Friday, July 31, 2009

Global Economic Forum For Pittsburgh

I rarely encounter any international diaspora initiatives that wouldn't translate to a small political geography such as Greater Pittsburgh. This is no exception:

Martin said that the event would harness the talents ‘‘of people who are conscious of worldwide trends in business and technology’’ and could contribute to an Irish economic recovery. ‘‘The second key element is to find ways to network this global diaspora more effectively in the future in a way that will contribute to Ireland and also benefit the network,” he said.

Time for a Burgh Diaspora conference in Pittsburgh, thus aligning the interests of homeland and expatriates.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Revisiting Loco Localism

Localism is a hot trend. Ideologically, I'm opposed to the movement. But the Economist reports there are some practical benefits:

Dan Houston, a partner at Civic Economics, says that in recent studies he has found that locally-owned businesses put about twice as much money back into the community as the chains do, not three times, as the Austin study found. But that is still enough of a “local multiplier” to catch people’s attention. Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Portland, Maine, reckons that some 30,000 local independents have joined about 130 independent business alliances around the nation.

As I would expect, the Economist ends on a snarky note. Color the newspaper skeptical. The problem isn't the promotion of local buying. It's the out-of-hand rejection of chains. Let the consumer punish Walmart at the cash register. Of course, nothing wrong with educating residents and helping them to make a more informed decision.

In terms of economic development, "locals first" is fraught with peril. Troubles start when the perspective becomes a cure-all. That cuts both ways, but autarky strikes me as the greater danger.

Brain Drain Report

Been about a week. Time for another edition of the Brain Drain Report. First up, a critique of Ohio's latest brain drain boondoggle:

Details are still being cobbled together, but the Grants for Grads program is supposed to keep recent graduates from two- and four-year Ohio colleges in the state by contributing toward down payments or closing costs on their homes.

Those who remain at least five years won't have to pay back the state.

It's too bad the premise is faulty.

Post-graduation employment, not housing, is the chief concern of 89 percent of Ohio college students, according to a recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

A strong economic-development effort on behalf of all Ohio job-seekers, particularly the well-educated who are slipping away, is what would encourage more graduates to stay. More state-sponsored internships and co-ops that get college students' roots into Ohio soil would help, too.
Which reminds me ... How is Ohio Means Home doing these days? I fear everyone has already forgotten about it. That's too bad.

Other states -- like Indiana, North Carolina, and Illinois -- are competing with us for our children. We have to fight back.
That is why we should give our college graduates a three-year income tax exemption, putting money directly into their pockets. This tax credit would be an investment in Michigan's talented graduates and our economy. The funds could help pay down college debt, go toward a home and, most of all, serve as an incentive to use their education in Michigan.

This policy narrative is rife with misconceptions and bad recommendations. Think of state investment in higher education as the means to the end of attracting talent. But if the only way you can justify the tax dollars is to increase retention rates, then you might as well cut off the funding.

The 1950 graduate thought there had to be another solution to keeping professionals in the area, and he came to the conclusion telecommuting seemed like the answer.

So Clarkson started the Adirondack Initiative for Wired Work. With Mr. Gates's help, it recently founded a business center in Blue Mountain Lake to provide people with access to the Internet, phones and fax equipment as well as a meeting room. ...

... "The opportunities to tap into the knowledge economy are going to be huge, probably more so than the technology sector going forward. The Internet now is almost like a roadway as infrastructure," Ms. Chezum said. "We need to get people to think about this as a lifestyle choice."

To that end, Clarkson also is launching a marketing campaign encouraging people who love the Adirondacks to make the area their home — and their workplace. Their advertisements feature a bear and a raccoon working away on laptops from the comfort of a lakeside dock.

The aim is to keep talent in Northern New York, but the marketing campaign can reach a much larger demographic. Having lived a great deal of my childhood near Saratoga Springs, I'm intrigued. Also, my father knows Mr. Gates. I stayed in Gates' Blue Mountain Lake home for a brief family vacation. I love the Adirondacks. What I like best is Clarkson University at the heart of the initiative. That's what I mean when I write, "Think of state investment in higher education as the means to the end of attracting talent."

Purpose that alumni network for local economic development.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Baltimore Bashing Bourdain

I'm still processing the impact of Anthony Bourdain's Rust Belt episode. Small sample size, but Buffalo seems genuinely pleased with the attention. On the other hand, Baltimoaners are in a tizzy:

But the Baltimore the world sees on his show and elsewhere is either the Inner Harbor or the 'hood. You’d have no idea that the city is full of wonderful neighborhoods of all shapes and sizes, how easy it is to live here or how frequently you’re bound to run into people you know. (One of the truest Baltimore scenes of "The Wire" came in the third season, when a pair of teenage drug dealers and their girlfriends ran into a trio of cops and their girlfriends at the movies. That probably happens here all the time.)

Gee, that sounds like a city I know. That sounds like every Rust Belt city. I'm not sure why a journalist would expect a travel show to highlight a region's livability. What makes Baltimore a fun place to visit for those seeking an off-beat thrill?

Bourdain seems to have a knack for unearthing the pesonality of a place. Why bother to go there if it is just like the last city you visited? Rust Belt cities should ponder how they are distinct from each other. Bourdain's opinion would be worth soliciting.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rust Belt Chic: Featherbowling

I've done some trolling for reactions to Anthony Bourdain's Rust Belt episode. The show didn't go over well in Baltimore, a city desperately trying to shake the stereotype of urban decay. I've never seen "No Reservations" before, but I loved every minute the journey. Bourdain effectively captured Rust Belt Chic:

I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what's coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will "attract business", always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it's a "normal" city -- or a "perfect" or "safe" one. They go because it's crazy, borderline dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic and bat shit crazy -- and because it looks like nowhere else. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. I don't arrive there with a smile on my face every time because of the Cleveland Philarmonic.
Read the comments. Someone demanded that Bourdain go to Youngstown, the epicenter of Rust Belt Chic. Actually, I think Buffalo made a strong case for that designation as the last city on the show's tour.

