris Doherty financed recent improvements to Nay Aug Park.

Its author, Radhika Fox, is an associate director at PolicyLink, a research group based in Oakland, Calif.

Ms. Fox, an urban planner by trade, said the report isn’t meant to be scientific or quantitative. Its conclusions about Scranton are drawn solely from interviews with Mr. Doherty.

But she said the findings are useful for politicians, policy makers and community leaders.

“What we were trying to do with this report is lift up what is working in these cities,” Ms. Fox said.

Cumberland and Hagerstown, MD are also enjoying the positive spotlight. However, the hope for this report is to generate some inter-urban dialog:

The report goes on to tease out some quantitative and qualitative differences between small and large cities, and detail a number of promising, scale-appropriate development strategies, with case studies, that can lead to equitable (i.e. including everyone, not just a small slice of tech workers) renewal.

It is by no means a final word, but I (not surprisingly) think it's worth a read. I'd love to have the Capital Region join the conversation around it, here or over at PolicyLink's EquityBlog.

GlobalErie's Peter Panepento has done a great job turning his blog network into a nexus of public debate. Peter is asking readers how to apply the lesson articulated in the PolicyLink report to Erie. I think this is a promising forum for other city boosters of smaller industrial cities to chime in and generate a mega-regional conversation. We could do something similar over at Rust Belt Bloggers or EquityBlog, but I recommend taking advantage of the constructive exchange that Peter has engendered.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cleveburgh Venture Capital

A real tweet from Brewed Fresh Daily noting that the New York Times is celebrating innovative Cleveburgh:

Innovation Works in Pittsburgh is a regional partner of the Ben Franklin Technology group and, like [Jumpstart (Cleveland)], is run by a former technology entrepreneur, Richard Lunak.

“When people think of technology entrepreneurs and venture capital, they think of Silicon Valley and that’s where they think it ends,” Mr. Lunak said. “But there is a lot going on in regions like Pittsburgh, which has over a billion dollars of federally funded research pouring into its universities annually.”

According to the Kauffmann Foundation, the most successful of these organizations are those led by a chief executive who has stood in the shoes of a start-up in that region. Mr. Lunak certainly fits the bill.

“I’m the C.E.O., but 18 years ago I helped start a medical technology company, Automated Healthcare, which was started with an $89,000 loan from Ben Franklin Technology Partners,” he said. “When I left, the company, which had since been acquired by McKesson Corporation, employed about 1,800 people. But it is still located in Pittsburgh. In that time, it has grown and acquired other businesses that have relocated to our region.”

He added that “it also drives a lot of other regional businesses, like suppliers of motors, amplifiers and sheet metal, so it has created both blue- and white-collar jobs. This is why these technology-based companies have sustainable competitive advantages.”

The NYT seems to be hot on the trend of Rust Belt revival, perhaps catching up with the folks in Ontario. While the boomtowns have been getting drunk on the latest bubble economy, shrinking cities were busy getting lean and mean. The hard work is beginning to pay off as places such as Pittsburgh are weathering the latest economic downtown surprisingly well.

I'll point out once again that all this start-up activity is occurring without the benefit of relatively robust immigration. Established immigration gateways tend to gloss over net domestic out-migration, making some cities look stronger than they really are. If foreign born entrepreneurs ever catch on to the tremendous opportunities available in the Cleveburgh Corridor, the Postindustrial Heartland will re-emerge as a driver of the US economy.

EB-5 Labyrinth

Another item from the Richard Herman immigration news aggregator ... The board of Philadelphia's Convention Center balked at using Chinese money that would have resulted in Green Cards for the investors thanks to the obscure EB-5 visa program. The black box of US immigration policy scared off board voters:

For the state, that money - $73.5 million - could be a cheap way for the Convention Center to borrow funds to cover some of the expansion's construction costs, which are projected to surge over the $700 million budgeted. (Under the loan program, the money would be repaid, over five years, at a remarkably low interest rate of 2.5 percent.)

But for now the Convention Center, as cash-starved as it is, has no interest in the foreign funds.

"We considered it. We looked at it. But it was kind of a bridge too far . . . too complex for us to consider," Buck Riley, chairman of the 15-member Convention Center Authority, said last week. "Right now, it is a dead issue."

Another board member said the board was hesitant to get involved with what seemed like "immigration policy." ...

... "It did not go over well. It seemed something outside our realm," said board member David Woods, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi (R., Delaware). "People were concerned they were dealing with immigration policy while they should really be focused on financing for the Convention Center."

There may be more to the story. Philadelphia is no stranger to EB-5 ventures and there is ample precedent for the board to consider. Furthermore, CanAm Enterprises does all the heavy lifting concerning navigating immigration protocol.

