Saturday, January 31, 2009

Economic Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has its share of problems. Poor job growth is definitely one of them. I figure that local employers can offer relatively lesser salaries because of an over-supply of labor. But given that we are now talking about pay primarily for non-manufacturing jobs, the glut of talent is an indicator of a remarkable regional transformation:

To succeed in overcoming the shocks that rocked their industrial bases, educational attainment in Midwest metro areas may have been most helpful in adaptation and re-invention. Tim Dunne displays charts similar to [those above] which indicate a weaker correlation between educational attainment and growth in warm weather metro areas as compared to cold weather climes. In considering educational attainment of the populations, the [table below] displays the ranks of Great Lakes metropolitan areas among 118 metropolitan areas in 1970 and 2006. The two local leaders in 1970 college attainment, Columbus, Ohio, and the Twin Cities also experienced the fastest employment growth. While Pittsburgh ranked low in college attainment in 1970, its gains in this metric since then have been the most rapid. Perhaps not accidentally, Pittsburgh’s growth in per capita income also outpaced other cities in the region.

The Pittsburgh region successfully re-educated the workforce. I can say with confidence that the talent did not move in from elsewhere and that kudos should be extended to the system of higher education AND the leadership. However, I also suspect that this tale of dynamic labor mobility also fueled more out-migration. One reason Steelers Nation is so ubiquitous is thanks to the enhanced skills of its people. The lower the educational attainment, the more likely you are stuck in an economically depressed region.

Pittsburgh is rich in homegrown talent. Ironically, superior workforce development now puts the region at a disadvantage. Employers haven't needed to import brains, which explains the dismal immigration numbers. Demographics tell us that there won't be enough people to educate and thus fill job demand. Hence the rush to fill the talent pipeline for a job market that is far less than what you would typically find in a Texas city. Pittsburgh desperately needs to establish some pathways for substantial in-migration or local salaries will skyrocket.

More Pittsburgh Boosterism

Despite Bill Steigerwald's best efforts, other cities continue to express Pittsburgh-lust:

They don't just beat us in football -- when it comes to who is handling this recession better, Pittsburgh wins at that too.

"We bottomed out 25 years ago when steel left our town," says University of Pittsburgh Urban Affairs professor Sabina Deitrick. "It helped us create a new identity."

200,000 people left in the early eighties, and they've spent much of the time since trying to reconfigure their identity.

That identity is now rooted in the bio-tech, medical research and banking sectors.

"We didn't have that kind of bubble that kept growing and growing, so it didn't burst," Deitrick says. "We've had things up and down, but over time over all--it's been positive."

I've seen the lack of a bubble cast in a positive and, more often, a negative light. Steigerwald raining on Pittsburgh's parade:

Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate and stable housing prices were relatively better than the national figures only because its deindustrialized economy was already so stagnant that it never experienced fast job growth or a recent real estate boom and therefore couldn’t go bust.

I'm not sure why anyone would characterize riding the boom-bust cycle as a good thing. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples of regions that did not have a recent real estate boom but did go bust (e.g. Detroit). What are the naysayers driving at when making this point? This is just another example of Pittsburgh navel-gazing. The shortcomings are not unique to the Steel City. Pittsburgh is out-performing many of the postindustrial cities suffering from the same problems. In this regard, the critiques ring hollow.

Tech Belt Tidbit

Congressman Tim Ryan was at the Akron-Canton airport (CAK) to kickoff non-stop service to Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA):

This service is another step in a plan to grow the technology in this area.

“We are trying to create a technology belt from Cleveland to Akron to Canton to Youngstown to Pittsburgh,” Ryan said. “This will help create jobs and legislation."

I often fly into CAK when visiting Pittsburgh. Frontier Airlines, hub in Denver, flies direct to the airport and the fares are often the cheapest I can find. I enjoy smaller airports and I don't mind the drive to Pittsburgh.

There has been some talk of building a high-speed rail between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, with a stop in Youngstown. I'm more in favor in connecting the airports of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, with a stop at CAK. The infrastructure can help the region build enough ridership for underutilized but critical linkages, especially to various foreign markets. That's just another example of possible advantages to economic corridor cooperation.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pittsburg, PA

Sorry Dorthy, we're not in Kansas anymore:

"All super bowls for us are the busiest day of the year no matter who’s playing,” explained Heilman. “This year being that it’s Pittsburg Super Bowl, it will be busier for us because we are a Pittsburg sports bar.“

While thousands of Americans spend money throwing parties and going out for the big game, this year may be a different story for some big-time fans that are on a small-time budget like Pittsburg native and Myrtle Beach resident Reid Harper.

“I’m watching my budget a little more and since it’s the Pittsburg Steelers and I’m from Pittsburg I was kind of wanting to celebrate,” said Harper, “so I’m just having a few friends over and we’re going probably order some wings and some beer and things like that."

I'm curious when and if the editor of this South Carolina television station's website will make the correction.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cleveburgh News

In my quest to join the ranks of boomerang pioneers resettling Rust Belt cities, I haven't forgotten about Cleveburgh. The Tech Belt initiative is alive and well. Youngstown is still leading the way:

Ron Cole, manager of marketing and communications for YSU, described the tuition cut as an effort to make YSU more accessible to those students in western Pennsylvania counties.

"This fits in well with a movement taking place with Congressmen Tim Ryan and Jason Atmire. They are making an effort to develop a tech belt between Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh. We really need to look at ourselves as a region instead of Ohio and Pennsylvania," said Cole.

You can read more about this emerging postindustrial geography at i will shout youngstown.

Steelers Diaspora: National Flag

Nationalism is irrational. It inspires great violence. But it can also fuel economic might. The Terrible Towel is an icon of a similar passion:

This is the story of how the disparate worlds of the Allegheny Valley School, where communication is often difficult, and the thunderous, full-throated ecstasy of Pittsburgh's fanatics are tied together by a common, 100 percent-cotton thread, the very fabric of Steeler Nation.

"This towel is very, very powerful," said Regis Champ, the president of the school. "The people of Pittsburgh understand what this towel does and they love the Steelers. It's a great combination for us."

The Steelers themselves are acutely aware of the power.

"I think every great nation has a flag," Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu said. "I think the Steeler Nation, it's obvious that that's our flag."

Added Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, "When they wave that towel, it's just something that comes from in their soul and tries to reach out to us players."

While the importance of a sports team might seem silly, it also demands respect. The mayor of Phoenix already regrets his attempt to disgrace the Terrible Towel. Perhaps an aid pointed out to him how many people from Pittsburgh live in his city.

Rallying around a flag can be a destructive force. It can also be used to win a space race or even raise a country out of poverty. What is needed is the leadership that provides the Steelers Diaspora with something more to do than cheer for their team.

Urban Paradoxes E-zine

The synergy between social media and city living is remarkable. The latest communication technologies allow us to explore a scattered or even placeless sense of community. Instead, blogs and message boards are encouraging high-density living and helping to connect people living around the corner from each other. In that spirit, along comes Urban Paradoxes E-zine:

Urban Paradoxes is radical, cutting-edge urban journalism that gleefully celebrates urban living in its many guises, critiques conventional urban wisdom of all shades and stripes, challenges the status quo, while playfully engaging urban culture – mainstream, pop, and fringe – in dialog.

