Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pittsburgh Economy: Best In 34 Years

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review screams, "Joblessness nears 17-year high in region". I can smell the schadenfreude at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy all the way from Colorado. But the absolute numbers don't tell the real story:

June 1975 is the last month that Pittsburgh's unemployment rate was 1.9 percentage points below the US. For consistent data I have since 1969, the most Pittsburgh has been below the US is 2.1 percentage points in April of 1975. More than that and it's kind of uncharted territory.

The Trib's version details the global drag on the local economy. The narrative at Null Space points out remarkable local resilience in the face of a global crisis. In a few months, we may be talking about how things never have been better in Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Geographic Mobility And Labor Rights

I've taken a step back from posts about Rust Belt immigration. GlobalPittsburgh does a great job of promoting a more cosmopolitan Southwestern Pennsylvania. Via his own blog, Richard Herman has ramped up his crusade to attract foreign-born talent to Northeast Ohio. Check out Richard's latest about Pittsburgh economic game-changer Audrey Russo. I'm delighted to yield the floor to bloggers much more dedicated to this issue than I am.

My own blog started out exploring brain drain from Pittsburgh and ended up being about the geographic mobility of labor. Thus, my interest in immigration. Let me explain.

Since graduate school, I've been fascintated with the intersection between human rights law, citizenship and migration. I operate under the assumption that the greater the geographic mobility of workers, the less need there is for worker protections such as unions. I also believe that draining pools of captive labor is good for regional economic development. In the United States, workers (both legal and illegal) native to other countries are among the most exploited:

The H-1B visa program inspires heated debate, especially online. The program is controversial for a number of reasons. Some critics say the program allows U.S. companies to import cheaper labor, dampening wages and displacing U.S. workers. Others say it facilitates outsourcing, as it allows Indian-born tech workers to train in the U.S. and then return home and perform the work there. Still others point to mounting evidence of fraud in the program and a lack of government oversight.

[Norm Matloff of the University of California, Davis] stresses that the problem is not fraud or crime but the H-1B visa law itself. He says that the law as currently written allows H-1B visa holders to receive below-market wages. The policy also allows for age discrimination as older U.S. tech workers are displaced by a younger workforce from abroad. "Though the industry lobbyists portray it as a remedy for labor shortages and as a means of hiring 'the best and the brightest' from around the world, the visa is used to access workers that cost less and are de facto indentured servants," Matloff writes on his blog.

Matloff is a controversial figure. If his goal is to decrease the numbers emigrating to the US, then he's wrong. But I agree with his critique of the H-1B visa program. Captive labor pools hurt American workers. Give talent a Green Card, not a temporary work permit.

Providing all workers with the same rights puts them on a level playing field, shrinking the wage arbitrage opportunities for management. Voters in Western Pennsylvania fail to understand the importance of geographic mobility:

Lawmakers will gather at the White House next week for a working session on immigration reform, a meeting that has been highly anticipated by Latino leaders eager for President Obama to honor his campaign promise to put millions of undocumented workers on a "pathway to citizenship." But many Democrats are now concluding that they may well not have the muscle to pass such a controversial measure -- at least not immediately, and possibly not until after the 2010 midterm election. ...

... The biggest obstacle to speedy passage of a citizenship plan, according to interviews with lawmakers and Capitol Hill strategists, is the House. Democrats hold a wide majority there, but at least 40 members represent moderate or conservative swing districts with few Latino voters where legalization plans are unpopular and often derided as "amnesty" for lawbreakers.

"This a very, very difficult issue," said Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat elected in 2006 from rural western Pennsylvania. "The Democratic Party is doing everything they can to capture this very fast-growing community, and I understand that. But I'm not in that camp. I made it clear that I was going to take a very hard line on this, and my district takes a hard line."

The ideological stance is self-defeating. The more above-the-table work, the better the wages. Underground labor is competing with legal citizens. The threat of deportation is enough to accept drastically reduced pay. If there is no financial advantage to hiring an undocumented worker, then there won't be jobs enticing people to cross the international border illegally.

Americans first puts workers last.

Managing Brain Drain

The only way colleges and universities can retain students is to keep them from graduating. Cities and regions aren't all that different from institutions of higher education. Case in point is California University of Pennsylvania:

For years, says campus President Angelo Armenti Jr., recruiters at his school -- California University of Pennsylvania -- toiled in counties where the death rate was higher than the birth rate.

"We had to find students elsewhere or be condemned to shrinking," he said.

And it found plenty.

A school once so worried about enrollment losses that it pondered a name change in 2001 invested $125 million to replace its aging dormitories with suite-style apartments. It beefed up its marketing and targeted its recruiting to the eastern part of the state, including Philadelphia, as well as towns all along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

It pushed into online learning so aggressively that by last year, it counted more students from the state of California than from the neighboring states of Maryland, New York or West Virginia.

If you don't want to shrink, then you must attract outsiders. Take all the ideas about plugging the brain drain and only talk about how to get talent to move to your area. Drop the term "retention". Don't mention it again.

I took heart in a story from Dayton:

Ben Norton and Amanda Baker, both 22 and May 2009 graduates of the University of Dayton who came from bigger cities, are launching careers as artists here.

The reason why is Summer Space, a pilot incentive that provides studio space, supplies, a gallery opening in the fall and serious encouragement to create.

“If I was back home in Nashville, I would be living with my parents, painting in the basement and competing just to get my foot in the door of the art scene,” said Norton, a painter whose work is being sponsored by Summer Space board member Sue Thompson.

“I’m already part of that here. I never expected to have an opportunity like this.”

“I think we can start something,” said Baker, a photographer from Columbus. “I would love to be part of putting Dayton back on the charts.”

That's the Rust Belt way forward. Outsiders will rebuild these cities and all the resources and energy should be channeled in that direction. Granted, I understand that these Dayton graduates stayed in the region. But we should be looking at how the university attracted this talent to the city in the first place. Dayton can mimic its own university's success. Also, market the opportunities that enticed Ben Norton and Amanda Baker to stick around to out-of-state graduates. Send Ben back to Nashville to poach Vanderbilt students and help them relocate to Dayton.

Rust Belt Chic: Zombie Diaspora

I'm in a pithy post groove. Cultural artifacts from Buffalo:

Lamberson said he feels the location will add so much to the scope of the story and really make it look like a big-budget film. Even the city itself, which over the past decade has begun to look like the capital of some post-apocalyptic world, was made for his purposes.

In addition, having lived in Buffalo for the past six years, Lamberson said he's gotten to know various artists and filmmakers in the area. He's been cateloging them and deciding who does what best, he explained,which has allowed him to put together an extremely talented, and local, group of people to work on the film, including both actors and production crew.

There will be five different people from Buffalo working on special effects alone, as well as a local cinematographer working on the film.

