Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rust Belt Corps

My first reaction to the news about Point Park University students spending Alternative Spring Break in Mississippi was, "Why not volunteer in Braddock?" If there is a desire to at least get out of town, then look for community projects in other Rust Belt communities. As if Janko was reading my mind, he sent to me the following story about talent returning home to help deal with the disruptive forces of globalization:

"I was like, you have to come back. There's so much energy here right now," [Mark] Rembert says.

Rembert is 24, with dark hair and a beard. He almost bounces with enthusiasm. He also was accepted to the Peace Corps and was set to go to Ecuador. But then, DHL Express, Wilmington's largest employer, announced it was going to shut down its domestic air-freight operations, leaving thousands without jobs.

"As soon as the announcement came out I knew, wow, this is going to be some sort of case study in how a small community deals with, you know, an incredible economic shock," Rembert recalls. "So I came back, and I immediately started a [blog]."

Local boy goes away to college at Haverford and returns with a new-found sense of possibility. This is just one example of the benefits of exporting human capital. This is also a case of Rust Belt talent churn, moving between two post-industrial states.

Trying to tether graduates to a particular region is absurd and counterproductive (great debate about this currently going on in Davenport, Iowa). Brain exchange between Rust Belt communities should be considered beneficial, a win for the mega-region. But such cooperation is too slow in developing and the cultural mindset is much too parochial.

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