Urban Paradoxes defies description. It is more than a magazine. It is a digital magazine, an e-zine, a blog, a social net-working experience. It is a sound stage, a theater, an online TV channel, It is all of these things, yet none of these things alone. For now we will call it a e-zine!

Every issue of Urban Paradoxes is built around six themes: The Cultured City, The 24-Hour City, The Fun City, The Connected City, The Healthy City, and The Spiritual City.

We seem to be at the beginning of another urban living renaissance. New media is helping to fuel the movement. The wonders of a city have never been more visible or accessible. One of the great urban paradoxes is the isolation often felt in the company of thousands of people. Like-minded people have a hard time finding each other. Bloggers and podcast mavens, to name a few forms of today's social media, have taken some of the serendipity out of a meaningful encounter.

Scaling upwards, urbanophiles scattered around the country and the world are networking, taking advantage of the displaced possibilities that communication technologies provide. Websites such as Urban Paradoxes help the city passionate exchange stories and knowledge. Through this exchange, cities improve and attract more people. The benefits of a urban lifestyle are no longer locked up in neighborhoods.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Steelers Diaspora: North Carolina

I doubt Steeler fans living in the Pittsburgh region travel as well as Steelers fans who reside beyond the pale:

Sometimes they even travel to catch the Steelers live. But Bob Mack said he hasn't been that tempted to travel to the Super Bowl. "I've heard that it's actually not as exciting. A lot of people aren't there for the football," he said.

But he has traveled to see the Steelers play in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Miami, Cleveland, Baltimore and other cities. "I keep saying I want to visit every NFL stadium. But then they keep building new ones," he said.

The Macks have two sons, Bobby, 24, and Eric, 22. A lot of people know them from when they ran cross country at North Forsyth High School. Both are now at N.C. State University. Bobby's finishing up a graduate degree and Eric is a senior. "They probably won't come home (for the Super Bowl) because there's a big Steelers contingent in Raleigh," Mack said. "They have their own Steelers ritual at their house."

Robyn and Bob Mack moved to Winston-Salem soon after college. Bob Mack had passed through the area many times during childhood trips to the beach and loved the idea of living in a warmer climate.

"My brothers (Doug and Steve) soon followed," he said. "And my mother (Dolores) lives here now, too."

The Mack family relocation is a great example of network migration. The most adventurous Pittsburghers serve as pioneers (e.g. Bob Mack), but even that path tends to end in a familiar place (e.g. family vacation). I think the second generation expatriates would make a good target for Pittsburgh employers desperately seeking talent.

Steelers Diaspora: Utah

A "bandwagon" Steelers fan playing for the Utah Jazz:

Despite growing up in Dallas Cowboy country, [Deron Williams] has always rooted for the Steelers. He said he got a lot of grief from his childhood friends, but he never jumped ship.

Come to think of it, Steelers fans with no connection to Pittsburgh might make for an interesting study.

National Pittsburgh

Wilmington, NC looks to Pittsburgh for redevelopment guidance:

UNCW Management professor Craig Galbreath says area leaders need to craft a vision of the region's quality of life, and then recruit companies that fit that vision. He says if a company doesn't align with the vision, then it could disrupt the local economy.

"Which means that the location of a particular type of plant, particularly low-technology polluting sort of plants, will discourage residents from moving into the area. So actually there may be a decrease in tax revenues. There may be a decrease in rental revenues because people don't want to live by a plant."

Galbreath points to Pittsburgh and San Diego as cities that have turned away from heavy industry and moved toward cleaner, knowledge based economies. There's an entire movement attached to this migration, it's called The City Beautiful and Galbreath says Wilmington has the potential to cash in on this concept.

Roll your eyes if you must. But even if these accolades are ill-deserved, they help recast Pittsburgh in a positive light. Concerning domestic migration, perception is important. However, Pittsburgh still has a lot of image scrubbing to do:

Make no mistake, however: Compared to the rivers of, say, Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh, the water quality of Columbia-area rivers is superior.

While the water quality is undoubtedly relatively poor in the Pittsburgh region, few people would question the assertion given the reputation as a dirty industrial city. The resulting ambivalence is akin to the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The blue collar image cuts both ways. There is the perplexing nostalgia:

When he was writing "In America," his patriotic response to the Iranian hostage crisis, North Carolina-born Charlie Daniels could have chosen any team from a two-syllable town with a two-syllable nickname without messing up his meter. But he went with:

You just go and lay your hand on a
Pittsburgh Steeler fan and I think you're gonna
finally understand.

Daniels would later explain that the people of Pittsburgh are "The salt of the earth, the finest, just the greatest people. The strength of America ... They're steel workers and they're good old guys with blisters or calluses on their hands."

And there is the tale of economic devastation and resulting exodus:

Mom’s earliest Steeler memories go back to her childhood in Wheeling, W.Va.

“I grew up listening to my dad yell at the Steelers on TV,” said Laurie, a clinical resource director at Blake Medical Center. “Everybody in the Ohio valley was like that.”

Including folks in St. Clairsville, Ohio, Jason’s hometown.

“Steeler football is like religion,” he said.

That didn’t change when the couple moved here.

They found out Steeler Nation was alive and well at places like Fanatics Sports Bar & Grill on 47th Street West and Cherry’s on 53rd Avenue West.

“Years ago after the mills closed down, there was nothing left,” Jason said of Pittsburgh’s Rust Belt industry. “Either you had to be related to somebody to get work or you moved away. So here we are.”

I tend to think that the best of Pittsburgh left when the jobs dried up. But those who did stay in Southwestern Pennsylvania have reinvented their city, which now serves as inspiration for other postindustrial urban backwaters. Ironically, now is the time for the Burgh Diaspora to come home. Even if the latest renaissance is all smoke and mirrors, the boomerang migration of talent can make the wishful thinking come true.

Ohio Pride

I've spent quite a bit of my time investigating the upside of Pittsburgh civic pride. The downside of regional or state jingoism is more obvious. Shifting my focus westward, Eastern Ohio struggles with the same legacy costs dragging down the economy in Western Pennsylvania. Like Pittsburgh, Cleveland has taken extraordinary measures to retain its professional sports franchises. Also like Pittsburgh, Cleveland's leadership is busy stuffing a convention center boondoggle down the throat of the voters. These expensive projects don't make economic sense, but they feed into a sense of importance and civic pride.

I've observed the same shortcomings concerning brain drain. Ohio is mulling over awarding tax credits to college graduates who remain in-state:

Two state legislators -- Jay Goyal and Josh Mandel are sponsoring a bill that would offer state income tax credits to any graduate who commits to staying in Ohio for at least five years.