"I feel like I'm taking everything the area has to offer my areas of interest and putting them to work," Lamberson said, adding, "... The rust belt is ideally suited to this, and, in fact, somewhat inspired it."

The film will utilize a combination of old-style latex special make-up effects - such as those used in the original "Slime City" movie - and cutting edge digital work. Special make-up effects will be handled by Craig Lindberg in New York City and Zombified Studios in Buffalo, with R.J. Sevin - one of the founders of Creeping Hemlock Press - creating the digital effects to enhance the post-apocalyptic world scenery.

Pittsburgh is a hot spot for horror film aficionados. Seeing Buffalo in this light makes me wonder about other Rust Belt cities. Is "old-school horror" Rust Belt Chic?

World View Of Richard Florida

This is a self-serving weblog post. I want to be sure to archive the following from Richard Florida:

MW: I’m trying to think of where to begin. For a layman, I like to think I’m somewhat informed on urban dynamics. I’ve read my Mike Davis, I understand his “magical realism” hypothesis, there’s Walter Benjamin’s idea of cities as a “place for carnival,” with diversity, and “meetings with the other” being so vital; I understand Neil Smith’s Marxist criticism of the market city. What I don’t understand, I think, is the Creative Class idea of city building.

RF: Well, first, those people are my heroes. Neil Smith was on my dissertation committee I have a strong grounding in neo-Marxism. I was shaped by all those debates.

When I did my Ph.D., my thesis was on the political economy of financial deregulation and housing. And it was very influenced then by the neo-Marxist debates - David Harvey, Neil Smith.

And I left MIT because they wouldn’t let me do the neo-Marxist work I wanted to do; that’s why I ended up at Columbia.

A lot of my theory comes with my attempt to grapple with these much bigger issues about class, society, and economy.

If you are curious about why I'm making note of the above, please comment. For now, I'll say that I think understanding the genealogy of ideas (hat tip Michel Foucault) is important.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Great Recession Geography

The view from Southern California:

In the nation's manufacturing belt, which rings the Great Lakes from upstate New York to eastern Minnesota, many metro areas have suffered job declines over multiple decades. This recession has accelerated those losses dramatically in areas that depend most on the auto industry. Detroit, for instance, has lost a stunning 12% in just the last five years. In Ohio, Toledo and Youngstown have been similarly battered.

But at the other end of the region, Rochester, N.Y., is faring relatively well. It still has a lot of manufacturing jobs, but they're in areas in which demand has remained fairly strong, such as imaging technologies and healthcare devices. And the area benefits from the presence of major universities -- nationally, the education industry has added jobs over the course of the recession.

A similar story plays out across the metropolitan map based on underlying economic specialization, both positive (Pittsburgh in healthcare; Washington in government) and negative (Orlando in tourism; Charlotte in banking).

The rehash of the Brookings report neatly divides up the nation into economic regions regarding the current downturn. The further east you go in the Rust Belt, the better it is. Might the influence of the East Coast megalopolis be spreading westward? I'm increasingly convinced that it is.

Name That City

I replaced the real name with "Shrinking City":

You always know whether you're driving into a city with pizazz, or one whose energy is dragging. In Shrinking City, we sensed the lively spirit of this place even before we reached our hotel.

All sorts of people were walking downtown, though it was a weeknight -- hipsters and students in jeans, executives in business suits, decked-out women carrying clutch purses. Some hurried, perhaps to catch a show; others strolled at a leisurely pace along the riverfront, talking and holding hands.

Neon flashed, restaurants were open. This was no darkened rust-belt town. In an era when so many cities in this region bemoan their boarded-up Main Streets, Shrinking City is hotter than [horseradish].

The above is in today's Miami Herald travel section.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Larryville Is So Last Year

Of all the hip neighborhoods in the United States, a pair of jilted brides from Australia chose Lawrenceville. In Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh? Those of you in the know have read about the diamond in the rust. Larryville has peaked and cool is beginning to spread to other parts of the Steel City:

Squirrel Hill is where they ended up renting. "We are happy with Squirrel Hill for all the amenities like shopping and buses to work," she said. "We are walking or bus people."

Of course, there was a moment when they first got here and she wanted to go to a gallery opening. Karen looked into the bus routes, but really didn't see any way that she would feel safe coming home late.

"I didn't go. At that moment, I thought, 'Oh, wow, you're really not in New York City anymore.' I wondered if I could feel urban and self-sufficient here," she confessed.

Since then she's become creative about crosstown adventures. "I am now pretty bold about asking people for rides back to the East End -- and people are pretty nice about it!"

Currently, the couple are in the process of buying a house near Polish Hill; they like what is happening there and in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. "We're looking forward to moving to that side of town for a better social life."

A cosmopolitan couple is moving from Squirrel Hill to Polish Hill, for a better social life. How long has Polish Hill been a part of the Pittsburgh scene? That's a rhetorical question.

Wayward like Generation Y is now, I was Generation X Nomad. A Slacker. By the time I learned about the energy in Austin, the vanguard of the creative class was already looking for another city to explore. The seekers that built up Austin as a destination, as it is today, had moved on. I would also discover the wonders of Minneapolis and Seattle in the early 1990s, but I was still a step behind the latest trend. Once word gets out, it's too late.

The Young And The Restless

I'm glad I'm not the only one fed up with the caterwauling about brain drain. Policies designed to keep graduates from leaving town or the state are useless. A voice from the Toledo Blade offers a more constructive critique:

Recently we published a report about a survey from a Washington-based research group, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, that found that young people are sprinting for the state’s borders. The report said 88 percent of native Ohioans at seven of the state’s top colleges are proud of their home state. But as soon as half of them get that sheepskin validating their status as college grads, they book. They are outta here. Toodles. See ya!

Well, duh!

For young people, leaving home is what they do. True, there are exceptions. But the fact is that the young, adventurous, and brave ones empowered by their parents — who help support them until they can stand on their own — take flight.

Sometimes they return after college. Sometimes they don’t. That’s life.

And though I wasn’t too surprised that 79 percent of the undergraduates from other states say they want to leave, too, shouldn’t they be the people that city officials put their attention on?

If Buckeye State natives find other cities attractive and interesting, shouldn’t Toledo authorities market T-town to woo restless college grads from other places?

College graduates are "restless" in every state, not just Ohio. But the urban leadership is ignorant of this dynamic and continues to recycle one impotent initiative after another. Brain dead boondoggles.

What will make you stay? I appreciate the effort, but the Rust Belt needs an attraction campaign. The region must lure more foreign-born talent and spur job creation, innovation. Restless college graduates from outside the Rust Belt must be enticed to seek opportunity in America's Urban Frontier.