Since I'm one of those irresponsible bloggers, I'll go out on a limb and point the finger of suspicion at the current wave of xenophobia surrounding foreign direct investment. The backlash against InBev's purchase of Anheuser Busch is a measure of the heat that the board might have been feeling. Then again, money tends to follow established paths of trust and I doubt board members had much confidence in CanAm's ability to deliver. The risk of the unknown is the simplest explanation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Labor Shortage Pittsburgh

WTAE Pittsburgh investigates the region's surprising lack of foreign born residents. The report puts a positive spin on the urban assets that should attract more immigrants, who are correctly seen as vital to turning around Pittsburgh's longstanding population decline. I took note of the link to the following RAND commentary dated from 2004:

Despite the loss of jobs during the recent recession, optimists have projected a shortage of as many as 125,000 workers in metropolitan Pittsburgh as early as 2008. Who knows what that number might prove to be? What's noteworthy is that Pittsburgh's unfolding demographic future does contain opportunities.

A job surplus combined with a worker shortage could prompt employers to boost wages to attract and retain more people in Pittsburgh jobs. That would be good news for people already working here, who could see their paychecks increase.

The demand for more workers and rising wages could also make metropolitan Pittsburgh a more attractive place for people to move to and for young people to stay after graduating from high schools, trade schools and the colleges and universities in the area.

I keep hearing about worker shortages, but I haven't seen any evidence that indicates that wages are rising as a result. That leaves the very local knowledge about the excellent value proposition of living and working in Pittsburgh. The WTAE story does a good job of making this point. TiE Pittsburgh board member Ganesh Mani provides the inside scoop:

"Pittsburgh has wonderful infrastructure -- the universities, the airport -- but it's also underutilized infrastructures. So, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, that's where the opportunities are," Mani said.

These attributes may be why Pittsburgh can attract top talent while sporting such low wages. However, immigration is still woefully anemic. There is still a missing piece to this demographic puzzle.

Bourbon Diaspora

The Mayor of Louisville is actively seeking boomerang migrants:

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio scoffed at the idea of Louisville stealing young professionals.

"It seems kind of strange to me that a mayor from another city would do that," she said. "If he wants to get a Cuban sandwich with me, I'll give him a tour, and then he might want to move here himself."

Adding insult to any injury Abramson may have caused local leaders, Forbes this month ranked Tampa dead last for the second consecutive year among 40 major cities it deemed best for young professionals. The magazine cited a lack of alumni from major schools and low expectations for salary growth.

Chris Poynter, spokesman for the Louisville mayor's office, said Tampa was targeted, in part, because it has 1,400 University of Louisville alumni and the largest alumni chapter outside Louisville.

This is Louisville's sixth such "reunion" party. Louisville officials have chosen an ambitious list of cities: Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta. They went to Chicago twice.

Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh ... *crickets*.

Pittsburgh Pop

Via PopCity, the unabashed Pittsburgh booster, we learn that the land of Three Rivers is a great place for young professionals:

Strong performing companies like Allegheny Technologies, Ansoft and Consol Energy have helped lift Pittsburgh's post-industrial economy and gave the city a No. 2 ranking in its concentration of top firms from our 400 best big companies and 200 best small companies lists. But Pittsburgh still lags behind when it comes to salaries and attracting graduates, landing at 32 and 22 by those measures.

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but the last sentence is cause for concern. Forbes describes the "attracting graduates" metric:

We started by tracking the graduates from a cadre of elite schools around the country who have the ability to go virtually anywhere to follow their professional interests. By looking at where the class of 1998 from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Rice, Northwestern and Duke settled 10 years later, we get a good sense of where the top-notch jobs for young people exist.

First, I would like Pittsburghers (and other cities fretting about brain drain) to note that retaining graduates is not measured. The best talent is the most geographically mobile. Pittsburgh should be working to attract this demographic, not wasting resources on keeping people from leaving. However, 22nd out of the top 40 US metros isn't bad in the war for talent.

In fact, I would conclude that "top firms" concentrating in Pittsburgh rather enjoy the parochial dividend of the relatively low wages that stem from a glut of local talent. That these "top-notch" jobs still attract a decent number of highly sought after graduates is something worthy of closer study. If not the wages, then why is talent migrating to Pittsburgh?

Update: CEOs for Cities offers a similar line of questioning concerning talent migration.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Smaller Industrial Cities Diaspora

Janko offers first blush of the news about a PolicyLink report that was inspired by Youngstown success. That is right, "Youngstown success." I am looking forward to an analysis of the report forthcoming from Janko, but my own various interests are already piqued:

Smaller industrial cities are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, particularly in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio.

Some of my readers might anticipate where I am going with the above quote. I see a functional mega-region (Urbanophile cringes at the proposed coalition of weak cities) that is much more coherent than Richard Longworth's sprawling Midwest and John Austin's grandiose Great Lakes Economic Initiative. PolicyLink makes a compelling case for ending the economic isolation of these former small-scale economic powers.