I'm not surprised to discover that the proposal is popular among Ohio voters. It is a horrible idea preying upon state pride. The problem with brain drain initiatives is that they are understood as an issue of out-migration. But the data presented to sell the policy takes stock of net migration. Tens of thousands of college graduates already stay in Ohio and they would all receive the tax credit. In effect, Ohio would pay people to remain in-state who are already planning to do so. That's insane, particularly given the geographic context.

There is an attraction strategy on the table. However, that approach also suffers from the same fiscal waste. How many graduates already move to Ohio? I have a better recommendation. Add up the cost of "paying" talent that you expect to call Ohio home regardless of initiative. Then use that money for aggressively courting graduates in neighboring states. Might Michigan and Indiana "brain drain" address Ohio labor shortages?

Often overlooked it the talent churn between Rust Belt states. Indiana does lose a disproportional number of its college graduates. That migration fact doesn't seem to bother Indianapolis, one of the better performing Midwestern cities. I'd bet plenty of brains come from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. As for the Hoosiers leaving, how many of them go to Chicago? Global cities benefit from the education subsidies of other states. Ohio would be wise to follow suit and drop the losing game of holding onto homegrown talent.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DC Steelers Diaspora

Another anecdote about the size of the Burgh Diaspora in the DC area:

As kickoff nears, Fairfax City resident Bill McCann will arrive with his 13-year-old son Jake. The McCanns have been frequenting Fast Eddie’s for the past three years, although they typically only attend afternoon games because, after all, Fast Eddie’s is a bar.

McCann grew up in Pittsburgh and moved here out of the Navy in 1989.

The McCanns will head for the table in the far back of the first room, directly opposites of the bar’s biggest screen. They’ll jump and cheer and, most importantly, spend some quality time together.

“It’s absolutely the best Steelers bar in Fairfax County,” McCann said.

For those of you keeping score like I am, that is "best Steelers bar" not "only Steelers bar".

Steelers Nation Convention

VisitPittsburgh claims that the Steelers playing the Super Bowl in Tampa has a positive economic impact on Pittsburgh:

"Having the Steelers play in the Super Bowl is the equivalent of hosting a medium-sized convention in Pittsburgh," says [Joe McGrath, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh]. "We're estimating that 2,500 people will be coming to Pittsburgh this weekend and staying at a hotel for two days - that translates into 5,000 room nights. In addition, another 2,500 people will be staying with friends or relatives. This is a fantastic opportunity that is very welcome at a typically slow time for area hoteliers, restaurants and retailers."

I doubt Phoenix is deriving such a benefit. San Diego, jealously eying Tampa's windfall, couldn't expect Chargers fans dispersed around the United States to converge in its city. How about Cowboys fans flying into Dallas? Nope. Cleveland might generate a similar migration. Buffalo is another candidate. But they wouldn't match the numbers that fly into Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Foreign-Born Entrepreneurship

Among its "Midwestern" cohort, Pittsburgh has a very small foreign-born population. Nationally, the numbers look almost infinitesimal. Pittsburgh does do a good job of attracting educated immigrants, but the region lacks the critical mass necessary to spur the expected entrepreneurial activity (thanks to The Urbanophile for passing along the reference to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago blog post):

Our reading of the same [data source above] shows that entrepreneurship of the foreign born in the region’s metropolitan areas lies close to national averages. This is true of both college-educated foreign born and overall foreign born. Again, these tendencies vary across metropolitan areas.

However, the overall paucity of foreign born in the region tends to depress their importance as entrepreneurs. As the chart below suggests, again only Chicago manages to climb above the national average in this regard. The Detroit metropolitan area comes in a respectable second place.

The quality of immigration to Pittsburgh is excellent. However, the Chicago Fed's analysis suggests that the quantity of foreign-born moving to the area is also important for economic development. At least in the short-term, I highly doubt that Pittsburgh could generate the necessary numbers to spur the kind of foreign-born entrepreneurial activity found in Chicago.

The fact remains that Pittsburgh's immigrant population is under-represented in the local entrepreneurial scene. If they don't already, incubators should specifically target foreign-born talent for startup opportunities. I'd bet that parochial tendencies are marginalizing outsider ambition. Given that Pittsburgh struggles to foster a healthy flow of immigrants to the city, this insular nature is distressing.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Although I would prefer Penn Pilsner, Iron City will be flowing this weekend in Tampa. Along with the people from Pittsburgh invading the area in order to enjoy the Super Bowl festivities, the Burgh Diaspora will be quite visible in local Steelers bars:

Two weeks ago, when the Steelers won the AFC championship and secured a spot in Super Bowl XLIII, more than 250 fans cheered the team on at O'Brien's. The five-time champion Steelers are facing the Arizona Cardinals, a team making its first trip to the Super Bowl.

For game day, O'Brien expects more than 1,000 people to pack his bar as fans of both teams travel to Tampa to take part in a weeklong celebration that culminates with the Feb. 1 game at Raymond James Stadium.

For Pittsburgh fans, it's almost like a homecoming. A review of fan Web sites lists more than 30 bars in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco counties that are Steelers-friendly.

Many have special events planned this week, as well as private parties, reserved seating and other fan perks on game day. Pittsburgh sports radio personalities will be broadcasting live from O'Brien's and Tank's Tap Room, another Steelers bar on Dale Mabry Highway.

"They're really pushing us as the Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters in Tampa," manager Damon Cornelius said. "We've been getting a lot of phone calls from people who live in Pittsburgh."

Pittsburghers know that wherever they go, Steelers Nation will welcome them. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is, indeed, the exodus from the region of young adults during the early 1980s. But from 1990 going forward, there are a number cities that boast a much more substantial out-migration. The California Diaspora isn't the artifact of the recent real estate meltdown. Californication is a domestic migration almost as old as the great Pittsburgh purge:

Complaining about Californians is an old tradition in the Rockies; but it is reaching a new intensity. Five million people who were born in California now live outside the state. They are America's second-biggest domestic diaspora, after New Yorkers, and the most noticeable. California is by far the most populous state in the West—and still growing rapidly. It has become a demographic machine, drawing in foreigners while disgorging its own population across the deserts and mountains. In the process, it transforms those areas.

The reason you don't read about shrinking cities in California is immigration. The high visibility of Steelers Nation is not the result of "high taxes, union dominance and lousy schools". If Pittsburgh attracted immigrants like it did in its industrial heyday, then we wouldn't get such specious analysis about the population problem. Regardless, fans of California sports teams aren't taking over visiting stadiums like Steelers Nation regularly does.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should celebrate the Steelers and embrace the sports mania. However, Pittsburgh's domestic diaspora is a unique economic asset for the region. I've yet to find another city in the United States that could expect such strong returns on its export of talent. The party in Tampa is representative of this potential and is worthy of Pittsburgh pride.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Geography and Social Innovation

Mike Madison continues his exploration of the challenges facing Pittsburgh media and comments upon the primary theme of my blog:

Second, if one were thinking about the future of Pittsburgh news, one might think: How can we monetize that traffic and leverage the Diaspora to save the Post-Gazette?