The aesthetic Bourdain celebrates is best represented at the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit. Young and old mingle, as does nostalgia and irony. The cast and owners of the bar sip Belgian beer in what qualifies as a blue collar dive, with people featherbowling in the background. During the day, it looks like a senior center. At night, an edgy rock club. This must be Detroit. This, is the Rust Belt.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Clean Tech Economic Geography

For my Steel Valley Diaspora project, I've spent a lot of time following the federal money to places such as Warren, Ohio. More recent news has me thinking about the Cleveburgh Corridor more in terms of clean tech than biotech. In another part of the Rust Belt, similar inroads are being made:

The goal of Mr. Peters, 51, and his co-workers at International Battery [in Allentown, PA], a high-tech start-up, is industrial revolution. Racing against other companies around the globe, they are on the front lines of an effort to build smaller, lighter, more powerful batteries that could help transform the American energy economy by replacing gasoline in cars and making windmills and solar cells easier to integrate into the power grid.

This summer the Obama administration plans to announce how it will distribute some $2 billion in stimulus grants to companies that make such advanced batteries for hybrid or all-electric vehicles and related components. International Battery is vying for a modest chunk of it.
The United States could be investing a lot of cash into Allentown, which makes the Lehigh Valley a region to watch as the country begins to claw out of the Great Recession. I'm trying to imagine how the economic landscape will change and the story about International Battery is a good clue.

Cultural Entrepreneurs

The extent of my Pittsburgh residential experience is the latter half of 1997. I was a twentysomething and I remember the twentysomething scene being better than I expected. For reasons not worth sharing, I was a peripheral member of the young filmmakers community. Pittsburgh wasn't THE place to be, but it served as a niche location. Even then, I could sense the rumblings of something bigger in the works.

Two years ago, Adam Atkinson, a high school creative writing teacher, was driving on the interstate to his job in Midland, engaging with his colleague Scott Andrew in what he called a bit of "gap analysis."

"We would talk and talk and talk about what we wanted Pittsburgh to be for us, looking around to see what isn't there and what could be there," said Mr. Atkinson, an exuberant 26-year-old graduate of Carnegie Mellon University who, in addition to his teaching job, moonlights as a comic with the Irony City Improv Troupe.

"We love it here and we're young. I'm a writer and Scott's an artist, and there are so many great independent small presses here, but there's no easy entry point for any of us to know about each other."

So Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Andrew decided to make one: Open Thread (, which they describe as a kind of clearinghouse/aggregator/gathering point for the region's thriving, if Balkanized, arts and literary scene.
You have people committed enough to a place, anything can happen. Even in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh?

Generally, critical mass is lacking. Rust Belt cities have to overcome the legacy of the Balkanized political geography. It starts with a clear vision and the energy of one or two young adults. And presto, Pittsburgh is the next Minneapolis.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Handwriting On Rust Belt Walls

Attracting migrants is tough enough. Ohio is trying to create incentives for instate college graduates to stay put. Policymakers should take a gander at the doings in Scotland:

Scotland's population has shown a slight increase, from 5,057,400 in 2003 to 5,168,00 last year, and a better-performing economy under devolution has started to reverse decades of outward migration. But Murphy said: "Our need for a growing population is ranked alongside the need to recruit to occupations where we have a shortage."

He added: "Over the summer we will be consulting on this new points-based route to citizenship, and I am pleased to say living and working in Scotland is proposed as one way to earn points.
Scotland has already learned that attempts to stop out-migration don't work. More resources are poured into the Scottish Diaspora, deriving benefit from brain drain. But immigration is the only viable solution to the problems associated with a shrinking population.

California is beginning to show the same demographic stresses as Scotland. Actually, that's been the case for some time. But strong immigration to the state glossed over a perennial domestic migration loser. That talent pipeline is now slowing, dramatically.

Meanwhile, Ohio continues to waste time and money trying to bar the door to other states. The Rust Belt is aging and foreign born talent is heading elsewhere. The window of opportunity is closing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Green Tech News

Carnegie Mellon University is at the forefront of policy innovation for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology:

The policy briefs, available from, describe changes to federal law and agency rules needed to overcome regulatory and legal barriers to large-scale deployment of carbon sequestration.

The CCSReg project is supported by a $1.85-million grant from the New York-based Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) with additional support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition to investigators at Carnegie Mellon, the project team involves experts at the University of Minnesota, the Vermont Law School and the Washington, D.C.- based law firm of Van Ness Feldman.
Just another example of Pittsburgh's diversified energy economy portfolio.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Return Of The Beer Diaspora

I've already expressed my skepticism about Iron City's appeal to the Burgh Diaspora. I can think of a few ways the brewery could be successful, but I doubt such plans are in the works. Bill Toland reports that Iron City aims to leverage social media techniques in lieu of throwing big money at a conventional marketing campaign:

"We've been saying all along that the Pittsburgh Nation is" an untapped audience, said Evan Contorakes, head of Ronin Advertising Group, the Miami-based ad agency that is organizing Iron City's new campaign. The campaign's name?

"One City. One Nation. One Beer."

Sounds pitch-perfect for the far-flung, Steelers-loving Diaspora. But don't expect a huge media rollout. Back in 1988, when Rolling Rock was spending its ad money on billboards and radio and TV spots, there was no e-mail, no Twitter, no Facebook. Mr. Contorakes hopes to use the Internet's social networking capabilities to not only promote the brand in Texas, Florida and California, but also -- and more importantly -- identify the bars where Pittsburgh expats go, and use that information to get Iron City and I.C. Light stocked at nearby beer distributors.

By his figuring, the hundreds of thousands of people who left the city in the '70s, '80s and '90s (and he's one of them -- he lived in Washington, Pa., until moving to Florida in the 1980s) all have kids now.

"This could be a million people," he said. "They're going to do the work for us," by feeding the data to Iron City, reducing the money and legwork that goes into product placement. "It's going to be really interesting, this experiment."
The work of identifying Steelers bars is already done. The Post-Gazette does a good job of maintaining its list. But that information won't tell you where expatriates shop for beer. The market cache for a bar is huge. I'll drive 45 minutes to watch the game with my fellow fans. But if one understood how the regional beer marketed operated, then you would know where to stock the product. That information is also available online, if you know where to look.

I recommend getting Carl Kurlander and Jim Wexell on the phone. While you are at it, contact Audrey Russo at the Pittsburgh Technology Council. There is a common interest in appealing to the Burgh Diaspora. Iron City would make a great sponsor for any talent boomerang initiative. I'll sweeten the deal. If Iron City is in cahoots with the above named, I'll share what I know. Pro bono.

