Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Recession Migration: Iowa

Iowa and the Greater Pittsburgh region seem to have a lot in common. Putting aside the obvious apples-to-oranges comparison, the linkages between economic recession and migration produce a similar pattern. Iowa is wondering how the current downturn will impact its workforce:

"Once the economy starts to recover, people will move to where they think they can get work," said David Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University.

Economists and population experts are split, however, over whether workers will flee Iowa like they did in the 1980s, when about 1.1 million Midwest residents left the region. Southern states gained 524,000 Midwesterners, and Western states added 320,000, according to the Pew Research Center. ...

... Iowa's slow, steady economic growth has meant the state has avoided the tumble that other states' overheated economies have taken, said Mekael Teshome, an associate economist at Moody's

But will sensible job growth also mean the state's unemployed workers will be without jobs longer, and push workers to leave for better employment opportunities?

Two economists offer different scenarios.

There are two important takeaways from this well-researched article. First, we won't know the impact on migration until some states start an economic recovery. Second, the relocation patterns are still unclear. There are reasons for Iowa to be both optimistic and pessimistic. But even the best case scenario won't be enough:

Mary Bontrager, the Greater Des Moines Partnership's vice president of work force development, said the business group is worried about losing experienced workers. The recession hasn't eliminated a projected 60,000-worker shortfall in central Iowa, she said. It has just delayed its arrival.

"Retaining our workers who have been displaced is our top priority," Bontrager said. "But down the road, when things turn around, we will still face a worker shortage."

The reason: Nearly 102,000 baby boomers are due to retire within the next 10 years, population projections show. That trend also will exacerbate business complaints about a skills gap, prompting the need for workers such as engineers, nurses and welders.

For a state so obsessed with brain drain, the looming talent shortage might be good news. There should be plenty of jobs available for those who would want to stay. But how might Iowa enticed the legions of unemployed in Charlotte to move to corn country?

The early recovery states are slated for a turnaround during the 4th quarter of this year. This is when new impressions of opportunity will be forged. Perhaps in the minds of job seekers will be Pittsburgh:

It took a long time, but Pittsburgh finally began to take this advice and in recent years has seen a growth of new ventures and new industries. It has withstood the current economic downturn better than most similar metro regions and has even started gaining a reputation as a green city -- a truly remarkable turnaround for a city where smoke used to blot out the sun.

This is why the Obama administration, at a time when the world economy needs a thorough re-thinking, decided to host the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. And this is why Pittsburghers, as we look to the future, should continue to heed sage advice from the past and remember our own hard-learned lessons.

IF the sunnier economic forecasts hold (and that's a huge "if"), then the G-20 meeting couldn't come at a better time for Pittsburgh. The subject will be the state of the global economy and the road to recovery. Pittsburgh is meant to be the poster child for the latter. And that's the first message that the vanguard of the coming wave of relocation will receive.

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