Here's an idea: Make the paper all about Pittsburgh -- the city and its neighborhoods, and the region. Get rid of national and international news, or park it in a separate small section. Fewer and fewer people read the Post-Gazette for that, since it's all wire service material anyway. I take my national and international news online, and from the Times (for the liberal slant) and from The Economist (for the conservative slant). Pittsburgh stuff is what the P-G audience wants both online and offline, and a lot of them want it, and it's all that they want.

Mentioning the Burgh Diaspora isn't the connection. My preoccupation is with the mismatch between a traditional cultural/political landscape and the contemporary challenges of economic forces. A good example of reconciliation is Youngstown State University's aggressive courtship of Western Pennsylvanian post-secondary student dollars:

This initiative is breaking down one more barrier along the Cleveburgh Corridor, demonstrating the diminishing significance of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, a dotted line on maps less than 2.5 miles from the Youngstown city limits.

Pittsburgh's media problem, as I understand it, is one of geography. Newspapers aren't struggling because they can't figure out a viable business model. The issue is that they reflect an outdated conception of community.

The obsession with brain drain is another example of this disjuncture. The only talent that matters is produced locally. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the Tribune Review write for a geographically fixed audience as if we still lived in the heyday of industrialization. The story is about all the people who left , not the success of Pittsburghers around the world.

Pittsburgh media could be instrumental in solving the mobility paradox. In fact, evolving media technologies have sparked geographic innovations. The latest and greatest in social media is often miscast in the service of a familiar landscape. Even the vanguard actively reproduces the established sense of place. The new forms of community already exist. Newspapers need to catch up with them.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rust Belt Real Estate

Pittsburgh - The Gateway to America's Urban Frontier. If your looking for an investment opportunity, then check out the real estate in Rust Belt cities:

Don't mistake preserving home equity and stability with reaping future home gains. The Northeast and Hawaii are already far above the national home-price average.

You might find better overall value and growth opportunities in lower-priced places such as Austin, Dallas, McAllen and San Antonio in Texas; Jackson, Miss.; and Pittsburgh, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington-based organization that regularly rates 100 areas for the prospects of building home equity.

The center says you may be able to reap $60,000 to $90,000 in home-equity appreciation over the next four years in the above-mentioned cities. It also favors Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse in New York.

Lumping Pittsburgh or Syracuse in with Austin and Dallas makes for strange bedfellows. What gives? I have a two-part answer.

First, I'd speculate that Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse produce an excess of human capital. As Edward Glaeser suggests, real estate prices are indicator of talent density. In Pittsburgh's case, that narrative works well. There is a glut of brains, which is why wages are depressed.

Second, out-migration from these Rust Belt cities is relatively low. We would expect tough times to fuel an exodus like the one going on right now in Ireland:

Irish properties have suffered some of the most extreme price drops as a result of the credit crunch, following one of the biggest housing booms in history.

Alongside property price falls, unemployment is on the up and recession is hammering on the door, suggesting 2009 will be the toughest year in a quarter of a century.

All of this makes starting a new life elsewhere a tempting proposition for many skilled workers and young professionals.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has reported that emigration is at its highest level for nearly 20 years, with 45,300 workers leaving the country in the year to April 2008. The majority of these (11,300) have left for Australia and New Zealand.

Of course, the Rust Belt cohort didn't experience a housing bubble. But the collapse in real estate prices has had the ironic effect of decreasing geographic mobility. If I can't sell my house for enough money to afford to move, I'm stuck. But that's not going on in Buffalo or Syracuse, where residents could unload their houses and head to job rich Texas.

Instead, the pattern of hanging around holds sway. The Irish are still accustomed to moving in order to weather the economic storm. In many Rust Belt cities, the tendency now is to ride it out. To put it succinctly: Real estate appreciation in Dallas is the result of robust in-migration. In Rochester, prices go up namely because of anemic out-migration. The population purge is over and now we'll have to wait and see which shrinking cities begin to attract healthy numbers of newcomers. As the current real estate numbers indicate, Pittsburgh is a good bet.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pittsburgh Pilgrimage

The Steelers Diaspora is planning to celebrate the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh, not Tampa. This pilgrimage highlights the rather strange phenomenon of non-native Steelers fans feeling a deep connection to Pittsburgh the place:

Dean Vlaovich grew up a Steelers fan in New Jersey and now works for a trucking company in Arkansas. He and his wife, Cinthia, made the 14-hour drive to Pittsburgh for the Super Bowl in 2006, where they found themselves dancing on South Side streets with strangers after the win. They're making the drive again next week.

"Originally people down here thought I was nuts three years ago when we took the trip. But I told my new boss in October during a departmental meeting, 'I will require off the Monday and Tuesday after the Super Bowl if the Steelers are in it.' Everyone laughed," said Mr. Vlaovich, 35. "I said it again every Monday in the same meeting. Until this week. The boss beat me to it and said 'We know, you're off.'" ...

... Mark Rosenblatt, 46, is a lifelong Toronto resident who got hooked on the Steelers at age 12, sometimes following them on French-language broadcasts. He turned his father and two sons into fans, so three generations of Rosenblatts will fly to Pittsburgh Super Bowl weekend.

There is the sensitive matter of a family bat mitzvah that Saturday to contend with, which the immigration lawyer has been up-front about missing. "I'm not going to lie and say I'm sick," he said.

If you've ever been to a Steelers bar, then you've witnessed the performance of place. You see hard hats. You can eat pierogies and drink Iron City. You can listen to the polka fight song. Sure, you could watch your favorite team in the comfort of your own home, but you crave (for some strange reason) to soak up the regional culture and hang out with people from the Burgh.

If you were born and raised in another Rust Belt city, Pittsburgh-ness or even Steelers-ness is familiar. That someone from Erie would champion Pittsburgh isn't that strange. We all share the same postindustrial struggles and successes. Pittsburgh could be, might already be, the global center for the Postindustrial Nation. That's not just some meaningless sports fanaticism. That's an economic proposition and a driver of migration.

Telecommuting Pittsburgh

The best of both worlds would be a Pittsburgh residence and a Washington, DC job. The migration numbers support this perception. The following anecdote is representative of the tremendous potential for this particular co-location:

[Capt. James Oakes] was commanding officer for a Navy recruiting district based in Pittsburgh when, three years ago, the Navy requested him to move to Washington, D.C. He was to become chief of staff for N1, the Navy’s manpower and personnel organization under the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. His boss would be the chief of Navy personnel.

He made the switch, but his family stayed in Pittsburgh. “My family was firmly established, and I didn’t want to put [them] through the hassle of another move,” he said.

When the Navy launched a pilot program called Virtual Command, Oakes perked up his ears. Geared specifically toward officers, the program turns several postings in N1 into work-from-home positions.

Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, the chief of naval personnel, asked Oakes if he wanted to participate in the pilot program and help get it moving. Oakes said the opportunity met his dual objective of focusing on his family’s needs while still maintaining a career.

Oakes is the first officer to participate in the program. He works out of a home office in suburban Pittsburgh, and his duty station is at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va.“It is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on in a long time,” Oakes said of the program, which launched in December.