Every future Rust Belt conference should be held in cities with large populations of Rust Belt refugees. The time has come to start pitching the attributes of the mega-region in the places where it would do the most good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blog Idea For Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Inspired by Economix Blog at the New York Times:

A new blog, News from 1930, presents a daily summary of The Wall Street Journal’s articles from the corresponding day in 1930.

I would love to read a blog recounting the Pittsburgh news during 1982. Or, would 1983 be more appropriate?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leviathan Swallows Freemasons

The kids are finally in bed and my wife is still in basement working. A rare moment of "me" time, I replay an episode of 60 Minutes still sitting on the DVR. I was mildly interested in the story about the trader who tried to blow the whistle, more than a few times, on Bernie Madoff. Basic statistics indicated that Madoff was cheating, but the mention of "affinity crime" got my attention. "Affinity fraud" might be a better term for what Madoff did:

The Madoff tale is striking in part because it is like stealing from family. Yet frauds that prey on people who share bonds of religion or ethnicity, who travel in the same circles, are quite common. Two years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a warning about "affinity fraud." The SEC ticked off a series of examples of schemes that were directed at members of a community: Armenian-Americans, Baptist Church members, Jehovah's Witnesses, African-American church groups, Korean-Americans. In each case, the perpetrator relied on the fact that being from the same community provided a reason to trust the sales pitch, to believe it was plausible that someone from the same background would give you a deal, that if offered by someone without such ties would sound too good to be true.

Unearth an affinity network and you will likely discover fraudulent activity. The irony is that the very mathematical models vilified for the current economic crisis can and do protect us from such criminal behavior. Technologies exist that expand the scope of trust beyond affinity and face-to-face interaction, but we lack the literacy necessary to employ them in an effective manner.

Comparing and contrasting new forms of social networks with more traditional ones will help me explain:

Old-style networks, however, are usually stronger than online ones, and the trust between their members facilitates transactions of all sorts. They can be particularly helpful for young companies in emerging markets. A study of entrepreneurship in China by Yusheng Peng of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, for instance, showed how kinship networks helped firms protect their property, obtain reliable information and identify opportunities. Social networks can also be speedier than formal systems: in July 2002, for example, when Vivendi, a French conglomerate, was weighed down with debt and needed to raise €3 billion (then $3 billion) in three days, its chief executive at the time, Jean-René Fourtou, turned to a group of bosses who were fellow rugby fans, including Claude Bébéar, then the chairman of the AXA Group, an insurance firm, and the money was secured.

Some old-style networks aim to bring an ethical dimension to business. Not all students at IESE, a leading business school with campuses in Barcelona and Madrid, are aware that it is “an initiative” of Opus Dei. But many of them, particularly those of Spanish origin, are invited to join the order, says one graduate who was approached during his time there. IESE has a network of 15 business schools in developing countries, some of which explicitly state a goal of bringing a Christian perspective to business. Combining family with work, for instance, is the special subject of Nuria Chinchilla, a professor at IESE.

But networks can also have baleful effects. They sometimes abet crimes (see article). At French firms there is often pressure to hire or promote people based on their connections, businesspeople say. A study by Francis Kramarz and David Thesmar published in 2006 by the Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn looked at three French business networks: former civil servants who graduated from the École Nationale d’Administration, former civil servants who graduated from the École Polytechnique and École Polytechnique graduates who went straight into business. These two elite schools, which produce 500 or so French graduates a year, dominate the boards of France’s biggest companies. The study showed that firms run by former civil servants who maintained their links to government markedly underperformed those run by executives with purely private-sector backgrounds.

Skepticism about the advance of the Flat World is premature. We are just beginning to understand the power of online networks and how to best leverage them. Affinity networks operating in a transparent environment such as LinkedIn can offer the best of both worlds. It's the face-to-face meetings you really have to worry about.

Geography of Economic Cooperation

What are the limits to economic cooperation? Nation-states are experiments that successfully expanded the reach of trust. The European Union is trying to take a functional common identity to another level. Back in the United States, (blog reference Brewed Fresh Daily) stakeholders within urban regions are struggling to agree on anything:

A local community’s attracting a new business is good news for Summit County — but not if the business was enticed to move from another area community.

Preventing such economic “poaching” is the purpose of Summit County’s intergovernmental “Memorandum of Understanding for Job Creation and Retention and Tax Revenue Sharing,” which Cuyahoga Falls City Council passed unanimously at the June 22 meeting.

The city joined Akron, Barberton, Fairlawn, Lakemore, Macedonia, Mogadore, Twinsburg, Richfield Village and Silver Lake, which have already signed the agreement.

A step in the right direction, but poaching business from your neighbor is the Rust Belt's problem in a nutshell. I've already posted about how backward economic development is in Cleveland. I could pick up that critique and plop it on a number of shrinking cities. While corporate headquarters move from Dayton to Atlanta, Great Lakes municipalities fight each other for an ever smaller economic pie.

A bigger problem is the competition between American states in a global marketplace. (Blog reference GlobalHigherEd) The geography of stem cell search is a good example of this dysfunction:

Governments have mixed motives for funding stem cell research; the main two are to develop a high-technology economic base and to promote medical progress.

The initiatives that set up the schemes in California and New York were led by high-profile patient advocates. “Our funding in New York focuses on finding cures through science rather than economic development,” says Ms Solomon. “I think the economic development will follow excellent science.”

Even critics of lavish state funding believe it could pay off in the long run by creating a regenerative medicine industry. “A bidding war [for talent] between the states is not a good model for supporting American science because it encourages the balkanisation of research,” says James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who first extracted stem cells from human embryos in 1998. “But, having said that, I think California will benefit enormously from the investment.”

Whether you look at immigration policy or the hysteria about brain drain, the result is balkanization that ultimately undermines economic development. Which brings me back to the limits of cooperation. Could Rust Belt communities broader than the handful in Northeast Ohio come to an agreement about poaching business?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Today's Piece of Burgh Boosterism

Not to provoke another insipid critique from the Allegheny Institute ... Pittsburgh topped another positive list:

We're awaiting our very copy of John F. Wasik's new book Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream, due to arrive shortly, in which he documents how the housing boom went bust and how walkable cities died a slow death, surprise surprise. And while Dallas and the surrounding suburbs don't get much mention in the tome, the city does show up on a surprising list called, ahem, "Surprise Cities," which are identified as metropolises that are "primed for some growth and offer multiple amenties." Also on the list: Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Kansas City-St. Louis, Birmingham and Des Moines, so we've got that going for us, which is nice.

There you have it. Surprise City Pittsburgh.