Natural Gas News

By way of filling in my mental map of this part of the Pittsburgh economic landscape:

The 2009 drilling program is on schedule to spud 18 additional horizontal wells between now and year-end. Presently, eight rigs are drilling with a ninth preparing to spud a well. "At this point we have three wells completing and 12 waiting on completion or pipeline," commented Dinges. "I am extremely pleased with the latest results and the pace of progress as our new team transitions to our new regional office in Pittsburgh."
Dan O. Dinges is Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Steel Valley: Meltdown

Steel Valley: Meltdown, Trailer 1 from Kevin DeOliveira on Vimeo.

Steel Valley:Meltdown - Trailer 2 from Kevin DeOliveira on Vimeo.

Update: Brain Drain Report

Afternoon surfing yielded this gem of a blog post:

Because a majority of us were students, when we designed a group intended to promote entrepreneurship, infrastructural enhancement, and economic development, many people assumed that our ultimate goal was “to find a way to stop the ‘brain drain’” that Michigan so readily experiences. People felt that we, some of the state’s bright, young talent, were out to find a way to keep people like us from ever leaving Michigan (because that might improve the economy).

To me this idea is absolutely ludicrous. Why create a population that hasn’t shared any knowledge capital with the outside world? Surely Michigan doesn’t already naturally contain the world’s most brilliant scientists, teachers, engineers, economists, and doctors.
Until Michigan understands the perspective of this economics graduate student, the state will continue to suffer through hard times.

Brain Drain Report

I've got enough fodder in the blog queue for another addition of the "Brain Drain Report". Long Island is obsessed with brain drain. Curious how certain regions and states consistently pop up on my news radar. I don't think anyone living on Long Island understands the problem:

John Cameron, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, said meetings such as this one are necessary if the region is going to stem the exodus of younger Islanders.

“I tip my cap to Tom, I really do, because it’s such an important issue and we should hear directly from the young people,” Cameron said. “If affordability isn’t at the top of their issues, it will certainly be in their top three.”

Cameron added that “if we can’t keep young people here, it will be devastating to the local economy. Who is going to buy the homes put up for sale by the baby boomers? Who is going to spend disposable income at restaurants? Quite frankly, if we don’t solve this, it doesn’t bode well for the region.”
Speaking of captive housing markets ...

The Ohio real estate lobby got its budget provision. I can't believe that any rational person would think that first-time home buyer assistance will do anything to stem the brain drain. But cooler heads did prevail with no money appropriated to the program. My guess is that this brain dead policy helped to counter-balance the budget cuts to higher education.

Boston-based research and marketing firm Collegia was hired in 2007 to launch the project, based on the firm's work in other cities, including Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Todd Hoffman, president of Collegia, said student survey responses in Columbus were generally similar to those in other cities. ...

... While other initiatives have focused on bringing back young professionals who have moved from Ohio, Hoffman said, there are clear "efficiencies" in targeting current students in the region.

"Among young people who have moved away, one in eight say they're considering moving back," Hoffman said. "Among current students, one in three aren't planning to stay, but the rest either are planning to or are considering it. It's a bigger pool, and it's much easier to get to them."
I'll have to add Todd Hoffman to my list of brain drain hucksters.

Nuclear Power Geopolitics

Just a heads up for Secretary Clinton's recent visit to India:

There is also one more hurdle to overcome before U.S. firms will bid to build nuclear reactors at the two sites approved by India -- liability protection. Clinton said she hoped the Indian government could secure this soon.

U.S. officials estimate the two nuclear sites represent up to $10 billion in business for U.S. nuclear reactor builders such as General Electric Co. (GE.N) and Westinghouse Electric Co, a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp (6502.T).
$10 billion in business. The liability protection story will be one to track.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Natural Gas Geopolitics

This week's feature story at Pop City highlights the need for Pittsburgh to rethink its global position. Kate Lauer argues that Pittsburgh must get out in front of the workforce needs for regional energy businesses. I agree. I would add that the local media needs to help its readers understand the global dynamics of trade and the geopolitical considerations.

Most Americans don't understand that even full energy independence won't appreciably change US foreign policy. The European natural gas market will impact job creation in the Marcellus Shale area. Global, not domestic, supply and demand will drive opportunity in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The gas equivalent of a barrel of crude now sells for around $20. The industry is seeing its first glut, not least because so much extra capacity has been built. Mr Suwaidi is a victim of his own success. He turned a seller’s market into a buyer’s market. Fortunately most [liquid natural gas or,LNG] is bought on longish fixed-price contracts, otherwise things would be much more serious for him. ...

... Even so, long-term demand for gas has never looked better. China and India look set to continue growing fast, as will their energy needs. Besides being cheaper than oil, gas emits less carbon dioxide when burned, so its attraction has grown along with rising concern about climate change. Some producers, like Canada, Norway and Britain, are running out of reserves. Meanwhile Russia’s aggressive energy policies have made its European customers wary. Qatar, by contrast, underlined its dependability by inviting America’s armed forces to build a large base there. Despite the current price slump, Mr Suwaidi’s faith in a global LNG market seems likely to be rewarded.
How much news about Qatar do you read in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on a weekly basis? It is greater demand for natural gas that will trigger the boom around Pittsburgh, which is looking more like an economically diversified Calgary with each passing day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Loco Localism

Nativism fuels poverty. Economic crisis makes parochialism attractive. And the more we turtle, the worse it gets. In Ireland:

The McCarthy Report, also known as An Bord Snip, has questioned the benefits of relying on the strategy of spending on research and development as an engine to drive economic growth. One of the reasons it suggests cutting back on R&D spending is the prospect of newly-minted PhDs emigrating.

The policy summary is to reduce funding to programs that exacerbate brain drain. Since the local labor market cannot absorb all the PhDs, the response is to reduce the number minted. There's no sense in supporting research and development that benefits somewhere else.

Aaron Renn on "Race and the City" in the Rust Belt:

It starts with education. There is nothing more important to success in the modern economy than a quality education. I am reminded of research Richard Longworth cited in "Caught in the Middle" about how even in economically ravaged Michigan, most white people still don't see education as critical. The Midwest has never put a priority on education, even for its white majority. Hence its educational attainment levels. Imagine then the priority that has been put on urban districts with majority black populations? I think we are all familiar with the state of our inner city schools. I won't claim this is a Midwest specific problem, or that the school system is entirely to blame, but clearly education is the absolute first step on the road to success for anyone, black or white.

