Sunday, April 11, 2010

Urban Pioneer Migration

Audrey Russo (CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council) posts a talent wanted ad:

If you are seeking a lifestyle where you want to experiment and participate in a regional transformation – look no further, come to Pittsburgh. We are in need of executors – people who are not afraid to follow their vision toward a more gratifying life. Come and help us create our future.

I think Audrey offers a compelling regional vision, something that seems to be lacking in the Power of 32 project. Attraction is front and center. I also appreciate the urban frontier brand. Joel Kotkin paints a similar picture for the Midwestern prairie. Aaron Renn pitches the idea to Detroit. My darling is Youngstown.

All of the above might have to take a backseat to New Orleans. The Urbanophile emailed to me an article about NYC real estate refugees relocating to the Big Easy:

Sipping a Jack Daniel’s milk punch—while pushing his 3-month-old daughter in a stroller—Nicolas Perkin, 38, stood by a turtle-filled pond in Audubon Park, in the Uptown section of New Orleans. A flock of wild Monk parrots flew over his head. “It’s like Star Trek here, some planet no one’s ever seen before. … I spent my childhood going to Central Park to escape the insanity,” he said. “This serves the same purpose.”

He and his pals call JetBlue “the Jitney.” They can fly into Manhattan at 7 a.m., “do a meeting” and then fly home in time for a late-ish dinner the same day. “It actually takes a shorter time than going out to the Hamptons in the summer.”

Mr. Perkin, who runs “an eBay-like marketplace for selling receivables,” went to Tulane in New Orleans, and the town never got out from under of his skin.

One of the preconditions for the move to New Orleans is an intimacy with the city. That's a big challenge for Pittsburgh, Detroit, Youngstown, and Kotkin's Midwest. Natives who sought greener grass are one option. I intentionally picked the Tulane story to highlight another avenue.

Currently, our efforts amount to impressing college students so they won't leave when they graduate. That's a poor strategy, but many of the tactics could be retooled to be more effective:

An increasing number of colleges and universities in provincial areas have introduced local studies programs to encourage graduates to live and work locally.

Starting this academic year, for example, Fukushima Medical University in Fukushima will offer a course on the biographical study of historical figures from Fukushima Prefecture, including Hideyo Noguchi, an internationally known bacteriologist from Inawashiromachi, and Iwa-ko Uryu, of Kitakata, who is known as the Florence Nightingale of Japan.

The medical college also plans to give students practical cooking lessons for local cuisine.

The aim is retention, but the same approach can be employed to get under the skin of outsiders and plant the seed for a future return to the area. Getting back to Pittsburgh. Students should be exposed to the frontier opportunities while at school. They also need to learn a taste for the local flavor. Schools (e.g. University of Iowa) that attract a lot of talent from out-of-state are in a unique position to implement this initiative.

The dividend pays off after the twentysomething part of life. We tend to think in short time frames concerning demographic issues. We obsess who is here now, not who will be here tomorrow. That's a lousy policy framework.

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