Native Angst

Becoming more tolerant is one way a region or state could cash in on the talent dividend. I'm unclear as to whether or not Richard Florida thinks of increasing tolerance as a strategy to attract the creative class. However, I do know that some people interpret his work in that manner:

What is happening in Iowa now could jumpstart the future because a diversity of people and lifestyles often creates the types of jobs that will fuel a 21st-century economy. Best-selling author and professor Richard Florida famously argues that tolerance for homosexuals and other minorities is part of what stimulates big new ideas, cutting-edge industry and regional growth. It is not gayness per se that spurs this change, but the openness to fresh, new ideas that diversity represents. When Massachusetts made gay marriage legal, couples flooded into the state to take advantage of the law. Cape Cod became the Niagara Falls for gay newlyweds, many of whom stayed to live and work in the state.

With gay marriage on the books, Iowa could be rewarded with an influx of creative-class consumers and entrepreneurs eager to exploit the state's many resources. What better way to bring the young and the restless to the prairie than to become a destination for a new generation of homesteaders hungry to re-imagine the New Heartland?

(Blog reference Brian Kelsey at Civic Analytics) Looking at a recent list of cool cities, I don't see centers of tolerance. (I don't think such places exist) I submit Charleston, SC:

Re: “Yankee yokels bug local yokels

Excuse me, but, I am proud to be a Yankee that has relocated here. Last time I checked, it's a free country buddy. Stop worrying about what everyone is doing and get a life of your own. Then maybe you won't be affected by the migration of people coming down to Charleston. You should feel lucky to live in a city that attracts so many people!

Do you really think that Charleston is the only city that has an increasing population of northerners? Don't you want to live in a city that grows and brings in new people and new ideas? Half of the businesses in town are run by people not from here which gives this small town a little hope for diversity. But then again, you people down here just love your "ways" and narrow minded thinking, huh?

Charleston (a city I know well) has many charms, but welcoming outsiders with open arms isn't one of them. Natives don't much care for newcomers. That's true just about anywhere in the United States. People move to places despite the narrow views of locals. Did California Proposition 187 stem the tide of immigration? Did Colorado Amendment 2 stifle growth in the Front Range? No, of course not.

And easing local xenophobia, even if you could, won't generate a talent dividend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pittsburgh Connectivity

My blog fodder queue is overflowing, but I gather that the high-speed rail issue merits some further discussion. How might we prioritize the various project proposals? I'll start with Pittsburgh's problem:

So while the Keystone state enjoys a higher-than-average passenger rail availability as compared with other states, the western Pennsylvania counties are noticeably underrepresented in the equation.

“It’s interesting how over the years, Pittsburgh has become something of an island,” said Congressman Tim Murphy, PA-18, citing decreasing air and ground transportation options.

In fact, as Ken Joseph, a councilman for the National Association of Railroad Passengers pointed out, Pittsburgh is one of the few regions that has lost passenger rail service. Previously, there were two round trip links to Harrisburg and direct service to Chicago.

Pittsburgh is increasingly isolated. The historical geography of the region lends itself to a particularly fierce form parochialism and is partly to blame for anemic in-migration. Pittsburgh desperately needs to improve its inter-urban connectivity, especially with cities outside of the United States. Domestically, which high-speed rail route would best benefit Pittsburgh?

Paz chips in his two cents:

No one is going to admit it, but Cleveburgh is probably a more important line than the Keystone corridor (and this is coming from someone who goes East far more often then he goes West). A Cleveland-Pittsburgh line is more in keeping with the major city-paring lines like the Hiawatha in Milwaukee or the Lincoln service in Illinois. Keystone makes more sense politically, but I think Cleveburgh makes more sense from an economic and cultural standpoint.

Improved service between Cleveland and Pittsburgh is a great idea. I'm a big fan of Cleveburgh connectivity. However, I think I have a different idea of how best to do it. I'd link the airports of the corridor, not the downtown areas. Shrinking service to and from Rust Belt cities is a strong trend, unlikely to abate in the near future, making the support of international flights difficult. But the much larger Cleveburgh market can fill a plane to Paris and attract more business to the region. Regardless, Cleveburgh isn't ideal for high-speed rail given the short distance between cities and the likely number of stops.

I'd promote non-stop high-speed rail service to Washington, DC. That option isn't on the table, so I'd settle for a line to Philadelphia without a layover in Harrisburg. I doubt I'll get that, either. Pittsburgh appears to me to be ambivalent about this opportunity. Once again, historical geography is destiny. It's steel good enough in Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tech Belt and HSR

Interesting discussion going on over at the City-Data Forum about what the railroad stimulus means for Pittsburgh. I've already posted some thoughts concerning the obvious gap in the national rail system. Looks as if US Congressman Ryan Altimire will continue to champion Cleveburgh:

At a hearing in Pittsburgh today, Mr. Altmire, D-McCandless, described Pittsburgh to Cleveland as a "missing link" that, if filled, would establish Pittsburgh as the hub of a network stretching across the upper Midwest. He said he has submitted the proposal for inclusion in the multiyear surface transportation bill that Congress is expected to consider this year.

I'd like to see a rail link between the Pittsburgh, Akron-Canton, and Cleveland airports. That would attract more businesses to the Tech Belt. Furthermore, such a plan ties in better with other visions for regional mass transit.

Geographic Arbitrage: Telecommuting

I'm in love with the term "geographic arbitrage". If you are still wondering what it means, then consider the following Cleveland context:

As a newcomer to the region I’ve noticed that a lot of people who grew up here still have open emotional wounds about the region’s decline from its prime. Which is completely understandable. But regions and nations are subject to long (40-50 year) economic cycles, and a big part of my decision to come here was to be in the right place geographically as we move into a new information-based economic cycle.

So why not move to Silicon Valley if I think the next big wave is information-based? As another part of the Forbes article observes, “How 20th century.”

“This is the 21st century, man! Today you can enjoy the best of both worlds:

1. Live where you want.
2. Get paid like you’re in a big city
3. Never be isolated or bored.

“Say you’re a bright knowledge worker and have spent a decade or more in your industry, sharpening your skills, making the right contacts. You earn a decent salary on the metro coast, but those dollars just don’t stretch like they used to. So you decide to shake off the costly coastal infrastructure and relocate to a cheaper rural region. But you maintain your ties to the larger metro area and pull down the same amount of money as you did when you were living in Profligate Corners. In other words, you still harvest your dollars from Silicon Valley, Washington and New York, but now you spend and invest them in Bend or Boise [editorial edition on my part: or Cleveland!].

How can one live in Cleveland, but get paid like a New Yorker? Telecommuting. What's good for the worker is also good for the business:

"Employees are requesting the freedom and flexibility to work remotely, but in many cases it's driven by employers," says Elsbeth Mehrer, manager of workforce development for Calgary Economic Development (CED). ...

... "Our own research suggests employees ... can reduce their actual expenses by about $5,000 a year when they shift to a telecommuting model," says Craig Wilson, a best practices consultant with Avaya Inc., an Internet-based telephone services and technology firm.