Given the tendency of globalization to favor the biggest cities getting bigger and the smaller cities to shrink, salvaging the assets of a place such as Youngstown would seem to be folly. Pittsburgh's ongoing agglomeration is often understood as a regional economic threat to other would-be renaissance stories. However, I envision some sort of spillover if the right infrastructure was put in place. Fair to say that I'm not sure what that infrastructure should be, but I have a few ideas. The relationship between the bigger industrial cities and their economic hinterlands could be mutually beneficial.

Perhaps I should leave such speculation to the Ed Glaeser's of the world. Yet Youngstown inspired me just as it inspired PolicyLink. I see something working and something worth supporting. Smaller industrial cities have too many assets to let slide into the valleys of globalization.

Parochial Problem

Local resistance to the pressures of globalization often confounds policymakers concerned with economic development. What's popular is not always in the best interest of the community. Sometimes, parochial desires take a disastrous turn:

"When they walk across that stage, they automatically think, 'I'm not going to get a job in Muncie. I'm going to have to go out of town to a big city,'" [Marwin Strong of Muncie] says. "But there's a saying that local people solve local problems, so I'm interested in keeping people here."

Although employment, or lack thereof, may lead many people to leave Muncie, the concern for black leaders relates to who will fill leadership positions in the future. Those who fear this "black brain drain," the term for the black professional flight out of Muncie, say Muncie will soon be left without a crop of local leaders who know and understand community concerns.

I have a saying, which Richard Longworth might echo: Local people don't know how to solve the global problems shrinking their cities. Muncie (and other struggling places like it) desperately needs a few minds able to understand the global/local linkages and the forces shaping the economic landscape. Keeping talent in Muncie won't help.

That non-locals can't possibly understand the issues facing the community is, by and large, a myth. Muncie would do well to attract talent from a world city, instead of impeding the progress of young adults. Also, just because someone leaves town upon graduation doesn't mean that person is gone forever and a local loss. Muncie graduates moving to Chicago or Indianapolis is not a crisis. It is cause for celebration.

Promoting Rust Belt Out-Migration

Piggy-backing on yesterday's post about labor shortages and the geographic mobility of talent, Americans are not moving to where the jobs are located:

Unemployment rates have been as low as 2 percent this year in places like Montana, and nearly as low in neighboring states. Economists cite such factors as an aging work force and booming tourism economies for the tight labor market.

In North Dakota, Gov. John Hoeven scheduled a conference in October to talk about ways to attract workers.

"We have produced more than 25,000 new jobs since 2000, nearly 8,000 last year alone," Hoeven said in a statement announcing the conference. "Our challenge now is filling those jobs."

For places like Montana, it has been a steady climb in the nearly two decades since the timber and mining industry recession. The state approached double-digit unemployment levels in the 1980s and began the slow crawl back in the early 1990s.

"This is actually the biggest economic story of our time, and we don't quite grasp it because it is 15 years in the making," said economist Larry Swanson, director of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.

Meanwhile, more and more Rust Belt residents are out of work and staring a gloomy recession in the face. This bit of news has me wondering: What's the tipping point for another Rust Belt exodus? The people who would most benefit from migrating west are typically the least educated members of the local workforce, thus the most unlikely to leave. Transforming the Stuck into the Mobile (to use Richard Florida's clever dichotomy) is quite a feat.

Issues of brain drain aside, helping the unemployed find work wherever it may be would seem to be the right thing to do. Some may be unable or unwilling to move, but I suspect that the knowledge problem for migration is the main impediment. A community diaspora network could be instrumental in enhancing the geographic mobility of labor. And if I'm the governor of North Dakota, I know what to do in order to find these workers. Governor Hoeven, feel free to send me an e-mail. I'm always in the market for a good consulting gig.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Backwater Burgh

I've had a difficult time understanding the labor economics of talent shortages. People in the know inform me that businesses based in Pittsburgh are desperate for certain skills. The problem is that workers are unable or unwilling to move where the jobs are. But the real story is that management is unable or, more likely, unwilling to raise wages to attract labor. The financial incentives to relocate or even make a longer commute are not forthcoming.

I'm beginning to see why business leaders and other elites are keen to liberalize immigration policy. Where domestic migration is failing a region, tapping an already geographically mobile labor pool is a smart strategy. But a cynical polity isn't ready to embrace an approach that will keep the lid on higher wages. But natives must temper this hard line with the knowledge that business may leave the country in search of priced-right talent.

Fortunately, we don't have to play the above zero-sum game. Pittsburgh is a city engineering an economic turnaround in the Rust Belt without the benefit of substantial immigration. In order to take the next step, Vivek Wadhwa states that the region must find a way to attract more immigrant entrepreneurs:

Immigrants are risk-takers and natural entrepreneurs, Wadhwa said.

One quarter of U.S. computer and other technology companies that formed in the last decade had at least one foreign-born founder, said Wadhwa, citing a recent survey by his Duke team of more than 2,000 such companies.

