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.


Brett said...

For better or for worse, this reminds me of Walmart's strategy.

Jim Russell said...


I vaguely remember the Walmart strategy from an economic geography class. But I'm not confident enough in my recollection to be sure if I understand what you mean. Please explain.