But it's not just employees that stand to save money and time by spending less money on gas, lunches, coffee breaks and other work expenses.

Employers are realizing the bottom-line benefits, too.

"One employer simply didn't have the desks to house all of the people they needed, so they had some very specific targets they needed to hit so they could send a good proportion of their staff home," Mehrer says.

In addition to reduced real estate costs, it's another tool to help attract and retain a wider pool of talent. "You have this ability to tap into this workforce that is otherwise not accessible to you," she says.

Retirees, stay-at-home parents, students and the physically disabled are among the groups more likely to consider a job that allows them to telecommute. "It allows employers to reach out to a whole new set of labour markets," Wilson says.

I've seen evidence of Washington, DC-based companies using Pittsburgh as a location for geographic arbitrage. Following established pathways of out-migration is a great idea, thus creating the potential for urban economic pairs untethered from the proximity rule. With a talent shortage still looming on the horizon, casting a wider net for labor is sound business sense.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Death, Taxes and Migration

Like most Rust Belt counties, Washtenaw is aging. This big story for shrinking cities is, more often than not, ignored. Natural decline and retirement erode the tax base. That's the non-migration part of the problem. But the headlines typically cry that talent is leaving in droves. Brian Kelsey, blogging at Civic Analytics, takes the Wall Street Journal to task for its claim that high taxes are driving people out of California. Brian rationally tests, using IRS relocation data, the hypothesis that there is an exodus from the state. While the libertarians out there chew on the numbers, I'll tell you why the WSJ article is nothing more than a piece of political propaganda:

The best idea is his semi-endorsement of a flat tax for California. The state's budget problem has two main causes: The first is runaway spending and the second is a tax structure that smothers businesses and entrepreneurs. California's income tax is the most progressive of all 50 states, with the second highest top rate (10.55%) after New York City's 12.62%. The Governor's revenue office calculates that between 50% and 55% of the income tax in the state comes from Kobe Bryant and the rest of the richest 1% of taxpayers.

Tax reform isn't a bad idea and I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative. But why are the advocates for such policies spreading misinformation in order to make a point? The facts are harmless enough. The implication is feebleminded. Given the tax structure, you wouldn't expect to find Silicon Valley in California. Also, you wouldn't think that New York City would be such a talent magnet. Why are so many tech startups located in Taxachussetts? How can low tax states possibly be worried about brain drain?

I'll drill deeper into that last question. Revisiting the Kauffman Foundation's "analysis" of the NCR move from Dayton, OH to Atlanta, GA, there's an interesting detail concerning Georgia's pitch to entice the relocation:

The fast-moving, top-secret deal to extract NCR Corp. from its 125-year residency in Dayton and bring the Fortune 500 company to Georgia involved closed-door governor-to-CEO meetings, a new law authorizing millions in tax breaks and matter-of-fact presentations on the attributes of Hope Scholarships.

Brain drain is a concern in the South and Georgia is no exception. The Hope Scholarships are designed to address the exodus of talent from this relative tax haven (at least compared with Ohio). See, reducing taxes won't solve the shrinking city dilemma. If you just look at out-migration rates, then you'll find a surprise. For 2004-2005, here are the six states with the lowest rates of out-migration:

  1. Texas (1.8%)
  2. Wisconsin (1.8%)
  3. Pennsylvania (1.8%)
  4. Michigan (1.9%)
  5. Ohio (2.0%)
  6. California (2.1%)
You want to plug the brain drain? Raise taxes. Of course, that's silly. But this is the road libertarians are determined to go down because they refuse to take a closer look at the numbers. Please stop the ideological nonsense.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Diaspora Marketing

Good read in the Wall Street Journal about the Iron City brewing operations moving from Pittsburgh to Latrobe, PA:

In an effort to offset some of the loss of the local base, Mr. Hickman will spend $1.5 million on marketing, including targeting "Pittsburgh nation," people who moved out of the city in recent decades, when its manufacturing base weakened, and settled in places like New York, Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. "What we lose here in Pittsburgh we're going to be picking up two and three times that in these outer markets," he said. ...

... The analysts say Iron City is a rare survivor. But that is little comfort to Rich Malter, a 53-year-old mechanic at the Pittsburgh plant whose father and grandfather were bottlers there before him. Mr. Malter said he has been drinking Iron City since he was 15, but stopped when he found out the Pittsburgh plant would close. "Two of my friends and my brother-in-law almost fainted when they saw me with a can of Miller in my hand," Mr. Malter said.

To date, the brewery has done a lousy job of marketing itself to Pittsburgh Nation. For more than a few years, the beer of choice in a Steelers bar was Rolling Rock. I remember seeing the Rolling Rock booth decked out in the Black and Gold at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Why wasn't Iron City doing that? I think Pittsburgh Brewing is in for a shock. My guess is that the Burgh Diaspora will react similarly to Mr. Malter.

On the whole, Pittsburgh itself has done a lousy job of tapping into the loyalties of Pittsburgh Nation. The Diaspora is an under-appreciated asset. Part of the problem is that the people who stayed during the tough times are mad at the people who left in search of better opportunities. The anger about Iron City moving to Latrobe also applies to out-migrants who are deemed to have quit on Pittsburgh.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ypsitucky Is In The Rust Belt

As Bill Cowher might say, "There's a fine line between self-deprecating and offensive." The term "Rust Belt" has mostly negative connotations. Nonetheless, it's a globally recognized brand that could be leverage in a positive way. In “Ypsitucky", the use of irony in naming a music festival is lost upon the powers that be:

I can kind of see how some folks were upset by “Ypsitucky,” as the word was traditionally used as a pejorative against us, but “rustbelt”? Really? Are we so sensitive that we can’t hear the name of our City even mentioned in that context? Isn’t it time that we embrace reality? Like it or not, we’re in the rustbelt, folks. Just because we refuse to use the word, doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’d agree that we probably don’t want that single fact to define us, but we can’t pretend that it’s not true. Not mentioning it in a festival name doesn’t make it any less real. And what could be more positive than taking it, and owning it? What could possibly be better than “Rustbelt Revival”? That’s us taking ownership for something and elevating it. That’s us saying to the rest of the world, “Yeah, you think we can’t make it, but we can.” I love that. It’s the perfect message for right now. It’s honest. And it’s empowering… Instead, though, we’ve chosen to be home to “The Jamboree.” I feel sad for Ypsi tonight.

I love that, too. I love Rust Belt Chic. I'm also discouraged when I encounter fellow natives who would apply rust remover to the region's image. (e.g. "Green Belt") I appreciate the call for a Great Lakes re-branding, but the Rust Belt identity is already so powerful. I can say I'm from the Rust Belt and it means something, allows me to instantly relate to someone born a few states over in a city that's surprisingly similar to my own hometown. I'm not from Michigan, but I understand the "Ypsitucky" reference. Intimately.