Employees like Oakes benefit from the work/life balance. The Navy, meanwhile, avoids the expense of moving officers and their families in permanent-change-ofstation transfers. The Navy can also save on the cost of housing allowances, Oakes noted, if the real estate market in the telework site is less expensive than the duty station’s market.

I see a similar dynamic playing out in the Front Range of Colorado. California real estate refugees are relocating their fat salaries to less expensive communities such as Fort Collins. They maintain their tech jobs in the Bay Area while reaping the benefits of a substantially lower cost of living and a much higher quality of life.

A smart career strategy is to target occupations that lend themselves to geographic mobility and telecommuting. You start out in hot job markets where housing prices tend to be high. For the next stage, you can choose where you would most like to live.

Pittsburgh is a good place to head, especially if you cut your teeth in the DC market. Salaries are lower, giving your big city salary more purchasing power. My wife recently secured the ability to transfer her Denver wages to her hometown of Pittsburgh. This frees me up to pursue aggressively a Pittsburgh job as if I am a resident of the region. I could start next week, if need be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blueprint Communities Revitalization Symposium

This story doesn't fit within the R2P narrative, but I find the Pittsburgh connection interesting:

Consider for instance the crowd of 100 or more at the University of Delaware's Arsht Hall last Friday. Representing nine Delaware communities, they got a chance to debut months of efforts at devising master plans to make their neighborhoods better.

Their face-off competition came courtesy of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh's Blueprint Communities Revitalization Symposium, sponsored in partnership with the University of Delaware's Center for Community Research and Services. Dozens of residents from Kent and New Castle counties, warily eyed competitor's plan in a stellar stab at community re-organization from the ground up.

Instead of a sole magnetic personality, a mandate from FHLB-Pittsburgh enabled the groups to expand their dream and get diverse input about who can help shape that vision.

Pittsburgh is definitely much more than just Southwestern PA.

World City Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh region has plenty to celebrate. The glaring exception is the lack of robust global connectivity. Pittsburgh is remarkable in its domestic orientation. Immigration is just a trickle and the airport barely qualifies as international. Actually, Pittsburgh is a lot more worldly than the evidence would suggest. Consider the curious case of Reed Smith:

Where Cleary has had success operating out of its New York and London offices, Reed Smith is hoping that its plan to create a sizable local footprint, as well as the insider status of one lateral, will set it apart. Once known as the largest firm in Pittsburgh, Reed Smith has pursued an aggressive growth strategy and now has sizable offices across the US and around the world.

The firm entered the Middle East via a 2007 merger with London-based Richards Butler, which had a 30-year-old office in Abu Dhabi. But Richards Butler’s office in Dubai, an equally critical market, was only a start-up operation, says Reed Smith global managing partner and chairman Gregory Jordan. That changed when Reed Smith lured Sahia Ahmad, Dubai World’s inaugural general counsel, to the firm in November 2007.

A native emirate who spent eight years at A&O in Dubai before joining Dubai World, Ahmad has given Reed Smith the all important foot-in-the-door to one of the region’s most active sovereign funds. Last March, for example, Ahmad set up a three-hour meeting introducing Reed Smith to a roomful of Dubai World’s most senior executives. Ahmad, Jordan, and four other Reed Smith partners met with executives such as Abdul Wahid Al Ulama, the Dubai World group chief legal officer, and the legal chiefs for wealthy subsidiaries Nakheel, Limitless and Istithmar. They were familiar faces to Ahmad. In fact, she had recruited many of the in-house lawyers. “It was like a reunion of sorts,” says Jordan.

Within two months, Reed Smith won its first assignment from the holding company and a spot, among four other firms, on the fund’s US adviser panel. Ahmad says the matters have grown to include US corporate merger and regulatory work, as well as some local Dubai-based work. “It’s been exactly what we set up to do,” she says.

Today there is no limit to Reed Smith’s ambitions in the region. The firm has 24 lawyers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But Jordan hopes to have 100 lawyers in the United Arab Emirates by 2010, through relocations, lateral hires or more acquisitions. The current global slowdown has not changed those aspirations, Jordan says: “There is no danger in thinking big.”

Normally, I would be inclined to pass over what seems to be an isolated exception. But Reed Smith is competing with international legal powerhouses based in London and New York, where you would expect to find such activity. In Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh is full of such contradictions. It is both a postindustrial backwater and surprisingly cosmopolitan. But the former effectively defines the city. There does seem to be the potential for Pittsburgh to rise again as a world city. The question remains: Why hasn't it happened already. Can Pittsburgh pull a Chicago?

Edit: After posting, I was having doubts about the extent of Reed Smith's current Pittsburgh connection. I Googled Gregory Jordan just to make sure that Pittsburgh could be considered the center of Reed Smith's Middle East venture.

DC Boomerang has an active Pittsburgh forum dedicated to "relocation, moving, and local city discussions." There is plenty message board flaming going on between Burgh boosters and detractors, but most of the posters there are very willing to help someone exploring a move to Pittsburgh. If you follow long enough, then you'll notice that there are more people looking to move back to Pittsburgh than newbies:

I'm moving back to Pittsburgh after living in the Washington, DC area for ten years. I am originally from a small town about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh (Ellwood City) and am looking for a similar type of town closer to Pittsburgh. I will be working downtown, and don't want a long commute. Can anyone recommend a town/suburb in the north (I want to be close to my family in Ellwood City, so the South Hills and East areas are not an option) which has an actual small town/neighborhood feel to it (as opposed to sprawling/new development suburbs)? My husband and I plan on having children soon, so school district is an important factor. I'd also like to have a good-sized yard. I'm looking for small-town charm within easy commuting distance to Pittsburgh and not too far from Ellwood City (Lawrence County). Any ideas out there?

These relocation narratives are likely indicative of a migration pattern. Since the typical boomerang migrant to Pittsburgh is seeking a higher quality of life for a family, the City of Pittsburgh would seem to be an unlikely destination. Are there any blogs detailing the trials and tribulations of raising children in Pittsburgh proper?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Resilient Pittsburgh?

A few weeks ago, Edward Glaeser sung the praises of resilient New York City:

New York still has an amazing concentration of talent. That talent is more effective because all those smart people are connected because of the city’s extreme population density levels. Historically, human capital — the education and skills of a work force — predicts which cities are able to reinvent themselves and which ones are not. Those people who are continuing to pay high prices for Manhattan real estate are implicitly betting that New York’s human capital will continue to come up with new ways of reinventing the city.

In that light, I think one could say the same thing about Pittsburgh. How else do you explain the relatively robust real estate market? Another thing Pittsburgh has going for it, its density. The hills and rivers help to force human capital into a small area.

Missing from Glaeser's simple but powerful NYC story is immigration. Pittsburgh desperately needs an immigrant attraction strategy like the one in Halifax, Nova Scotia (hat tip Richard Herman). The idea is to encourage even greater density and to reverse the population decline in the City of Pittsburgh.

Update: Another resiliency data point:

Pittsburgh’s residential real estate market isn’t the only one bucking the nationwide downward trend.