Why should any community invest in education if it benefits somewhere else? In a nutshell, that's the folly of localism. That's the mindset that created the Rust Belt.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Relocation Entrepreneur

Of late, I'm seeing more initiatives designed to lure back expatriates. Is it an identifiable migratory trend? An article in the Wall Street Journal about Scranton suggests a pattern:

There's a distinctly white-collar movement behind Scranton's comeback. A return of college-educated natives from cities like New York and Philadelphia is fueling a population rise and a civic makeover. Bringing them back are the very small-town qualities many once wanted to escape: the likelihood of meeting acquaintances and relatives on the streets. The embrace here of modest ambition. The deeply held belief -- only heightened by ridicule from the outside world -- that Scranton matters. ...

... Precisely how many natives have heeded the call isn't known. But many returnees seem to orbit in a large circle of other returnees, as the case of Ms. Dempsey illustrates. At her firm she employs an architect who moved back to Scranton from New York City, and a designer who moved here with his boyfriend -- a Scranton native who has started a wine bar in town. One of Ms. Dempsey's siblings, a fashion designer, quit a job at Burberry Group PLC in New York City to join a Scranton-area technology firm, while a brother-in-law left a Wall Street investment bank for a Scranton software startup.

The narrative suggests to me a form of network migration, a boomerang community that helps other like-minded diasporans come home. These reverse pioneers think like immigrants, motivated by a sense of civic pride.

There's a similar story about the Montana Diaspora:

Great Falls native Mike Spinti moved to Seattle for a job with Boeing after graduating from Montana State University with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Mechanical engineering jobs are hard to find in Montana, he said.

"I like designing things and building things," he said. "That's what took me out of state."

Spinti worked in Seattle, England, Florida and Texas, but he and his wife, who is from Bozeman, always knew they wanted to come back to Montana at some point.

After they had children, they realized if they were going to make the move, it needed to be before their kids got too far along in school.

Spinti started looking into the possibility of telecommuting from Montana, but couldn't find a firm that was willing to allow him to do so.

"I had to go to plan B, and plan B was to do my own thing," Spinti said.

Spinti purchased Belton Hearing Center after discovering that the owners were looking to retire.

To successfully boomerang often takes determination, guts and guile. In short, you have to be a relocation entrepreneur.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Startup Frontier: Youngstown

On Friday, I blogged about entrepreneurship and the geographic arbitrage opportunities found in Pittsburgh. As I wrote, I was unaware of the buzz in Youngstown. Entrepreneur magazine listed Youngstown (Youngstown?) as one of the "10 Best Cities to Start a Business". You can read more about that stunning bit of publicity at The Vindicator. Or, you can do what I did. Go out and buy a copy of the magazine.

Be forewarned. The list is qualitative, not quantitative. You might think of the editors as settling upon 10 words that best describe a successful entrepreneur. Or, imagine ten entrepreneurial archetypes and best matching them with the soul of a US city. Youngstown is the Dreamer.

I'll let the CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), Jim Cossler, explain (as quoted in Entrepreneur):

Youngstown fell so far, traditional community leaders threw up their hands and told the younger generation, 'You guys try.'

That's the current Youngstown mythos, quintessential urban frontier. Given my project to match the right talent with this opportunity landscape, I receive some cynical messages explaining to me why I'm crazy or misinformed. I doubt Youngstown natives believe the YBI story is genuine. I'm certain that non-natives think it is ridiculous. For those of you familiar with Russian literature archetypes, I'm the holy fool of the Rust Belt.

Fool or not, Youngstown is letting me try. The city will let you try, too. Youngstown is the place where the most radical ideas can find expression. Dream.

Friday, July 17, 2009


There is a new kid on the Pittsburgh entrepreneurial block, Nextburgh. New York City innovator Tim Marman is now promoting Pittsburgh. There is an impressive talent circulation between NYC and Pittsburgh. The reason is geographic arbitrage:

For an early-stage startup, talent and office space make up the most significant portion of your burn rate by far. Our hosting and development costs were virtually zero by comparison. I recently worked with a company that had one of the most aggressive (and perhaps unrealistic) growth plans I’ve ever seen. Even with an estimated $6,000/mo in server hosting, $10,000/mo in employee benefits and $10,000/mo in travel, over 90% of their expenses were office space and salaries.

And here’s the thing – you have the ability to control these costs, because location plays a major role. San Francisco and New York City are the two most expensive places to live in the United States which directly translates to a higher burn rate. For example, we raised around $80,000 for Notches last year. Much of this funding was used to hire an engineer at $65,000 – less than market rate in a competitive job market at the time, though perhaps still a little higher than you’d pay in San Francisco. We spent another $1,575 per month for rent on three desks in a shared office space. Without myself or my my co-founder collecting a salary, we were spending nearly $7,000 a month.

If we had started the company in Pittsburgh instead, our monthly costs would have been 30-40% less. Right off the bat, talent is at least 15-20% cheaper. Given the city’s affordability, you’re also more likely to find people willing and able to work for less relative salary and a greater slice of equity. Office space is much cheaper as well – 200-300 sq ft turnkey offices are available for less than we were paying for a single desk.

The main point is that while starting up a company in Silicon Valley is surely easier, doing so in Pittsburgh is much cheaper. And people such as Mike Madison, Mike Woycheck and Audrey Russo are working hard to make entrepreneurial life in Pittsburgh as easy as it is in Silicon Valley. Nextburgh is aiming to do the same thing.

Pittsburgh will have to be more than just cheaper. The Rust Belt is full of urban frontier opportunities and Texas boomtowns still have all that land. And second tier innovation regions such as Boston and Raleigh-Durham offer a viable alternative to pricey New York and San Francisco. Considering what Richard Florida terms as "means migration", the deck would appear stacked against the Burgh:

The consequence is this: the means migration is dividing the world into two kinds of regions with very different economic prospects. A small number of means metros attract the lion’s share of the mobile and the skilled, who see their incomes and real-estate values climb, while the masses witness the exact opposite. Some of today’s means metros could eventually fall back as housing prices and living costs rise. But there are powerful reasons to believe that the economic disparity between some city-regions and others will continue to grow, and perhaps even accelerate, thanks to the snowball effect of talent attraction.

Shrinking Pittsburgh wouldn't seem to be on the good side of the creativity divide. The region is still talking about how to arrest the brain drain:

That sentiment is common today, said Paul-James Cukanna, associate provost for enrollment management at Duquesne University.

"We have about 5,000 applications for graduate and professional schools this year compared with 3,300 at this time last year and most of those are from local applicants."

Mr. Cukanna said the applicants not only are students like Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Russo, who intend to stay in Western Pennsylvania, but students who in past years would have taken jobs out of state.