The share is closer to half in Silicon Valley, Wadhwa said. But in Pennsylvania, fewer than 15 percent of new technology companies had an immigrant founder.

"You've got a major marketing problem here," Wadhwa said.

Mr. Wadhwa isn't describing more competition for domestic labor. He is suggesting that Pittsburgh lacks foreign born job creators. Immigrant workers are bound to follow the jobs, but so are domestic workers ... if the price is right. Concerning any kind of in-migration, Pittsburgh (and other Rust Belt cities) has a marketing problem. The typical parochial omphaloskepsis (I'm talking about the local political, business, and academic leadership) is exacerbating the talent shortage.

The missing piece to the economic development puzzle is the evangelizing of the shrinking city value proposition. A nationally competitive salary will go further in the Rust Belt and the quality of life is comparable to, if not better than, many Sun Belt boomtowns. Any talent strategy requires the means to effectively get the good word to the necessary workers.

I model migration in terms of the scarcity of information and knowledge. Thanks to the internet, there isn't a lack of information. If anything, there is too much. As for knowledge, face-to-face is still the best way to make that transfer. That's a big barrier to long distance migration.

I'll use my backyard city, Denver, to clarify. Anyone can look up climate statistics. The perception of Denver as a relatively cold and snowy place in the mountains is understandable. That bit of fiction is something the city uses to attract tourists. I'm confident that if more people knew just how pleasant the climate is here year round, we'd have a huge growth problem on our hands. The available information can't possibly capture this experience. The full extent of the region's value proposition isn't known until you spend some time here. Once again, proximity rules.

The work around is the network of trusted sources. Friends and family can give you the real scoop about Denver's weather. They can tell you where to find a job and which neighborhood is thankfully undervalued. You might be able to tease out the same perspective from a careful analysis of information, but who wants to risk the investment of all that time?

My Youngstown visit reinforced the above perspective. People living on one side of the city had no idea about the wonderful opportunities existing on the other side. There isn't a lack of information. There is a deficit of knowledge. What is the experience of living in these neighborhoods really like?

Which brings me back to the talent shortage problem. What are the data not telling me that I should know in order to better understand this issue?

Friday, July 18, 2008

America is Ready for Rust Belt Chic

Most Rust Belt boosters don't particularly care for the term "Rust Belt." I think the negative baggage is obvious enough, but I don't see much gain in trying to remake the brand. Even the Shrinking Cities Diaspora doesn't understand just how cool Rust Belt can be (and is):

This city of 311,000 is often overlooked and underrated as a travel destination but it has more in the way of diversions than many cities twice its size. Thanks, in part, to the largess of long-dead steel barons, it boasts stand-out architecture and a superior cultural infrastructure. Its natural assets — three rivers flowing through town, a profusion of parks and eye-popping city views from the precipice of Mount Washington — add to the allure. And, not least, its multicultural neighborhoods offer rich, one-of-a-kind flavor.

I stumbled upon the article at CEOs for Cities, which adds its own voice to the rising chorus of praise for the Postindustrial Heartland. On a smaller scale, I could imagine the above quote applying to Youngstown. In fact, I want to proclaim Y-Town as the official cultural capital of Rust Belt Chic. The model I have in mind is the migration of Slackers to Austin with Dallas-Ft. Worth being the actual global economic engine and ascendant world city. Youngstown and Pittsburgh have that kind of potential.

The way the rest of country knows so little about Pittsburgh, the entire Rust Belt lacks an appreciation of Youngstown. After touring Youngstown, I'm anxious to visit other Rust Belt cities and see the hidden gems residing there. Cincinnati tops my list. But in my mind, the "Y" in Generation Y stands for Youngstown.

The Great Alberta Talent Grab

Concerning the war for talent, this initiative should raise a few eyebrows. In case you are unaware, Alberta is searching the world for workers because of the explosive growth resulting from the high price of oil. This summer, the Government of Alberta is touring American cities, targeting disgruntled foreign born talent here in the United States on H-1B visas (among others):

You may be eligible to qualify for Canadian Permanent Residency through the Strategic Recruitment Stream pilot program recently introduced by the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

To qualify for this pilot program, you must meet the following basic criteria:

  1. You must be currently working in the United States in one of the following temporary skilled worker visa categories: H-1B, H1-B1, H-1C, E-3
  2. You must have a minimum of one year of work experience in the United States in one of the qualifying visa categories listed above.
  3. Your occupation must be on the Regional Occupations Under Pressure list for Alberta. Please visit the link to view the list.

I note the enabled province driving economic immigration policy. Imagine a similar initiative designed to benefit individual US States. Look familiar?

