Friday, August 01, 2008

War for Talent: Pennsylvania Front

Both sides of the debate about US immigration reform are gearing up for the battle that will start once the new administration settles into power. The anti-immigration camp is arguing for closing down the borders to any newcomers. Those concerned with the economic development of Pennsylvania take the opposite view:

We are still in line with the thinking of Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Kelly Lewis, president and CEO of the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania; and Melvyn Schiavelli, president of the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

If the need for more H-1B visas is being overstated, Lewis asks, why does this region have a shortage of 500 to 1,000 skilled tech workers? Why are the Baltimore and Washington areas raiding midstate tech companies and signing up graduates of Pennsylvania universities? Why is Microsoft beefing up operations in Vancouver, right over the Canadian border from its headquarters in Seattle?

Noting that American taxpayers sink billions into U.S. universities, Lewis said keeping foreign students in tax-paying jobs provides return on that investment.

There are answers to the above questions that don't begin or end with foreign born talent. However, the shortage is real and will get worse. After all, why is Canada trying to keep college graduates from returning to their home? What is Alberta doing in American cities such as Philadelphia trying to lure US non-citizens north?

The rest of the world is banking on America's current mood of isolationism (best articulated in the deeply flawed quest to wean the country off of foreign oil) holding sway. That Pennsylvania is taking the more global view is great news, at least from where I sit. We've seen how individual states can make life more difficult for immigrants. I'm curious what Pennsylvania (or any other Rust Belt states) can muster to attract more international talent.

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