The area’s commercial real estate market outranked every other major metropolitan area in the country in the fourth quarter of last year, according to a recent report from credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service.

Great Migration of 1982

2008 was a bad year for the global economy. But was it 1982 bad? Not according to an article in the New York Times:

The first big blow to the economy was the 1979 revolution in Iran, which sent oil prices skyrocketing. The bigger blow was a series of sharp interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve, meant to snap inflation. Home sales plummeted. At their worst, they were 30 percent lower than they are even now (again, adjusted for population size). The industrial Midwest was hardest hit, and the term “Rust Belt” became ubiquitous. Many families fled south and west, helping to create the modern Sun Belt.

That crisis devastated Pittsburgh. Young adults left in droves and that exodus, long since over, remains the dominant narrative of the region. The current downturn does not appear to be having the same effect. However, the worst is yet to come.

As our country moves into 2010, we could have 1982 all over again. Besides the California bust, what other migration patterns might emerge? If you want to bet on a sure thing, then Texas is about as good as it gets. We might also expect the alpha global cities to reinvent themselves as they have successfully done in the past. I'm keeping an eye on the Chicago takeover of DC. The Rust Belt is due for a makeover and I think the focus of the recovery will be in this mega-region. Pittsburgh is in good position to get a lot of the federal love. I've already speculated that the PNC buyout of National City set up Pittsburgh to finance urban redevelopment throughout much of the Postindustrial Heartland. Pittsburgh is on the cusp of re-emerging as a world city.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Steelers Nation Matters

There is a downside to all the Steelers fanaticism. As Pittsburgh works itself up into a Super Bowl froth, Mike Madison wonders if the serious issues facing the region will be neglected:

Pittsburghers around the world today feel the civic football populism of the Steel Curtain era -- recalling precisely the lowest point of the city's and region's 20th century history. Steelers bread and Steelers circuses keep the region mired in habits of thinking that recall the woe-is-us and damn-the-rest-of-the-world mindset bred of the demise of steel. We have to look out for ourselves, because no one else will look out for us. Read that recently? I have -- in the sports pages, in stories and columns quoting Steelers players and coaches? (It's practically tattooed on Hines Ward's forehead, much as I love how the guy plays.) With good reason. In the sports world, that's a great way to keep yourself motivated.

In the civic world, however, it's a formula for lack of ambition and lack of resistance to the interests of political elites.

The Steelers distraction is real enough. I've been less motivated to blog while Pittsburgh marches through the playoffs. Time seems to stop as I strive to savor the success of my favorite sports team. Indeed, Steelers success has been a wonderful diversion.

However, I think team pride, and thus civic pride, is manifested differently in the Diaspora than it is in the Pittsburgh cultural hearth. My passion for the Steelers inspired me to dedicate myself to the economic development of the Pittsburgh region and start this blog. There is a big difference between local Steeler fans and Steelers Nation. What is going on in and around Pittsburgh is not reflective of the entire fan base.

I'm still trying to figure out how to channel constructively all this displaced fan energy. Blogger Ryan Avent provides one possible avenue:

So, the other day I jokingly twittered (normally, my twitters are dead serious) that a bunch of us new media types should pack up and head to Detroit, where we could all buy mansions for $1000. A friend responded by suggesting some analysis would be necessary before we all up and make the leap. Fair enough.

The idea is this — if enough people of a certain productive potential move to Detroit, then Detroit will begin exercising an attractive force. In response to the growing population of people, supportive infrastructure will grow up. Employers will follow or start-up from among the migrants. Consumption options reflecting migrant taste will appear. And eventually the whole show will become self-sustaining. People who want to be in the industry involved or related industries will move there, employers who want to employ such people will move there, and so on and so forth.

Replace "new media" with "diaspora" and, of course, "Detroit" with "Pittsburgh". Pick a part of Pittsburgh in sore need of urban redevelopment, say Uptown, and market it as Steelerstahlville. (kidding, sort of ...) The love for the Steelers is a powerful motivator. And, fostering a high-density residence of long-distance migrants is an impressive economic engine. The influx of talent to the city can help address a lot of the problems that Mike fears are now on the backburner thanks to Super Bowl madness.

Social forces that can travel well beyond their place of origin are valuable assets. Witness the presidential inauguration today. Time has stopped, almost for an entire world, as Obama jingoism works it magic. Obama might squander his opportunity. He might also galvanize a nation and purpose them for a worthy cause. Pittsburgh is at the same crossroads with Steelers Nation.

Update: Terrible Towel graces Obama's inauguration.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Just when I think I'm getting a handle on the geography of talent, along comes this story about Dubuque, Iowa and its apparently successful quest to land an IBM IT service center and the 1300 jobs that come along with it. Why Dubuque? Blogger David Campbell offers this analysis:

The truth of the matter is that most of the big ICT players in North America from Microsoft to Google to IBM (don’t forget RIM) have been putting large facilities in relatively small markets in recent years. This goes a bit counter to traditional cluster theory but the logic is actually quite simple. These large firms do in effect ‘raid’ top talent from other smaller ICT companies in these communities.

Even more fascinating is the proposed hunting ground for the talent grab:

The proposed International Business Machines Corp. project is so large and the company so well-known that IBM plan proponents believe information technology workers and students in a 100-mile radius around Dubuque are well within reach.

In addition to the local colleges, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa fall into that region.

With the ongoing recession pushing national unemployment rates ever higher, Greater Dubuque officials believe that the IBM jobs could draw workers from as far as Des Moines, Omaha, Neb., the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Iowa Workforce Development data found that there are 22,000 potential information technology workers in that 100-mile radius around Dubuque, a figure that didn't surprise City Manager Mike Van Milligen.

The above talent attraction strategy reinforces what I've come to appreciate about migration: Shorter distances and familiar places make for a more likely destination. This is good news for city such as Youngstown and its successful Business Incubator. The other lesson is that Rust Belt states should be raiding the cupboards of its neighbors instead of sweating brain drain.

Lastly, workforce development doesn't respect political boundaries. A functional region should share the financial burden of education and thereby capture a great deal of the lost investment that typically comes along with out-migration. Talent leaving Pittsburgh for Cleveland or Columbus shouldn't be a crisis.

Boondoggles and Migration

Before I went to the local Steelers bar yesterday, I came across a reference to a Wall Street Journal article that offers a negative critique of Pittsburgh. A commenter at my blog also recommended the read and Chris Briem puts in his two cents here. I had a hard time getting past the subtitle, "There's a reason so many Steeler fans have left Pittsburgh." Jerry Bower goes on to point out the folly of spending public dollars on the stadiums where the local teams play:

If there ever was a time to crow about the wonders of rebuilding a city around a professional sports team, this would be it. Three of the four teams remaining in the play-offs hail from cities -- Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- that in recent years spent billions rebuilding their downtowns around pro sports facilities and other community "anchors."

Except that there's a problem. The teams might be competitive, but the cities definitely are not. All three continue to shrink in population, and have stagnant job markets and crumbling public schools.