The bleak national economy has put a temporary halt to the Pittsburgh area brain drain.

What Mr. Cukanna and most other people don't know is that Pittsburgh was experiencing brain gain before the Great Recession started to stifle relocation. Almost like a stealth-mode startup, Pittsburgh has been quietly amassing a greater concentration of talent. Already, Pittsburgh is on the path to joining the elite group of means metros.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Brain Drain Report

The news from New Hampshire is that there is no brain drain to report. It's a myth. The coverage in Nashua failed to mention that part of the conclusion:

“Our young people are vital to the future of our state’s economy, and we must do everything we can to keep their creativity and talents in New Hampshire,’’ Gov. Lynch said at a news conference today.

What does New Hampshire plan to do to attract young, talented people?

New Hampshire is in good company. The Southern Tier in New York continues to eat up public money in hopes of reducing the geographic mobility of labor:

The initiative is funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration - $150,000 a year for three years. The partners are looking to utilize Cornell's economic and community development research to create pilot programs in Elmira and Olean that will address the so-called brain drain.

That's $450,000 down the brain drain. Next Generation Consulting must be salivating. I guess I need to write a book. Rebecca Ryan or Richard Florida isn't going to help your community retain graduates.

In Connecticut, we get the libertarian use of the brain drain red herring:

Yet I am saddened to share with you that following my last year at UConn I will be forced to leave this great state and seek opportunity elsewhere. You may be asking yourself why does this matter to me and why is he being “forced” to leave Connecticut. On June 25, the Senate Democrats voted 19-16 on their idea of a state budget that raises taxes by $2.5 billion. The next day Democrats in the House unanimously approved their version of the budget with little to no changes.

Ah, so the Democrats are responsible for brain drain thanks to their tax-and-spend ways. How nauseating. The author doesn't stop there:

When businesses either fail to start up or leave because of undue regulation, taxation, and rising health care costs, you must ask yourself where the workers go if quality jobs are no longer being created. The truth is they will migrate to more tax-friendly and opportunity-driven states. Connecticut continues to lose more 24- to 34-year-olds than any other state - 30.1 percent from 1990 to 2006 - according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This must stop.

The truth is a lot more complicated. Republicans in Connecticut might start with a better understanding of demography and migration. Invoking brain drain touches an emotional nerve. That's where policy mishaps begin.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Marcellus Shale Energy Boom

Think jobs. Lots of jobs. That's if the cost of energy increases enough:

Lou D'Amico of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association talked about the economic impact of the gas drilling, and the Marcellus Shale Committee provided printed information on jobs to the crowd.

Mr. D'Amico said eventually there will be new jobs and opportunities for Pennsylvania including a full range of professions and skilled trades. In 2008 a committee was commissioned to conduct a study on the impact. Currently in the natural gas industry, $4.5 billion directly results from the industry with a total impact of $7.1 billion with more than 10,000 direct jobs.

To project the economic impact of the Marcellus Shale, the committee looked at the impact of the Barnett Shale in Texas, which covers only 5,000 square miles as opposed to the 95,000 square miles of the Marcellus Shale. In Texas, 55,000 direct jobs were created with a $10 billion economic output totaling 5 percent of the economic output.

There are about 1,000-1,500 permits out now for well drilling and about 500-600 are expected to be drilled. The reason for such a low number is simple: the economy. Right now, natural gas is less than $4 per gallon. The price has to be at least $5 or higher to justify the cost of multiple drilling sites. Much of the drilling taking place now is to test the area and see how well it will produce.

Keep an eye on the cost of natural gas in order to presage when the rush begins in earnest. But now would be a good time to get the requisite training. The article linked above has good information on that count.

Pittsburgh Economic News

As Mike Madison has said, "it's steel good in Pittsburgh." Bombadier Transportation lands a big contract for the new Phoenix airport:

The $255 million US deal involves supplying and maintaining 18 driverless Innovia vehicles for the 3.5 kilometre transit system at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Ariz.

Bombardier Transportation’s plant in Pittsburgh will design and build the vehicles.

I have one other item to share. Chris Briem talks about the declining vacancy rate in downtown Pittsburgh as a positive indicator of economic vitality. Despite the serious demographic liabilities and anemic in-migration, Pittsburgh is a relative picture of health. Downtown growth certainly defies expectations:

Direct Energy Business has confirmed a final agreement to move to Liberty Center.

The company, which first came to Pittsburgh last June when it acquired Strategic Energy LLC for $300 million, announced that it has signed a five-year lease for 52,000 square feet at Liberty Center in Downtown Pittsburgh, which it will make its North American headquarters in November.

The company said the move was needed “ to accommodate current operational requirements” and position the company for future expansion.

Also, check out all the wonderful publicity Netroots Nation is providing Pittsburgh. Watching the re-branding as it happens is a sight to behold. I'm confident that more robust in-migration is in the cards.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Forbes: Pittsburgh "Recession-Resistant"

Take that, Allegheny Institute:

Houston, recognized for its dynamic business environment, might be able to provide that. With high wages relative to cost of living and a fairly low unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, considering the financial turmoil over the last year, these factors make it the best city to get ahead. Other cities offering similar opportunities include Dallas, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Boston. ...

... But what about Pittsburgh? The city continues to decrease in population, despite the fact that the metro area has a $10.8 billion stake in the technology sector. People should reconsider the Steel City for its low cost of living; it lands at just 92.18 on the index. What's more, the area's biggest industries — health care, technology and education — are recession-resistant, necessary regardless of the economic outlook.

Pittsburgh ... where you can "get ahead" during the Great Recession. Just imagine.

The Cleveland Kleptocracy

Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) spins an impressive yarn out of an Ed Morrison contribution to New Geography. The rub is "real estate interests" and Cleveland's stillborn comeback. Old ways of thinking are no match for today's economic globalization. But that doesn't stop Cleveland powerbrokers from trying another gambit that will, inevitably, fail. Aaron's excavation of the Kleptocracy Diaspora also reveals the thinking behind the failure of so many workforce development policies:

Why is it that "real estate interests" dominate in a local economy like Cleveland? Because, to a great extent, they are among the only ones left. Consider the local industries that were not as subject to roll-ups. Principal among these are real estate development, construction, and law. This means the local leadership of a community is now made up of executives in those industries, and they bring a very different world view versus the previous generation.

I've written about the connection between real estate and brain drain boondoggles on a number of occasions. I think I do the best job of revealing the shadow play here. However, Aaron provides a rationale where I've only offered speculation.