Talent starved American regions would appreciate the kind of support Alberta is receiving from its national government. But the political inertia pervades government at all scales because many citizens don't buy the alarm that business is sounding. My guess is that if the crisis becomes as acute as it is in Alberta, some sort of effective immigration reform would be forthcoming. I do wonder if Canada and Australia will gain a first-mover advantage. The increasing geographic mobility of talent suggests not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Liminal Youngstown

Finding some time to get back into the swing of blogging has been a challenge. Also, mulling over my first blog post in the wake of the Rust Belt Bloggers Summit and associated Pittsburgh\Youngstown swings is daunting. I feel some pressure to capture the energy and inspiration still coursing through me. Most representative of my new vision for Cleveburgh are the liminal spaces of Youngstown. The online glossary for Urban Social Geography provides a good definition of liminal space:

An in-between space or territory in which cultures mix and interact to create new hybrid forms. See ambivalence, borderlands, heterotopia, hybridity, paradoxical space, third space.

I would characterize Rust Belt urban liminal space as the landscape beyond the purview of the inert politics crippling the economic development of the mega-region. This is where we Rust Belt Bloggers can have the greatest impact in terms of improving our cities. One of my goals for the trip back to Cleveburgh was to explore the in-between neighborhoods and business districts, what I believe to be a geography of innovation.

On that count, Youngstown delivers and exceeded my own expectations. I want to thank Janko for the tour of his city and the very generous hospitality. My imagination ran wild as I took stock of the Youngstown's numerous assets. Mill Creek is a park located within walking distance of downtown. Beautiful large houses and even mansions surround the park. I envisioned biking through the park from my home to downtown, where I worked for a start-up located in one of the grand buildings currently being renovated. The park should be extended to the doorstep of downtown to encourage such a commute and entice the students to come down from Youngstown State University (YSU) to recreate in Mill Creek. YSU is mostly a commuter campus and I would put all the parking at the downtown entrance of the park.

That's my wild dream for Youngstown. I'm under the impression that all of the above could be done. I merely need to move there and get busy. I bet people who haven't spent much time (if any) in Youngstown think I am crazy. Folks from other Rust Belt cities should make a point to visit Youngstown and other places such as Erie. The necessary links are bloggers born in one Rust Belt city currently living in another. These migrants have a greater sense of possibility than the natives who stayed. Youngstown has just such a champion, Phil Kidd. I defy anyone to meet Phil over beers at The Royal Oaks and then report that she or he still doesn't think Youngstown is capable of a renaissance.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rust Belt Cities Lack Will to Succeed

I asked Richard Herman for permission to post an e-mail message he sent to me:

Trying to maintain the infrastructure (political, housing, roads, etc.) built for 1,000,000, for a population that will soon be below 400,000, using old models, ain't working.

Aren't there just 2 basic options:

1.) Don't fight the shrinkage ----- get small smarter (consolidation of resources, strategic management of downsizing---e.g, youngstown)

2.) Channel aggressive growth strategies (immigration, game-changing fed legislation, etc.)

Or perhaps a combination of the two.


Instead, what we see are deer-in-the-headlight responses by rustbelt leadership (neither smart/managed downsizing, nor smart/aggressive growth strategies).

Rustbelt cities: These former economic powerhouses, roaring lions hideously morphed into timid mice, slump back into their easy chairs and BEGIN conventional economic development in building a knowledge-based economy (invest in education, invest in high-tech, etc.) --- a strategy that is necessary but is too little, too late. These are long-term strategies (20+ years), which have been employed by competing cities in the U.S. for decades.

Rustbelters have forgotten the meaning of "first mover advantage."

In defeat, and afraid to compete globally (immigrant talent---bad, free trade ---- bad, foreign direct investment --- bad), the rustbelt is largely devoid of any global engagement strategies for growth (there is opportunity in them thar hills over yonder).

It is not likely that any of our rustbelt leadership has read Dick Longworth's new book ("Caught in the Middle"), nor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's call to action on global engagement.

In fact, it's not likely much of our leadership reads at all, travels outside their time zone, glanced at how the rest of the world deals with change, etc......

We have the tools to win. We just do not have the will.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rust Belt Dayton

This blog might take a different direction after the Rust Belt Bloggers Summit in Erie this weekend. If I don't visit Dayton today, I might not get around to it later. In terms of struggles, downtown Dayton is described as similar to central Toledo. There is some good news in the redevelopment of the city's core:

City planners said they have tried to avoid the sort of scattered revitalization efforts that are hindering downtown redevelopment in many cities. The key to success, Mr. Gower said, is to concentrate on downtown’s Main Street to ensure that it has a nucleus around which other redevelopment can spread.

Recent successes have included a decision by Dayton’s CareSource Management Group, a fast-growing firm specializing in managed medical care, to build a $55 million headquarters at Main and Monument Avenue.

The glass-and-aluminum structure, to be completed by the end of the year, will eventually house 1,200 CareSource employees, a company spokesman said.

The project was a rare home run for the downtown office market.

Obviously, downtown Dayton needs many more "home runs." I'd like to know if Dayton has enough economic activity in the region to support revitalization. Dayton may have more people than Toledo in their respective metropolitan areas, but Toledo has more people within city limits. Regardless, both downtowns continue to rapidly decline.

