Sunday, August 31, 2008

Boomerang Buffalo

Like just about every Rust Belt city, Buffalo is hoping its former residents will return. Boomerang migration is getting more attention and Buffalo would seem to be at the forefront of this trend. But there is one thing missing from the value proposition attracting natives back, jobs:

Marti Gorman, organizer of Buffalo Homecoming, which tries to lure back ex-Western New Yorkers, says she has assigned herself the job of attracting people to live here. Less-expensive housing is just one selling point, she said.

Gorman said connecting people in their 20s and 30s with the jobs they need to move here can be an issue. There are some good jobs that go begging for candidates, she said, while some potential hires with the right skill sets don’t know where to find job opportunities. A job fair that is part of Buffalo Homecoming tries to bridge that gap, using only local employers.

I've had a few adventures trying to help expatriates move back to Pittsburgh. The process could be streamlined and helping people live near parents in need of care is a vital service. However, this kind of boomerang migration isn't a strategy for economic development. It doesn't really help solve the brain drain dilemma.

A better model is China's management of its diaspora. The Chinese actually helped talent leave the country, only to call back a key demographic known as the Boomerang Generation:

Twenty-seven year old Liu Lu had a good job in New York, but she quit last November to return to her native Beijing.

The aspiring fashion designer opened a boutique store in May on Nanluogu Xiang, a hutong in a trendy part of Beijing's Dongcheng district.

The area, famous for its merchants since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is now a hip tourist area with bars, cafes, hostels and souvenir shops. She named her small boutique "Lu 12.28", after her given name and birth date.

After studying in France and working in the United States, Liu decided that China was the place where she wanted to launch her brand. "In Paris, designer boutiques are the most popular places to buy clothes, therefore young designers have the opportunity to show their talent in their own stores," says Liu. "I think it will be a trend in China in the future."

Liu didn't return to China looking for a job. She went home to become an entrepreneur. She created her own job. You might remember the story about Grow Home, a program designed to help Youngstown State University alumni move businesses to Youngstown. I recommend Buffalo take a closer look at the Grow Home model, which I consider to be a best practice for boomerang migration.

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