It isn't about condemning the corrupt behavior you can find in any Rust Belt city. It is about why such practices are so common. This localism, or parochialism, is the crux of brain drain hysteria. You'll have trouble selling a house if everyone is leaving town at the same time. And graduates from your schools should staff regional businesses. To quote Aaron one more time:

When you look at the composition of this group, it should come as no surprise that the publicly subsidized real estate development is the preferred civic strategy. Politicians get to cut ribbons. Cranes always look good on the skyline. Local architects, engineers, developers, and construction companies love it. And there is plenty of legal work to go around.

In a nutshell, that's the "look good" (and feel good) part of the Pittsburgh Promise. You get the public to buy in by talking about the locals you keep from leaving. Before reading Aaron's post, I thought real estate developers invoking the brain drain plug was simply a convenient rhetorical ploy. But boondoggles and fear of geographic mobility are cut from the same cloth, a way of conducting civic business.

Pittsburgh Promise Plus

The perfect follow up to my "What Pittsburgh Can Promise" blog post, its urban public schools may be in line for a huge financial boost:

Last year, the Gates Foundation announced its intention to invest $500 million over the next five years in a "handful of urban districts" for a groundbreaking program of finding and rewarding effective teachers -- and pulling ineffective teachers out of the classroom.

Ten school districts nationwide were tapped as finalists for the grants, expected to be announced in November. Media reports have also listed districts in Hillsborough County, Fla., Tulsa, Okla., and Pittsburgh, Pa., as being among the contenders.

A few months back, I think I remember reading a story concerning the Gates Foundation-Pittsburgh connection. I may have written about it. I would think that Pittsburgh represents a substantial public relations opportunity for Gates since the announcement of the award winners will come on the heels of the G-20 summit.

"Now Pittsburgh is hot, but in a good way"

Nothing new to be unearthed, but you can read Voice of America's glowing review of Pittsburgh here. VOA juxtaposes the population decline with the upcoming G-20 summit, highlighting the city's hope for the global attention: Attracting newcomers to Pittsburgh. How does a region leverage such an event in order to catalyze more in-migration? That's at least a $500,000 question.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Pittsburgh Can Promise

This Pittsburgh Promise is a good idea. But the program can't deliver talent retention. Plug the brain drain. Ramit Plushnick-Masti's article on the Promise makes the policy mismatch clear:

The Promise, aimed at boosting academics and reversing the exodus from Pittsburgh and its public schools, is fashioned after similar efforts in Kalamazoo, Mich. and El Dorado, Ark. It's also hoped that the Promise students will return to Pittsburgh, as John Tokarski plans, when they graduate. ...

... A family moved from a suburb about 50 miles from Pittsburgh so their 2-year-old daughter can attend the public schools, beginning in kindergarten, making her eligible for the full scholarship.

Better city public schools can attract students from the suburbs. They can't, and won't, reverse the exodus. Again, another passage from the article:

With the collapse of the steel industry 30 years ago, the population of Pittsburgh and its public schools plummeted as people fled in search of jobs. The city's population of 424,000 in 1980 plunged to just over 311,000 in 2007; the school district lost nearly one-third of its students from 1988 to 2008.

And enrollment is expected to keep dropping , from some 26,600 today to 22,000 by 2015. But that trend appears to be slowing, thanks to the Promise.

Who left? The affluent, the educated and the young, said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise. Who stayed? Lower-income families, the elderly and the less-educated.

"The affluent, the educated and the young." The most geographically mobile. The most likely to leave. The Pittsburgh Promise will provide the means to get out for "lower-income families" and "the less-educated." The Promise will promote out-migration from the city among populations typically stuck in a neighborhood with few prospects for gainful employment. And that's great news.

On the other side of the coin, the Promise will attract the affluent and the educated. The Promise will promote in-migration to the city among populations typically hopping from one neighborhood to the next in search of better opportunities for their children. And that's great news.

If Pittsburgh wants its Promise graduates to stick around, then the offer should be only for local community colleges and trade schools. However, that won't bring folks in from the burbs. The ad hoc inclusion of PA private colleges is very telling. Graduates from private post-secondary institutions are the least likely to stay in-state. A better idea would be to open it up to any private school, regardless of location. Pittsburgh would draw in even more families, from all over the country.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Green Energy Diaspora Project

Cross-posted with Greater Youngstown 2.0

(Blog reference
Chris Briem at Null Space) Political boundaries, such as the one between Ohio and Pennsylvania, often starkly delineate economic fortunes. Geography matters. But strength on one side of the boarder can improve prospects on the other side:

More regional collaboration is seen as one solution to help economies on both sides of the state line. It's relatively common for residents who live near the border to commute to the other state for work if needed.

Altmire and Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, whose districts abut each other, have collaborated to promote a "Tech Belt'' in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio that they hope creates jobs in advanced services and industries.

"We want to use all the resources that we have. Let's all work together,'' Altmire said in a phone interview. "When I say, 'Silicon Valley,' you know what that is. We want to develop that 'Tech Belt' in the same way."

The Sustainable Energy Forum represents the greatest opportunity for the Tech Belt to thrive. Yesterday's news demonstrates Ryan's ability to push this agenda forward:

A pair of federal spending bills contain nearly $6 million for Trumbull and Mahoning county projects, including more than $2 million to continue development of a business incubator in downtown Warren.

The funding now allows Warren Redevelopment and Planning the freedom to begin determining a location for the incubator, which will be used to hatch and expand businesses focused on clean technology, alternative energy and green building materials, its director says.

The project already received nearly $500,000 in money from Ohio.

''Technology of some type was really the direction of most of the successful incubators, specializing, that's why the YBI (Youngstown Business Incubator) has been so successful,'' WRAP director Anthony Iannucci said. ''This is a real step that would move us forward.''

The incubator project has shifted focus from one that would develop retail enterprise to energy sustainability, which help secure the federal dollars for the project.

I propose that what we are doing for the YBI we can do for the Warren green technology incubator. We can connect Tech Belt industry with Cleveburgh Diaspora talent, particularly in the Front Range of Colorado. I've been mapping out a strategy that I think would be an excellent compliment to the green sector of the Tech Belt.

The YBI is part of a larger economic development success story and connects Youngstown to my neck of the woods:

Interest in business incubators has exploded in the United States as recession-hit communities from New York City to Youngstown, Ohio, search for ways to revive their moribund economies. Already, well over 1,000 of these typically nonprofit organizations (more than 7,000 globally) shepherd local entrepreneurs through the beginning stages of business development with resources and services in the hope they’ll one day create local jobs.