My main concern is the downward spiral of employment in the central business district. Are downtown residents going to reverse commute to their jobs in the suburbs? Employers might follow the workers if Dayton can figure out how to entice people to live in the city. I'm not familiar with other cities putting residential ahead of employment opportunities.

Cleveburgh+ Lessons

I'm short on blog time this week, but I want to post a blurb from this article I noticed via CEOs for Cities:

Youngstown’s strategy, while more extreme than most, is just one of the models Buffalo can turn to for solutions and remedies as it battles its own vacant housing crisis.

I think awareness of what is going on elsewhere in the Rust Belt is growing by leaps and bounds. Mega-regional cooperation may not be far behind.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rust Belt Cincinnati

Recently, downtown Cincinnati took a step backwards. However, the city looks relatively healthy compared to Ohio's other urban centers:

Cincinnati's downtown has advantages over those of many other midsize and large Ohio cities.

On a recent weekday afternoon, it had the look and feel of the bustling central business district that has vanished in most cities across America.

Office workers dashed into Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue for last-minute gifts. Car horns honked. Sidewalks were filled with people.

Downtown is home to six of the area's nine Fortune 500 companies: Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy's, Fifth Third Bancorp, insurer Western & Southern Financial Group, and Chiquita Brands International. That is more than any other Ohio city.

Cincinnati isn't resting on its laurels and the post-9/11 economic climate has reined in the optimism. The looming problem is the growing disparity between the have and have-not neighborhoods. How much of the region will enjoy gains in prosperity?

The shrinking city challenge is more than staving off rapid urban decline. Most metros have at least a few thriving areas. In the Rust Belt, the bad outweighs the good. The assets of top-notch research universities seem, thus far, incapable of generously spreading economic development to the places most in need. Spillovers are notoriously hyperlocal. My concern is that the revitalization of any downtown will leave the rest of the city behind.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rust Belt Columbus

I was surprised to read that downtown Columbus is struggling. But the thriving areas of the city are peripheral to the center. Considering the region, Columbus is economically healthy:

As 26-year-old Wes Meermans enjoyed a beer after work at a watering hole in downtown’s Historic North Market District, he ruminated on the city he adopted as home four years ago.

“It’s almost like the San Francisco of the Midwest,” said the Internet marketing executive. “It’s the most young, progressive city in Ohio, with a lot of professional opportunities.”

Such sentiments are commonplace in the young, hip neighborhoods like Short North and German Village that surround downtown Columbus.

A 9-to-5 downtown is commonplace. Pittsburgh is trying to address the same issue. I think Pittsburgh's Cultural District indicates that the business core can offer a viable nightlife. Columbus should be able to figure out how to spark some after-hours activity. My guess is that the setback is temporary.

I see Columbus as the third leg of an innovation triangle that also includes Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Transportation between the three cities should be improved and the inter-urban migration of talent is a strength. High gas prices will help each city's downtown and could portend a revival that grabs global attention.

Pittsburgh Boosterism

Burgh-o-philes are busy this morning sharing another piece of positive national exposure. The New York Times scrapes the soot off of the best of Cool Pittsburgh:

PITTSBURGH has undergone a striking renaissance from a down-and-out smokestack to a gleaming cultural oasis. But old stereotypes die hard, and Pittsburgh probably doesn’t make many people’s short list for a cosmopolitan getaway. Too bad, because this city of 89 distinct neighborhoods is a cool and — dare I say, hip—city. There are great restaurants, excellent shopping, breakthrough galleries and prestigious museums. The convergence of three rivers and surrounding green hills also make it a surprisingly pretty urban setting. And if the Pirates are in town, head over to PNC Park. Besides the game, the ballpark offers a great excuse to explore downtown Pittsburgh and the river views.

Given the introduction, I have the impression that the rebirth is a recent occurrence. Pittsburgh's transformation from gritty steel town is at least two decades old. We're going through a fresh round of rediscovery. On the other hand, I do sense a new round of change that is beginning to garner notice.

Another angle is the completion of the transition to the knowledge economy. Economic redevelopment doesn't happen overnight and the recognition of metamorphosis is downright glacial. I'm inclined to think of Pittsburgh as emerging from this long and difficult purgatory. Past glory would seem to be relinquishing its grip on the Steel City image. Does anyone have any ideas for a new nickname?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Rust Belt Cleveland

Reading the Toledo Blade series a city at a time, I've noticed the discrepancy between government-culled numbers and the local booster version of downtown health. The Rust Belt is trying to repair its image and at least attract the tourist dollars from neighboring states. For example, Cleveland is making some progress injecting more energy into its central business district, but the perspective outside of the region is still decades old:

Bounded by highways, Lake Erie, and the Cuyahoga River, the sprawling downtown is the center of a 303,000-person municipality long derided as the “mistake on the lake.” When Ohio’s second-largest city comes up in conversation, somebody invariably spouts off about the day an oil slick caught fire on the river. Never mind that the event lasted 30 minutes and happened nearly 40 years ago.