I sympathize with Mr. Bower's position. I wasn't thrilled when the Pens held Pittsburgh hostage and eventually managed to wrangle a new stadium from a city that is essentially bankrupt. But bringing up the tired story of a shrinking population greatly diminishes the article's credibility. The spending would still be a boondoggle in Seattle or Phoenix (the one playoff city to escape Mr. Bower's wrath).

In Seattle, of course. That city has gained population while Pittsburgh lost it. Steelers bars are the visible cultural artifact of a kind of economic diaspora. People in those bars are the refugees who looked at high taxes, union dominance and lousy schools and voted with their feet. They can still root for their favorite team -- from Raleigh, North Carolina. You go South or West to get your bread. The circuses can be watched on cable.

I have a hard time taking the cranks seriously when they spew such nonsense. Carrying on about the population decline is also a form of silly civic pride and the money spent on plugging the brain drain is just as wasteful as tax payers footing the bill for a new stadium. I recommend that Mr. Bower actually look at the out-migration rates for the cities he celebrates and compare them with Pittsburgh's before going on his next tirade.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bust Go The Burbs

Something to consider as you map your journey back to Pittsburgh:

Nationwide, a million more suburbanites are living below the poverty line than city dwellers. SuburbanSt. Louis County, Mo., has 50 percent more working-poor families than the city of St. Louis itself. The mortgage crisis only adds to the problems. The foreclosure rate in Clayton County, which encompasses many of Atlanta's southern suburbs, is twice as high as that in Atlanta. Homes in neighborhoods close to downtown Chicago, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., have held their value, while prices for homes far from those urban cores have plummeted, according to new research by Joe Cortright, an economist at Impresa Consulting.

My wife and I have decided to live within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Both of us are suburban brats and we know little about raising kids in an urban environment. However, we appreciate a cosmopolitan lifestyle and are committed to Pittsburgh's renaissance.

Domestic Clash of Civilizations

Advances in communication technologies and economic globalization are decoupling identity from location. Conventional wisdom claimed these two forces were collapsing distance and shrinking our world. Instead, the post-cold war world is asking us to re-imagine our communities:

"Steeler Nation" is one of the planet's most populous and intense sports-fan cohorts. There are many others, of course, and have been for many decades. But such groupings—what might be called "voluntary tribes"—are assuming a new importance in America. As neighborhoods and schools become more diverse, marriages become more mixed and social hierarchies break down, old lines are getting blurry. Voluntary tribes are a way of recreating a sense of community.

Voluntary tribes such as Steelers Nation are well suited for navigating our increasingly scattered sense of place. In this regard, Pittsburgh-ness travels well and provides a trust infrastructure for the geographically mobile. Generating trust is critical for doing business globally and Pittsburgh could position itself geopolitically as a nexus for this long-distance economy.

However, our traditional notions of community stand steadfastly in the way of activating the Burgh Diaspora. Real Pittsburghers question my authenticity as a Steelers Fan because of where I was born. The Urbanophile has run up against a similar impediment to his quest to help develop the economy of Indianapolis. Our political and cultural geographies are struggling to keep up with a globalizing economy. The dying landscape will not disappear quietly.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homing Instinct

Bill Toland's "Diaspora Report" might be taking off. I still wish the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette would give his community beat a dedicated url a la "My Homewood". Toland's latest column publishes a number of letters he received and one in particular stood out to me:

"I am a member of the Pittsburgh Diaspora, currently residing in the Washington, D.C., area … During my five and a half years here, I have fallen more and more in love with my hometown, [and] after flirting with returning several times in the past few years, I resolved to finally make the move back in September. … Other than myself, I have come across scores of 25- to 34-year-old former Pittsburghers who would love nothing more than to return home and help shape our city as it continues its transformation. Just give us the opportunity and we'll run with it.

-- RYAN MILLER, Washington, D.C., area

I've approached encouraging boomerang migration with a great deal of caution. Even a wildly successful initiative wouldn't solve Pittsburgh's demographic woes. Immigration to the region offers more salvation on that score. But a strategic campaign to attract the most motivated of the Burgh Diaspora could address the rumored talent shortages plaguing local enterprise.

The current rate of job creation will not support all the people who want to move back and the best opportunities to boomerang will likely require some labor mobility. In other words, your current occupation probably isn't in great demand in Pittsburgh. Here is an idea for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance: Advertise to the Burgh Diaspora the talent needs that local education is failing to address and help the boomerang inclined fill those positions.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pittsburgh Writer in Colorado

Drive-by readers of this blog often assume I live in Pittsburgh. For example, my post about the migration from Los Angeles to Nashville prompted this quip from a Music City blogger:

Still, such numbers tend to be rah-rah moments for we shameless creatures in the media business, a chance to strut hometown superiority over a larger, supposedly cooler city. And so The Tennessean did, regaling readers with tales of sold out "Nashville is the new LA" T-shirts and anecdotes about our fabulous quality of life. (Using the same data, a writer in Pittsburgh was able to declare that city the New Washington, D.C.)

Unfortunately, the Nashville writer didn't see fit to link to my post. Doesn't that violate some unwritten blogger code of ethics? I kid.

In such a location-independent medium (see yesterday's post about living in Pittsburgh while working in NYC) I find such geographic assumptions curious. My blogger reality undermines the expected order of things. I think our perception of place has yet to catch up with the diaspora opportunities. Also, we've yet to acclimate to the emerging landscape of social media innovations. Our cultural technologies lag behind the latest software.

I guess you might say that I live in a sunnier Pittsburgh, both literally and metaphorically.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Pittsburgh Outposts: NYC

My Steelers obsession this week turned up another boomerang tale thanks to the Pittsburgh themed Freakonomics blog post. New York Times journalist Holly Brubach recently returned home:

“The whole time I was growing up here I never really appreciated Pittsburgh,” she says. “I thought it was an ugly city. My idea of beauty was Paris. Pittsburgh was industrial. It seemed provincial to me. Partly I’ve changed, and partly the world has changed. Industrial is now an aesthetic. People decorate in the industrial style.

“And the Internet has decentralized culture. When I was growing up and you wanted to be in magazine publishing or dance or art, the only place to be was New York. Now, there is no ‘only’ place to be. You can do that work from anywhere.” ...

... Brubach is proving the theory that people can live in relatively inexpensive Pittsburgh and work anywhere. She’s consulting and working on several books, even as she contributes columns on books for the New York Times Magazine T supplements. She’s also consulting for her old friends at YOOX, the once fledgling site that has become a hot seller of end-of-season designer merchandise. And she’s on the prowl for Pittsburgh buildings that she and other investors can acquire and transform.

Brubach's move to Pittsburgh is exciting and offers a template for other natives pining for a familiar landscape, not to mention an inexpensive cost of living. In fact, I think her story is much more important than the Burgh boosterism piece making the rounds. Imagine what you can do in Pittsburgh with New York City wages.