They may be onto something. A 2008 study by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) found that, per dollar invested, incubators created more jobs than any other economic-development efforts – more than industrial parks and 10 times more than highway and other transportation projects (see chart). But not all incubators are created equal. As cities rush to embrace this hot economic-development strategy, they run the risk, economic-development experts say, of wasting lots of money.

“An incubator is only as successful as the labor market around it,” says Amy Glasmeier of the urban studies and planning department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “If it doesn’t have a connection to the local economy, it’s just cheap real estate.” ...

... Just as entrepreneurs have varied needs, incubators go about supporting them in different ways. They have flourished in unlikely places like Youngstown and Toledo, Ohio, by focusing very narrowly. (Youngstown, for example, only incubates business-to-business technology firms.) Other cities, like Boulder, Colo., have nurtured successful companies, only to see them leave town because of a lack of long-term strategy, says Dinah Adkins, president of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA).

Read again the part I put in boldface. Over the last six-months, I've come to appreciate how green innovation is connected to the local economy. However, the local labor market is lacking. We at Greater Youngstown 2.0 can address that shortcoming.

Lesson In Network Migration

Few economic migrants look at a map, crunch the numbers, and then pick the best place to find their next job. When times are bad, as they are now, you tap a trusted network:

For some, the diaspora feels more like a homecoming. The close-knit quality of New York’s Irish neighborhoods makes the transition less trying, several recent immigrants said.

“It was very nice to come back to the Irish community,” said Conor, 27, who arrived in New York several weeks ago after finding no employment in Australia, where many out-of-work Irish have migrated in recent months. He, too, did not want his last name published because he feared detection by the immigration authorities.

Four years ago, Conor worked in New York on a special temporary visa given to recent college graduates. This time he arrived on a tourist visa, and through connections he made playing Gaelic football, he quickly found a construction job and an apartment in southeastern Yonkers, one of several Irish enclaves in the area, like Woodside, Sunnyside and Maspeth in Queens. ...

... After being mostly unemployed for a year, accumulating a tax debt of more than $100,000 and having his marriage end in divorce, Niall decided to try his luck in the United States. He settled on New York because he knew many people here and understood how to navigate the job market. And New York was a relatively short flight from home.

“You always go to where the Irish are,” he said, “because who else are you going to depend on to get your foot on the ladder?”

For cities struggling to attract any migrants (like Pittsburgh), relative prosperity doesn't seem to make much of difference. People tend to go where they know. Thus, the challenge is to get your region on the map and prospect among the relocation pioneers (blog reference George Nemeth at Brewed Fresh Daily).

Pittsburgh is hoping that the upcoming G-20 will pave the way for the in-migration of talent:

"Our economy is one that's being looked at worldwide, because of our ability to renew ourselves," said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "The G20 coming to Pittsburgh makes it official -- Pittsburgh is back on top."

I hope you'll stop laughing long enough to read more. I'm wondering if other cities in the tri-state area are planning on taking advantage of the global summit in their backyard. Youngstown? Cleveland? Morgantown? Erie?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rust Belt Chic: Biofuels Diaspora

I'm telling you. Pittsburgh needs an energy blog. I've got a backlog of blog fodder from stories published just this morning. The Christian Science Monitor catches up with Pittsburgh-based GTECH:

Talk about multitasking — sunflowers planted on previously blighted vacant lots are providing not just beauty, but it’s hoped that they will also be able to remove contaminants from the soil and provide green jobs, plus – as a bonus – the seeds can be harvested and turned into environmentally friendly biofuel.

That’s a pretty big order even for such a large plant. But projects planting sunflowers in vacant lots are already under way in New Orleans and Pittsburgh. And expansion to Cleveland may be next.

So far, the nonprofit group that’s behind all this, GTECH, has partnered with a number of organizations – including Carnegie Mellon University. Their goals: reclaim vacant land, empower communities, and translate ideas into action.

GTECH is helping Greater Pittsburgh garner national attention (as well as global) for green innovation. Whether its Braddock Mayor John Fetterman testifying before the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee or news about an alternative energy business incubator in Warren, Ohio; the region is benefiting from a public relations coup.

A bit more about "Mr. Fetterman Goes To Washington":

Four Cabinet secretaries and a governor testified before the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee on cap and trade environmental legislation Tuesday. The hearing room was packed with media and political spectators hoping to catch a glimpse and a quote from the political heavyweights. But to an average American, the most recognizable face in the room may have belonged to a small-town mayor.

While Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson work on the new environmental law from offices in Washington, Mayor John Fetterman, of Braddock, Pa., has become the striking face for a national campaign in support of cap and trade.

I'm at a bar in Denver (Falling Rock, if you must know) chatting with an alumnus from Youngstown State University. I was wearing a Defend Youngstown t-shirt so we could find each other at our agreed upon rendezvous point. A stranger approaches me and starts talking about Fetterman, thinking the shirt is a reference to the mayor of Braddock. I'm not sure how the iconography on the shirt invoked Fetterman, but the point is that the "striking face", the face of the New Rust Belt, is making a huge impact and starting conversations across the country.

Rust Belt Chic has arrived.

Talent Dividend: Boomerang Migration

(Blog reference Brian Kelsey at Civic Analytics) Clicking through the links, I land on a positive assessment of Oklahoma's "Project Boomerang":

The Chamber didn't want a job-search website, but more of a connecting point for employers and potential recruits. To prevent the former from happening, the Chamber set guidelines employers must follow before posting job opportunities. In doing so, the Chamber avoids becoming the middleman, and simply lets recruits know jobs are out there. Recruits then work directly with the appropriate employer.

As for locating its target audience, the Chamber went straight to family-friendly Oklahoma. As press releases were sent out within the State about the project, family members of the recruits rushed to make their loved ones aware of the program in an attempt to get them to move back home. ("Family and friends" is a top reason a person will move back to Oklahoma.)

To measure results, the Chamber uses a feedback loop from participating businesses. Some businesses have told the Chamber that their highest quality recruits have been discovered through the Boomerang project. According to the Chamber staff, at least 4 successful job hires have happened through Boomerang, and 450 people subscribe to the newsletter. Those are significant results since the program's launch just last Fall.