Actually, that brings me to a recent post I wrote about the Three Rust Belts. There's a Rust Belt tendency to distinguish itself from Appalachia. Perhaps unwittingly, Richard Longworth reinforces this tradition in his book "Caught in the Middle". I didn't think too much about the cultural tension between the Midwest and the Mountain South until I deconstructed Longworth's regional map. I'm still fond of this definition of the Rust Belt. The eastern part of this region might as well be Northern Appalachia (a.k.a. Pennsyltucky). As for Pittsburgh's Appalachian roots, read this Mike Madison post and the comments that follow it. Pittsburghers don't appreciate the reminder that their city is in the mountains and the Applachian cultural influence is strong. Very strong.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Burgh Diaspora Tales

With my morning rant out of the way, I'm in need of some lighthearted fare. First, a story about how a Lawrenceville celebration ended up in Trenton, NJ:

Artworks Executive Director Michael Gumpert modeled Art All Night on an annual celebration held in the Pittsburgh, Pa., neighborhood of Lawrenceville. That event had a modest beginning in 1998 with 101 pieces of art and about 200 attendees. The event now draws more than 10,000 visitors and more than 1,000 artists.

Mr. Gumpert lived in Pittsburgh for 12 years, where he volunteered at Lawrenceville’s Art All Night. When the East Windsor native returned to New Jersey and joined the board of Artworks, he suggested the initial Trenton event. It was held at Artworks on Stockton Street and drew about 1,600 people, with 370 artists presenting work.

It's an interesting boomerang migration anecdote with Pittsburgh serving as the expatriate location. But I'm more intrigued with how an idea traveled a long distance in an unexpected direction. On the backs of migrants ...

A footnote in a WWVB blog post merits mention here:

Also: one of [Hunch's] key people is Pittsburgher (and Flikr co-founder) Caterina Fake. (wiki)

Hunch is a New York City business with a Pittsburgh connection. If Pittsburgh did a better job of networking its urban alumni, then Caterina Fake might serve as an ambassador for Pittsburgh in the Big Apple and pave the way for other Pittsburgh graduates looking to go global. I hypothesize that talent would move to Pittsburgh in order to gain access to this network, much like a university can leverage its alumni to attract top-notch students. It makes the Pittsburgh Promise a little sweeter, no?

Rational Choice Migration

There's a big difference between understanding why people relocate and modeling migration. Spatial variance of unemployment rates is a good predictor of an overall pattern: Moving from a region of lower economic opportunity to a place with greener grass. However, this powerful lens of understanding is often misapplied:

Somewhere in [the rationale for NCR's move from Dayton, OH to Atlanta, GA] lies the truth. Or part of it. The full article digs deeper and identifies the direct international flights that go direct to and fro Atlanta. From Dayton, it's 60-90 minutes just to get to one of the regional hubs in Columbus or Cincy. But I wonder.

The article makes no mention of taxes, so I turned to the handy-dandy Tax Foundation's 2009 State Business Tax Climate Index. So guess which state is ranked 47th out of 50? And guess which state is ranked 27th? Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Indeed. Nothing to see here, save a sloppy analysis of a corporate headquarters migration. I would expect something like this from the Allegheny Institute. But the Kauffman Foundation? The post stinks of an ideological agenda. When looking for a root cause, see tax rates.

I can play the same game. While Ohio is indeed ranked 47th for taxes, it is also ranked 5th for "big business attractiveness and infrastructure based on number of Fortune 500 companies". Georgia is ranked 12th. Now I need to end my post with a snarky comment that demonstrates the superiority of my perspective.

The blogger claims that "the article makes no mention of taxes". Actually, it does:

The move means of the loss of Dayton’s sole Fortune 500 corporate headquarters.

Georgia put up more than $60 million in tax breaks and other incentives to lure NCR.

A last-ditch $31.1 million offer by Ohio’s governor to keep the company in Dayton fell short of Georgia’s bid, an NCR official said.

Gee, one would think that lower tax rates in Georgia would be enough. What gives?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Allegheny Institute Nonsense

I hope this is a joke:

But this will not matter for the area’s cheerleaders. Despite its core city being in financial distress and droves of citizens leaving the area, they have another glowing ranking to add to their list. Meanwhile they ignore the problems stunting the area’s real economic growth.

Fair enough to throw cold water on the Brookings Institute report and Pittsburgh's high ranking, but can we stop with the exodus myth? The Allegheny Institute is embarrassing itself.

Pittsburgh's Talent Dividend

I missed Tuesday's CEOs for Cities gathering in Pittsburgh. That's the problem with living in Colorado and blogging about Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, I'd like to chip in my two cents. I'll start with the reaction at Politics and Place:

First off, I'm very confused by this whole Attract and/or Retain conversation. Obviously you want to do both, but what exactly are both? When you retain are you retaining locals who grew up here, grads of the university, or professionals that you attracted? Are you attracting young families or single professionals?

I tend to suffer from the same confusion. Attraction gets enough lip service these days, but the only policies I see enacted concern retention. From a public standpoint, that tends to mean keeping local talent in town. From a business standpoint, the concern is about employees going to work for a competitor located in a cooler city. Personally, I think retention efforts are a waste of time and resources.

And now a few words from Utterly Opinionated:

Currently Pittsburgh sits in the bottom one-third of 50 metro areas in four year college attainment rates. I’m sure you know the cities that sit at the top of the list. They are cities that thrive and continue to attract talent. Those cities are Washington, San Jose, San Francisco, Boston, Raleigh, Austin, Minneapolis and Seattle. Talent begets talent. ...

... Our best opportunity for achieving the Talent Dividend, may lie in several areas. First, we have many expatriate Pittsburghers who would like to return. Second, we may be able to do a better job retaining the talent we have. Can we do a better job match making people to jobs that are available? There are currently 17,000 positions posted on imaginemynewjob.com, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliances new job site. That’s a lot of vacant jobs! Third, there are a large group of people who started college and did not finish. Who are they? How can we help them attain that four year college degree?

The pitch is to increase Pittsburgh's educational attainment by 1%, a laudable goal. The suggestion reminds me of Ed Glaeser's recommendation for Buffalo:

For too long, America’s declining cities have tried to find magic bullets that would bring them back to their former glory. Eighteen months ago, I suggested that Buffalo wasn’t about to come back any time soon. I argued that would be far wiser to accept the reality of decline and focus on investing in human capital that can move out, not fixed physical capital.

What does Dr. Glaeser mean by "human capital that can move out"? Increasing educational attainment increases out-migration. Brain drain. Pay attention, Ohio:

The Fordham study found that students would welcome tax incentives, help with mortgages and other opportunities to stay in Ohio. Internships and co-ops, too, are seen as among the best ways of keeping students in the state.