This type of hurdle plagues just about every Rust Belt city. The irony is that the natives help to inform the spread of misinformation. Most of the anxiety about brain drain is leftover from the exodus of young adults in the 1970s and/or 1980s. I can understand why city boosters would spin the numbers in the best possible manner. But I also wonder if this approach enhances self-delusion and results in misguided efforts.

There are reasons to celebrate Cleveland. I would like to see the urban problems front and center, instead of pushing them as far away as possible from the downtown showcase. The Rust Belt should be a leader in urban policy innovation with the problems of globalization in the spotlight. Put all the brains to work before they leave the state.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rust Belt Akron

As Ohio cities go, Akron is doing relatively well:

According to city figures, downtown employment has doubled since the early 1990s to 31,000 people, many of whom are employed at nonprofit hospitals and the University of Akron.

The U.S. Census Bureau counted 492 firms with 12,871 private-sector employees in downtown's main ZIP code as of 2005, according to a report released last year. The tally covers a smaller area than that included in the count by downtown boosters, which helps explain the wide discrepancy in the downtown employment figures.

Still, the Census report shows that Akron was the only major Ohio city whose main downtown work force grew in the first half of the decade, with employment rising 2 percent. Adding two other ZIP Codes that straddle the downtown improvement district - established by merchants under Ohio law - boosts total employment there to 25,954, Census reports show.

That's the glass is half full version. To say that downtown Akron is thriving is a stretch, but I don't want to poo-poo the rosy numbers in a state that doesn't have much economic news to celebrate. There is something to be said for treading water in a climate of sinking cities.

However, the article doesn't make clear what kind of promise the future holds. Where or on what is Akron pinning its hopes? There appears to be a strong resilience, but little in the way of robust growth.

Blog Release: Benedum Foundation Provides Grant to Enhance Web Portal

Pittsburgh – Help Startups

Help Startups is pleased to announce the Benedum Foundation has provided a follow on grant to enhance the capabilities of our entrepreneurs’ web portal, The Benedum Foundation provided initial funding last year to help launch the web portal, and is now providing funding to further improve the experience visitors encounter when visiting the web site.

“Today’s Internet users expect a ‘social networking’ type of experience like they have on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and many others,” said Gary Rosensteel, Executive Director of Help Startups, “The Benedum grant provides the funding we need to bring this same level of interaction to our Help Startups web portal.”

Features to be added include:

  • Enhanced and easily accessible User Profiles enabling users to tie in their other web presences (MySpace, Facebook, blogs, web sites, etc.) and to see the information of other users
  • An ever changing RSS feed of entrepreneurial news
  • A Wikipedia devoted to entrepreneurial subjects
  • A centralized place for startup companies to post and disseminate Press Releases
  • Highlighting Featured Companies from our roster of local companies
  • Ability to link in entrepreneurial videos
  • Ability for users to enter ratings on the entities listed in our Resources section

This project has been dubbed Version 2.0 to indicate the breadth of the changes that will be incorporated into the Help Startups site. Our ambitious goal is to have Version 2.0 ready to launch in early fall to coincide with the first anniversary of the web portal.

Benedum Foundation The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation was established in 1944 and named in memory of the only child, Claude Worthington Benedum, of Michael and Sarah Benedum, natives of West Virginia. The foundation is focused on grant making in West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, the native and adopted homes of the Benedum’s. Since its inception, the Foundation has authorized grants in excess of $340,000,000. Grants are made in the areas of Education, Health and Human Services, Community Development, and Economic Development to advance specific initiatives in West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as promotion of philanthropy in those regions.

Help Startups is focused on providing assistance to entrepreneurs. The primary vehicle for this is the entrepreneurs’ web portal, Through its meetings, Help Startups provides a venue for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas with their peers and meet with leaders of the entrepreneurial community. Help Startups also works to foster collaboration between entrepreneurial support organizations to maximize the effectiveness of their programs.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Scar Tissue Diaspora

Strange title for a blog post, eh? Maybe I'm spending too much time in Atlantic Canada of late, but I though you readers might appreciate another opinion as to why Pittsburgh is a strong city and worthy of emulation:

But Pittsburgh is making a comeback. Richard Florida seem to like picking on the city in his books but I like what I am seeing there. I'll have to get down and visit one of these days.

Saint John has a little Pittsburgh in her and maybe that is why I have always had a soft spot for the Port City. She was never as large but in her heyday around the time of Confederation, Saint John was as big as Halifax, Detroit and Baltimore (population). She was a major port and a key stop on the shipping routes. She was also the hub of trade between the Maritimes and New England. But along came Confederation and reoriented trade east-west in Canada. The national railway was put in as was the St. Lawrence Seaway and that marginalized SJ even more over time. Again, the slow burn - not the flashy exit. Even in the early 20th century, Saint John was easily the most dominant urban area in New Brunswick and still a fairly major player.