The target audience is appropriate and encouraging boomerang migration seems to be a hot topic in economic development circles (also, see yesterday's post). Given the stated metrics, I'm interested in a cost-benefit analysis. I'm working on my own talent prospecting project for the Youngstown Business Incubator and my numbers are encouraging (after only one month), but also similarly modest.

The take-away is that this kind of migration is but a trickle. Engineering migration is notoriously difficult. At this point, I don't see how it could address a shrinking population. The focus must be on quality, not quantity. That said, there's a lot of room for improvement and I have a few good ideas I'm exploring.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Great Recession Geography: Eastern Rust Belt

Appalachia includes Pittsburgh:

And Youngstown has more in common with Pittsburgh than Cleveland.

Perils Of Boomerang Migration

Place or career? A lucky few don't have to make such a choice. For the rest of us, we'll have to give up something in order to get something:

Twenty-six-year-old Collin Jacobs thought he'd taken all the right steps to get his dream job as an architect. Jacobs just completed his masters though an exclusive design-build program at the University of Kansas and thought it would give him the edge he needed. ...

... "We looked at Omaha. We looked at Des Moines and thought about the East Coast or the West Coast, but those job markets were getting hit a lot harder," Collin said.

And the exact things that Sioux Falls and the state are working so hard on to attract and keep younger people were what called the Jacobs back home.

"We could have gone anywhere. It's just good to come home. There are a lot of good communities in Eastern South Dakota. A lot of stuff going on downtown Sioux Falls, UpTown, all that stuff is very exciting," Collin said.

The Jacobs couldn't have imagined they'd be stuck where they are right now, but only 20 percent of new college graduates are finding jobs.

If you know where you want to live, then you will have to be creative. Your dream of being an architect might be possible in another city, but not in your town of choice. Collin Jacobs would have benefited from some labor mobility counseling with a strong geographic perspective.

I don't blame South Dakota for trying to lure natives back home. But there should be more strategy involved. Address talent shortages and inspire more entrepreneurship. Increasing population is a goal, not an economic development initiative.

Brain Drain Boondoggle: Cleveland Waterfront

(Blog reference Chris Briem at Null Space) Need the public to pony up $500 million to pave the way for your pet development project? Just explain how it will plug the brain drain:

Port board member John Carney said the consultants seemed to be "on the right track."

A vibrant waterfront "is what can keep young people here," said Carney, who has developed several properties downtown.

And we all know how successful Carney was with his other properties ...

Great Recession Geography: Help Wanted In Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh needs a blog dedicated to the energy economy. There is at least enough news for a daily post on the subject. The "Natural Gas Gold Rush" is already making a huge impact on the regional job market. Pennsylvania is now scrambling to meet the demand for labor:

The report suggests that, depending on the intensity of development, between 1,292 and 2,153 direct, full-time jobs could be required in the Northern Tier ( Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wyoming counties ) this year to support well drilling and production. The number of jobs is expected to grow to between 2,107 and 3,511 by 2011 and to between 3,281 and 5,468 by 2013.

In the Central Region ( Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties ), between 325 and 542 direct, full-time jobs are projected in 2009; that number is expected to increase to between 1,347 and 2,245 in 2011-13 as drilling intensifies in this region.

In addition to these direct-employment projections, the Pennsylvania Economy League recently estimated that each direct job in the Pennsylvania oil and gas industry creates an additional 1.52 indirect jobs throughout the economy.

Beyond natural gas, Obama is dangling a lot of incentives to buy votes for the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The nuclear industry (i.e. Westinghouse) received the good word yesterday:

The endorsement of a nuclear revival – a generation after the last reactor was commissioned – suggests the Obama administration is open to further compromises as it seeks to find a path through the Senate. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill late last month.

Republicans in the Senate, who are almost universally opposed to action aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as Democrats from rust belt states, have been clamouring for a "nuclear renaissance" in America, which would see the construction of 100 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

There appears to be a deluge of federal energy dollars heading to Greater Pittsburgh (which includes Youngstown). But the Obama-Burgh lovefest doesn't stop there:

Last Tuesday, June 30, President Barack Obama highlighted innovative programs that are transforming communities around the country, calling upon foundations, the private secto and social entrepreneurs to partner with the newly created Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to invest and scale up these innovative programs.

Pittsburgh Social Entrepreneurs Felix Brandon Lloyd (Skill-Life), Chris Koch, & Andrew Butcher (GTECH Strategies), all current Echoing Green Fellows were among the select crowd of social innovators from around the country gathered for the President’s announcement.

Having recently created the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation along with a $50 Million Social Innovation Fund the President declared that “now more than ever, we need to build cross-sector partnerships to transform our schools, improve the health of Americans, and employ more people in clean energy and other emerging industries.”

All of the above helps to explain why Carnegie Mellon University's Don Marinelli lists energy analyst as a Pittsburgh hot job in the near future:

It won't be long before Pittsburgh's focus on green energy competes with robotics for top ranking among new industries resident in the area. It seems only fitting that a town once referred to as "Hell With the Lid Off" should re-invent itself as a center for clean-energy research and development. Pittsburgh stands to become a leader in educating a new breed of public-utility experts intent on creating an energy renaissance stretching beyond the three rivers to encompass the world.

Keep an eye on initiatives coming out of the recent Sustainable Energy Forum in Youngstown. Word of mouth speaks very highly of the gathering with some interesting companies and individuals in attendance.

Forum combines national perspectives with a regional economic development focus on specific initiatives in the Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia tri-state area.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


(Blog reference Ed Morrison of Brewed Fresh Daily) I'm having flashbacks about the White House press conference announcing Pittsburgh as the G-20 meeting location:

Most likely, you have never heard of Marc Canter, now 52. But he belongs to that class of unheralded technologists who have played critical roles in the development of Silicon Valley. He has had moments of success, and many near-misses.

But over the past two decades, he has become a fixture of the local tech scene, hijacking conversations at conferences, advocating open technology standards, envisioning a multimedia and social media future long before most, and delighting in his ability to provoke.

And now he's leaving.

For Ohio.

Like most folks who heard the news, I was dumbstruck. Ohio? So I tracked him down at his home in Walnut Creek last week to get to the bottom of this mystifying move.

I know more about this boomerang migration tale than I am able to spill here. My reason for sharing is the notion that Silicon Valley needs new markets for ideas. We are seeing brain circulation with India, China, Israel, Australia, and Ohio. Both Ireland and Northern Ireland are trying to cash in on their diaspora connections in Northern California. Cantor just might be the bow of a titanic wave. I hope we don't drown.