Friday, April 16, 2010

Hidden Talent Dividends: St. Louis

Explode the data. Numbers such as net migration and total population don't speak to today's demographic challenges. Instead, they are relics of yesterday's economy. I find it useful to scratch below the surface and look for some good news that a region might leverage for purposes of economic redevelopment. Immigration to St. Louis is one of those stories:

As a member of this city’s economic elite, Ms. Kollman-Moore is not unusual among immigrants who live in St. Louis. According to a new analysis of census data, more than half of the working immigrants in this metropolitan area hold higher-paying white-collar jobs — as professionals, technicians or administrators — rather than lower-paying blue-collar and service jobs.

... Cities with thriving immigrant populations — with high-earning and lower-wage workers — tended to be those that prospered the most.

“Economic growth in urban areas has been clearly connected with an increase in immigrants’ share of the local labor force,” Mr. Kallick said.

Surprisingly, the analysis showed, the growing cities were not the ones, like St. Louis, that drew primarily high-earning foreigners. In fact, the St. Louis area had one of the slowest growing economies.

In this regard, Pittsburgh is like St. Louis. The size of the immigrant flow won't impress anyone. But that doesn't mean that these few newcomers are of little consequence. On the contrary, they are the vanguard of urban revitalization.

Can St. Louis compete? Forget the domestic outmigration and the anemic population growth. Instead, focus on the burgeoning immigrant community. These residents chose St. Louis over boomtowns such as Denver. We tend to overlook this advantage because we are too busy lamenting out-dated metrics.


The Urbanophile said...

Jim, I haven't read the study yet, but could it be that the immigrants in places like St. Louis and Pittsburgh show high educational and career attainment because there are so few immigrants? That is, if you are foreign and move to a place like St. Louis or Pittsburgh, it is probably because you either a student or are being aggressively recruited by a company and thus are probably be the very nature of the expensive recruitment process white collar (eg a plant scientist, doctor, etc)?

Jim Russell said...

I wish I had read the report prior to posting. All the cities get immigrants. But the faster growing cities get both types. The slower growing cities only get high educational attainment/high income immigrants.

The report doesn't get into explaining the variance. Your guess is as good as anyone's at this point.