So it was quite sad for me to see Saint John actually slip into population decline in the last couple of Census periods. At the county level, the Saint John population today is about the same as in the 1950s.

And, of course, from an economic development perspective, as goes your most dominant urban centre, so goes your province. In order for New Brunswick to get back on the economic rails, we need a strong and prosperous Saint John.

Like Pittsburgh, I think that Saint John will make a strong comeback. These things take time - decades - generations sometime. But we are starting to rethink historical trade routes again. We are starting to rethink our industrial development policies. We are starting to understand the importance of our urban areas. People are actually thinking about roads, rail and ports and the long term impact of these assets to a province's economic development.

You might be rolling your eyes, but to lump Pittsburgh in with other struggling Rust Belt cities isn't accurate. Contrary to popular mythology, young adults are not leaving Pittsburgh en masse and the declining urban population isn't quite the crisis that many make it out to be. But don't expect a boomtown resurgence, either. The Pittsburgh "comeback" brings to mind the slow rise in water temperature that eventually boils the frog. Pittsburgh isn't leaping back onto the global stage.

I'm curious how people who view Pittsburgh as a comeback city came to think of it that way. The municipal debt and embarrassing casino project, not to mention the press about the notable aging of the population, have added to Pittsburgh's more common image as a dirty city in the death throes of urban decay. If you have not been there, then I think Pittsburgh would surprise you. Just the same, I'm a bit taken back by the mounting publicity painting the region as a beacon of Rust Belt renewal.

Rust Belt Youngstown

In a fashion, Youngstown has served as a muse for my blog. I doubt many readers understand the attraction. From what I can ascertain, the city's Shiva-like economic apocalypse left little resistance to the creative destruction of globalization. My theory is that Youngstown is in a strong position to rise from the ashes of the dire late 1970s:

Tom Humphries, the president of the Youngstown-Warren Chamber predicted that new reports, when released, will show job growth downtown. Banks, call centers, and law firms have added employees in the city core, he said.

And officials of the nonprofit Youngstown Business Incubator, along Federal Street, are convinced that they have a strategy for boosting downtown employment further: Provide a supportive and nurturing environment for firms involved in computer software development and use.

Already, one firm that started there, Turning Technologies LLC, has grown to $21 million in sales annually and 130 employees.

The firm, which produces proprietary software that allows audience members to use cards and hand-held devices to instantly respond individually to questions and polls from moderators, is among the fastest-growing small businesses in America, according to Inc. magazine.

Youngstown's proximity to the wealth of talent generated in Pittsburgh could serve as the spark the downtown needs. My sense is that there are opportunities in Youngstown that you can't find in Pittsburgh, unless you take a gander at the Mon Valley. I think of Youngstown as a frontier urban environment that could attract young, ambitious adults looking to make a big splash sooner rather than later. This is the place to make your own career.

However, all of this is just beginning. This is the ground floor, where only pioneers should tread. How can Youngstown attract such individuals? For me, that's a tough question to answer. I suppose blogging is a good start.

Cleveburgh Bloggers

Check out the recap of the Cleveburgh (my imposition) Regional Learning Conference. Among the activities:

One of the benefits of the meeting was the ability for individuals to interact with their counterparts from each region - bloggers met other bloggers, economic development professionals met other economic development professionals, and neighborhood leaders met other neighborhood leaders.

Getting well ahead of myself, I am hoping the inter-regional network can extend to Columbus, Erie, and perhaps Buffalo. Repeating a previous suggestion, I see a cultural coherence for Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York. How about it, Erie? Want to climb aboard the Cleveburgh express?

Blog Release: Invitation to Discuss Immigration and Globalization

From Audrey Russo, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council:

I am writing to request your participation in an upcoming forum to discuss how our region and the nation as a whole can leverage the powerful contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs to maintain the United States' competitive position in today’s intensely competitive global economy.

This event, which will be held on Thursday, July 17 from 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. at Seagate Technology’s research center in Pittsburgh, will feature renowned guest, Vivek Wadhwa, a Harvard fellow and Executive in Residence in Duke. Recently Wadhwa’s research at Duke University has focused on the impact of globalization on the engineering profession, the competitive threat from India and China, and one of America’s greatest advantages – its skilled immigrants.

In one of his recent studies, Mr. Wadhwa’s research team identified that nearly 25 percent of technology firms founded in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder. His research has received worldwide attention and acclaim and he is a regular columnist for To learn more about Vivek's research, please visit

We are very pleased to have the opportunity to host Mr. Wadhwa on Thursday, July 17 and hope that you will consider joining us for this informative discussion. To confirm your participation, please contact the Council’s events team at 412.918.4229 by Monday, July 14.