Not only are college graduates more likely to leave town, the current generation is the most geographically fickle. Those cities that continue to attract talent also sport some of America's highest out-migration rates. So, the second best opportunity to bump up Pittsburgh educational attainment is not retaining talent. It's actively exporting graduates to Burgh Diaspora hotspots. If you can't keep them here, then at least help them end up in a place that is well connected to Pittsburgh opportunities.

But if you insist on retention, I have a solution: Drive down educational attainment by 1%.

Today's Geographic Mobility Lesson

Immigration policy creates captive labor pools in a variety of ways. However, the global workforce is often a step ahead:

Three out of five employers contacted by The Straits Times said they had workers who got themselves released from their contracts by claiming they had not been paid.

The workers then went home, only to return to Singapore soon after to work for other companies.

The employers interviewed said that China workers were more likely than other foreigners to try to end their work contracts early in order to take up new job offers.

This apparent loophole allows workers to seek higher wages and thus receive more equitable market value for their efforts. I can't think of a better example of why geographic mobility is a powerful ally to labor. To impinge on that right should be a crime. To discourage that option is shameful. I'm looking at you, Ohio. Enough with the brain drain talk. Don't profess to be pro-working class if you are anti-geographic mobility.

Art + Technology

Update II: Another take, putting Indianapolis in a good light, on the Brookings report making the Rust Belt rounds today in the blogosphere.

Update: Given Brian Kelsey's query, this quote from HuffPo seems appropriate:

The report finds two distinct Manufacturing Belts (Berube said Brookings went with "Manufacturing Belt" instead of "Rust Belt" because, "We have friends there who have been trying to shed the rust image for some time"). One belt spans Midwestern metro areas decimated by the auto industry and the other is in the Northeast, where manufacturing in aerospace and plastics hasn't seen such a decline.

Two Rust Belts? Try three.
----------------- END UPDATE-------------------

Despite a shrinking population, there's energy percolating in the Burgh. A buzz. I can easily overstate all the positive publicity. So,
I'll let the team at Bright Innovation do the talking:

There are some compelling points within the article. California, or at least silicon valley, has always been the land of entrepreneurial opportunity for the U.S. The article cites that in 2007, 63% of Californians had moved from another state to seek opportunity. The opportunity they were seeking, Silicon Valley is the largest venture capital market in the U.S. Lately Pittsburgh has become the second fastest growing VC markets, according to the National Venture Capital Association. Pittsburgh has shown 513% growth totaling $197 million over the last ten years. This economic growth is a sign of fertile opportunities and technologies in the region. It is no surprise to me with top universities, hospitals, manufacturing and companies in the area that Pittsburgh's growth is on the rise once more. ...

... Two of us in the office at Bright Innovation have moved back to Pittsburgh from California. While California is an appealing place full of opportunity. It would seem Pittsburgh, and other rust belt cities like it, are becoming hot beds for similar opportunities but on a smaller scale. With this growing base of young professionals flocking back to Pittsburgh from their professional travels the city may experience a renaissance if it plays its cards right as it emerges from this economic downturn and takes its place as an innovation powerhouse with the necessary mindshare and infrastructure for growth.

The obvious civic boosterism aside, there are opportunities in Pittsburgh that you can't find in Silicon Valley. Pittsburgh is NOT the next Silicon Valley. And I wouldn't necessarily lump the region in with the rest of the Rust Belt. Love it or hate it (for better or for worse), Pittsburgh is its own peculiar animal.

To help explain, I found a story from a former place of residence (where my father toiled at the General Electric plant in Schenectady) in Upstate New York:

The robotics program is part of St. Clement’s effort to enrich students’ education with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts, an initiative that’s become popular in area school districts throughout the region in recent years.

While Ballston Spa Central School District boasts a budding high school robotics team that started this year, the program at St. Clement’s is unique among area elementary schools.

It was developed by LEGO Education and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., which then sell the system to schools throughout the country, Knotek said. St. Clement’s used Alumni Association funds to purchase a LEGO Mindstorms system (including LEGO Education NXT software and four robot-building kits) three years ago, which students have been using since then in Knotek’s technology class.

Robots and Pittsburgh are practically synonymous. I think sooner rather than later, robotics will give way to the conversation going on between art and technology:

The Pittsburgh Technology Council's Art and Technology Initiative invites you to join us for the opening of the 2009 Annual Art and Technology Exhibition and the BurghBot Project. To celebrate the synergy that exists between the art and tech communities in Pittsburgh, the Council is partnering with the James Gallery and CREATE Lab to create this one-of-a-kind exhibition. The show opens at the 15 Minutes Gallery on June 18, 2009 and run throughout the summer.

I'm happy to plug a Burgh event. But I tend to showcase only that which makes the city special. Pittsburgh isn't just a place where artists interface with technology. It is THE place. Those Ballston Spa kids might stick around and help revitalize New York's Rust Belt. Or, they might fall in love with Pittsburgh, like I did.

It's steel good in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Talent Geography: Pittsburgh

Chris Briem has written an excellent post about the myths and realities of Pittsburgh talent:

Something I put together long ago and reflects the Census 2000 data now 9 years old take a look at what you get when you compare the educational attainment of those age 25-34 across the 50 largest metro regions in the country. and something I will stipulate up front is reflective of how small the city of Pittsburgh is within the region (although that observation cuts many ways when it comes to policy and is at least somewhat true of other cities as well... but hold that thought) take a look at similar benchmarks of just for the City of Pittsburgh.

Again, that is all data reflective of 9 years ago. There really isn't data with enough precision out there to say how those rankings have changed since then, but I would be surprised if we went down. What you see are some curious things. The region ranks pretty high on these.

But the city of Pittsburgh ranks really high. The proportion of population with a graduate degree is highest in 1) Wash DC, 2) Boston, 3) San Francisco and 4) Pittsburgh. I'd argue that the Washington, DC metric is a really artificial comparison due to the concentration of federal jobs there.

There's a lot more to the argument, but the above three paragraphs capture the gist. The myth is that Pittsburgh is a talent backwater. The reality is that Pittsburgh counts brain density as a major economic asset.

Concerning the talent dividend, Pittsburgh is a relative winner. I have two blog posts that strongly support this assertion. The first one cites a Brookings study that is full of good news about Pittsburgh's educational attainment demographics, echoing Briem's assessment. The second post links to data revealing how aggressively Pittsburgh has built up regional human capital. I contend that Pittsburgh is finally reaping its talent dividend, some 40-years in the making. Since I'm on record as saying I'm bullish on Pittsburgh's future, today's post explains why.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Out-Migration Assistance

Here's a fine example of disruptive innovation for workforce development:

The Citizen’s Information Board has introduced a new website called “LosingYourJob.ie”, which includes emigration information alongside information on social welfare entitlements, education and training options, reduced hours, and more. The information is culled from the larger database of information on the CitizensInformation.ie website.

