Tuesday, March 30, 2010

St. Louis Diaspora

The last of Tim Logan's three-part series about the regional workforce challenges facing St. Louis is published today. There's a good bit about talent retention. I'm not a fan of the suggested policy, so I'll refrain from commenting. My contribution to the story shows up in the diaspora discussion:

All over the country, in hip, high-priced cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York, thousands and thousands of 20- and 30-something ex-St. Louisans are, living, working and building careers. Call them our diaspora.

And they are a huge resource.

Because they know St. Louis. These people know how we pronounce Gravois. They've eaten toasted ravioli. To them, St. Louis isn't just another piece of "flyover country," indistinct from Indianapolis or Milwaukee. It's home. And if more of them could be lured back for good, they could give a big shot of new blood to our work force.

I recommended to Tim that he investigate what is going on in Louisville (KY). Louisville is a best-practice example and is similar enough to St. Louis to be an instructive example. Tim pressed me for metrics measuring success, but I'm not aware of any. What qualifies as a successful talent boomerang campaign?

Brain circulation is a relatively new concept in the arena of international economic development. Concerning domestic migration, you could say that I'm one of the pioneers exploring the potential of diaspora geography. This is a policy frontier at any scale.

Part of the problem is that most workforce development programs are retarded, stuck in the industrial era. Hence the local orientation that dominates Logan's narrative. Retention gets top billing and that is a mistake.

International economic development has moved boldly beyond designing better brain drain plugs, finally recognizing a futile exercise. At the vanguard of this paradigm shift is China, with its policy of intentional talent exports. On the whole, brain drain has been very good for China. I suspect the same could be said for India.

Domestically, I think we are on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in workforce development. Educational attainment is a mainstream concept and migration data are ever finer. But I'll end with a comment from Aaron Renn which serves as a postscript for a recent post about urban talent policy:

BTW: I continue to be astonished at how many cities completely don't get it on talent. They talk a good game but are completely unserious.

1 comment:

The Urbanophile said...

Would have been nice if they mentioned your name. You are the godfather of diaspora after all.