Brubach is my prototype for how Pittsburgh can garner a return on its investment in talent that leaves the region. She is also part of the vanguard that I see transforming the region into a global economic power. Pittsburgh repatriates could be an army of experts in virtual collaboration and long distance transactions, something that dovetails nicely with one of Pittsburgh's innovation niches. Regardless, the alpha world city networks that these boomerang migrants build are a boon to Pittsburgh's fortunes.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Les Habitants Nation

Okay, so perhaps Steelers Nation isn't all that:

And then there’s Justin Margolis, who sports a brown T-shirt with the CH crest. Raised in a small town north of Cleveland, the 20-year-old McGill student rooted for the Ohio State Buckeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers until he fell in love with Quebec during a family trip to Mont Tremblant six years ago. Like so many converts, his devotion – to Quebec’s French language, culture and the gods of hockey – is unflinching and absolute. ...

... Margolis said it wasn’t until he saw the team in Florida during the Christmas break that he saw Canadiens’ fervour as a religious experience.

“It was Habs nation on vacation. There were at least 12,000 Montrealers. ... It was almost like a crusade, he said. “They had to infuse sound when Florida scored because they couldn’t make enough noise themselves.

“Every Montrealer I knew who was in Florida was there. You got your plane ticket, you got your Habs ticket. ... It felt like we were taking over a stadium.

“I just saw the look on the Florida fans faces.They were scared – it was like, ‘Oh, my god, these guys are crazy.’ ”

Small town north of Cleveland? I guess French Canadians don't get the same geography lessons common in the rest of the country. Wait a second ... there is a Cleveland, Quebec and Margolis was a Buckeye's fan? This story is great on so many levels. Also, I'm a member of Habs Nation. Sorry, Penguins.

Pittsburgh Steel-less

The New York Times offers another feting of postindustrial Pittsburgh. This article is one of the "most e-mailed" at the Times website and my inbox was full of messages from people passing along the feel-good story. First, the ray of economic sunshine:

Deindustrialization in Pittsburgh was a protracted and painful experience. Yet it set the stage for an economy that is the envy of many recession-plagued communities, particularly those where the automobile industry is struggling for its life.

“If people are looking for hope, it’s here,” said Sabina Deitrick, an urban studies expert at the University of Pittsburgh. “You can have a decent economy over a long period of restructuring.”

Talk of Pittsburgh being the diamond in the Rust Belt rough motivates me to throw caution to the wind and move my family there as soon as possible. Moving at a time when most people cannot relocate is a competitive edge. Pittsburgh strikes me as worth the gamble, ignoring the better bets in DC or just about anywhere in Texas. But the Pittsburgh labor market still stinks if you don't live there:

There were moments when the rebirth of steel seemed plausible, if not imminent. Ryan Campbell grew up in the shadow of the great Homestead Works, now the site of a vibrant shopping mall. When he graduated from college in 2001, steel drew him in.

Mr. Campbell took a job at a small specialty mill as a foreman. He loved it — the huge cranes delicately pouring pots of molten fire, the camaraderie on the production line, the proud heritage of making something tangible — but soon realized he could never make a career there.

Overburdened with retiree pension and health care costs, competing against both imports and modern minimills, the steel industry was convulsing again. An initial round of layoffs at Mr. Campbell’s mill was followed by a second, then a third. “I need to go paddle on a different boat,” Mr. Campbell told himself.

He posted a résumé online and was sought out by recruiters for Medrad Inc., a health care company founded by an emergency room doctor in 1964 in Pittsburgh. Now a unit of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, Medrad last year opened its fourth facility in the area, this one for making disposable syringes. Mr. Campbell, 31, is a production manager.

What brain drain? What talent shortage? For someone who wants to move to Pittsburgh, the local labor mobility (not to mention the tight trust networks) might as well be the Berlin Wall. My favorite port in the economic storm isn't exactly posting "help wanted" at locations outside of Pittsburgh. "Imagine My New Job" doesn't count when the thrust of your marketing campaign is in an area with relatively strong job growth.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sports Fan Fraternity

My participation in an online community of Steelers fans inspired me to blog about the Burgh Diaspora. The virtual trust cultivated helped people make valuable job contacts. I wrote two posts (here and here) about Hollywood film producer Thomas Tull and how his shared passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers facilitated business transactions. Tull now has an ownership stake in his favorite team, connecting via the Steelers: Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and Tull's hometown of Binghamton, NY (part of the Pierogi Diaspora).

Turning my attention to Cleveland and the struggling Browns, I've taken interest in a message board cry for help to boomerang back home:

So I am trying to figure out if any of you have a good source I can use to facilitate moving back to Cleveland. I am living in Colorado now and just want to get back to my roots. I work as a National Sales Director for a manufacturing company, and would be qualified for most sales positions. I'm also looking at just getting into an apartment downtown iin a nice part of the city. When I left I was 14, and now I am 31. So the landscape and my understanding of the landscape has most certainly changed.

I am looking for resources for:

Employment and Living Accomodations.

Any good ideas?

I am working on finding things on currently, but I am wondering if there is a better local resource?


I've read similar (albeit more articulate) pleas from members of the IntoPittsburgh LinkedIn group. I don't expect a large number of people to actually manage the move home, but there is considerable interest to boomerang. And there are plenty of fans willing to smooth the way for the return.

This ad hoc migration could be better engineered. I intend to use my blog to do this for Pittsburgh expatriates and talent hungry Pittsburgh-based businesses. I will share my own experience along with the best relocation practices. Steelers Nation is a piece of this puzzle, one that I think is under-exploited.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nashville is the New L.A.

If "Nashville is the new L.A." then Pittsburgh is, without a doubt, the new D.C. A survey of recent IRS tax filing data identifies Los Angeles County as the number two source of in-migrants for Davidson County (Nashville). Speculation abounds as to what is driving this talent flow:

The population shift makes sense from an economic standpoint, but analysts can't pinpoint any one reason for it, said Sekou Franklin, urban studies professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

The trend of Californians resettling in the South has happened before, Franklin said. Blacks started returning in the 1990s — some coming back for retirement, others to reconnect with family who never left.

This time, housing seems like more of a motivator, Franklin said. Despite Southern California seeing its lowest median housing cost in the past several years — $285,000 — it's still cheaper to buy in Davidson County, Franklin said.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, however, sees the new arrivals as a sign of the city's prosperity and evolution. He said the patterns should continue and perhaps accelerate in the coming years.

"Those migration patterns, particularly the influx from L.A., are not at all surprising," he said. "It's an affirmation of Nashville's position as a hub of creativity and economic opportunity. Because of the music industry here, we're somewhat known as the Third Coast."

I suppose that Pittsburgh should be able to cash in on California's real estate refugees, but the same IRS evidence suggest Washington, DC as a much more important source of talent for the region. This bit of migration trivia might explain why the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance is focusing its efforts in the Greater Baltimore-DC cooridor.

However, how many of the people moving to Pittsburgh from DC are boomerang migrants? I'm not sure that matters since Beltway brains are a logical target for Burgh headhunters regardless of native ties. That said, if Alliance isn't mining the Burgh Diaspora, then they would be better off raiding other Rust Belt cities to fill vacant positions.