The emigration information is located in a section called “Leaving Ireland” and covers such topics as applying for a passport, documents to bring with you, working inside and outside the EU, transferring social security payments abroad, and diplomatic supports abroad.

It might be helpful if the site included information on groups like the Crosscare Migrant Project in Dublin and the many support centres abroad for Irish people.

Imagine a local or state government in the United States supporting its residents in such a fashion. I guess effective labor mobility is off of the policy table thanks to brain drain anxiety. That's unfortunate.

Talent Geography: Ohio

Usually, I like the editorials in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I'm of the opinion that the "Pee Dee" is out in front of Northeast Ohio, trying to lead the way. But concerning the NCR relocation from Dayton to Atlanta, the editors miss the mark:

[NCR CEO Bill Nuti] has been quoted praising not just the financial incentives that Georgia officials offered NCR to move its headquarters and also to open a production plant, but also the quality of the state's work force, its training programs and the Atlanta area's attractiveness to prospective employees. He has lauded the international air connections available from Atlanta and Georgia's Hope Scholarship program. His bottom line: Ohio just doesn't measure up.

That slander can't be allowed to stand. Ohio already has a bad enough reputation among site-selection consultants on both coasts, with its outdated rust belt image.

The commentary ends with a more even-handed assessment of Nuti's Ohio critique. But I cringe at the suggestion that the Rust Belt needs a better marketing campaign (see this Mike Madison post) in order to compete with the likes of Georgia. I don't think Ohio could ask for better publicity than this.

We have to stop thinking in terms of state versus state. It's city versus city, worldwide. Dayton or Atlanta for your global HQ? Ohio's wounded pride is misplaced. There isn't a city in the entire state on par with Atlanta. You'd have to travel to Chicago or Toronto before you can find a place in the same league. And even if there was an Ohio city that could compete, state politics forbid such a relocation.

NCR didn't move from Ohio to Georgia. It moved from Dayton to Atlanta.

Nashville Hearts Pittsburgh

Update: Read about another Pittsburgh surprise at GlobalPittsburgh.

The popular perception is one of a culinary backwater. But any well-traveled foodie knows better. The Pittsburgh you experience depends on your tastes. Regarding cosmopolitan excellence, Pittsburgh isn't on the map.
But if you like culturally distinct flavors and hidden gems, Southwestern PA is a treasure trove:

I just get giddy when I think of spending a weekend in the 'Burgh, what am I going to taste and eat when I get there? What chef owned delights am I going to go manic over? Here is a chronicle of my last trip to the foodie heaven - Pittsburgh.

Foodie heaven? Pittsburgh? I'm reminded of the White House press conference announcing the site of the upcoming G-20 summit.

Pittsburgh, along with St. Louis and Cincinnati, is an archipelago:

The Midland would not hold much interest to a person searching out accents were it not for three enclaves that have retained unique speech: St. Louis, Cincinnati and, in particular, Pittsburgh, which seems to be the Galapagos Islands of American dialect.

Thus, the geography of traditions such as the cookie table are small and localized. There's a Pittsburgh-ness you can't find anywhere else. For the food critic who is more anthropologist than snob, Pittsburgh is heaven. (I hope you didn't snarf your coffee and damage your computer)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pittsburgh: The Comeback City

Does the City of Champions need a new nickname? Carl Kurlander suggests one:

I think the hardest thing these days though is going to be a new moniker-- for Pittsburgh, no longer the Steel City, still looks best when seen as an underdog-- with unexpected beauty, with people who are so unhip, they are hip (Rick Sebak once said), and with a tenacity and work ethic, that... well, these folks hung on even as their major industry left-- (acknowledging that half did have to leave-- see Steeler Nation), and on the field (or ice) and off, have increasingly found a way to win-- even when everyone else has written them off.

So we would modestly propose Pittsburgh: The Comeback City."

I love the Rust Belt Chic reference.

Domestic Migration Tales: NYC

Urban domestic migration profiles tend to harbor a few surprises and challenge popular perceptions. In his last Diaspora Report, Bill Toland dropped a data bomb on the chronic Pittsburgh worry worts:

From 2000 to 2006, we sent 2,200 Pittsburghers to the Los Angeles metro area, and they sent us 2,300 Californians in return, according to IRS data. That's partly because we're running out of people to send, but maybe there's more to it than that.

Now, I don't expect Pittsburgh to unseat Nashville as the New L.A. any time soon. But I'm sure more than a few readers took some pride in this tidbit of migration trivia. Just considering flows of people out of regions, Pittsburgh tends to be far down the list. And given the large population of L.A., the rate of residents heading to Pittsburgh is much lower than the one going in the opposite direction. Depending on your agenda, you can choose your own data adventure.

Cartographers at the New York Times provide a wealth of maps for bloggers like me hungry for post fodder. You can check out for yourself the domestic migration profile of New York City. NYC is a net exporter of talent. The Rust Belt is the glaring exception to this rule. I'm curious as to why Washtenaw County, MI is featured. I'd hypothesize that this area (includes Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan) has an unusually high out-migration rate to NYC. What this tells me is that the Wolverine Alumni Network is quite valuable. This also speaks to the Pittsburgh-L.A. connection. The talent churn between these two cities is vital to the economic health of SW Pennsylvania.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great Lakes Globalization

An article in the London Free Press discusses the economic outlook for the Great Lakes. The water means a variety of things to different people and there are competing uses. As we re-imagine the Rust Belt, the utility of this mega-regional asset will be at the center of the debate about the way forward. Putting aside Chicago and Toronto, the Great Lakes represent the Rust Belt's primary opportunity for better global connectivity:

The Port of Cleveland has seen better days. So has shipping on the Great Lakes.

After the failure of many rust-belt industries that once relied on it for iron ore from the Lakehead, the port needs ship traffic. It developed the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as a tourist attraction and explored container traffic, "heavy lifts" and cold storage. Attempts to start a ferry service to Port Stanley have stalled because the Ontario port is full of silt.

Cleveland also wants to redevelop its portlands, but traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes is at half its capacity.

This globalization infrastructure is in dire need of attention. The dramatic drop in traffic indicates how important global trade is to the Great Lakes. Any economic stimulus would be better applied to transportation logistics and better border connectivity than salvaging the ailing auto industry.

The turnaround of any shrinking city usual concerns a re-orientation of the downtown relative to the dominant waterway. I think someone from Pittsburgh described the latest renaissance as turning to face the rivers, instead of backing into them and dumping waste. You think that now is a strange time to embrace globalization, but the localism movement is (ironically) dependent upon better global integration.