Friday, May 28, 2010

Expatriate Citizenship

I've been searching for a good subject for my 1600th post commemorating my upcoming 4th anniversary of blogging (June 1st). I have a few appropriate ideas I could explore, but I was hoping serendipity would strike. A little over two hours ago, the Buffalo Expatriate Network (BEN) came through:

And, BEN needs YOU, particularly if you are an expat urban planner/preservationist. BEN has been invited to participate in a dialogue with City Hall on the new land use/re-zoning laws, which will change for the first time since 1971! Help shape Buffalo’s future and contact us today!

The Buffalo government is soliciting input from nonresidents. People who might move back home already have a stake in how the city will evolve. That's a cutting edge polity even in the international diaspora arena:

It’s my understanding that the EU takes no interest in the expat voting policies of individual nations. It seems to me that when you have a parliamentary body representing citizens of an entity such as the EU, however, there should be equal access among citizens of that entity to representation as a matter of fairness. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a larger issue in the years to come, particularly set against the current global context of increasing diaspora engagement and the rising number of nations allowing their emigrants to vote.

Ireland is particularly anxious to punish citizens who leave the country. Given the Irish access to the entire EU labor market, this policy is insane. Why disenfranchise your wayward talent? Fortunately, some natives are not so myopic:

At that meeting, [Minister for Foreign Affairs Miche├íl Martin] has announced funding of €135,000 towards a new Farmleigh Fellowship Programme, which provides 25 Irish participants the opportunity to work in Asia for four months, and to participate in a joint MSc degree in Asian Business Management from UCC and Nanyang Business School in Singapore. The project was developed by a number of Singapore-based businesspeople who were present at the Global Irish Economic Forum, and was a response to the focus placed at that meeting on the need for Irish businesses to increase their access to Asian markets It will begin in October 2010. An overseas graduate placement programme, a separate initiative, is also being planned.

Expatriates make excellent foot soldiers for opening up foreign markets. They also possess a wealth of contacts and expertise. Alienating them is bad for the domestic economy. Export talent and as a result, export more goods.

I think Buffalo is demonstrating how such a diaspora initiative might operate on the regional scale. The city cares what its expatriates think. That's just as valuable as enfranchising local young adults and high school students. All of them have more of an interest in Buffalo's future.

Instead, most regions turn their backs on this return on investment. As soon as you leave, residents and policymakers give up on you. Universities don't act this way towards alumni. That would be suicide. Ironically, even institutions of higher education have a poor understanding talent geography:

As important as football has been to the fabric of life in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the sport is not immune to the economic pandemic that has stripped those states of so many well-paid, middle-class jobs over a generation. The term "Rust Belt," coined to describe once-bustling factories that have gone dormant, is some 25 years old. In that same period of time, the power in college football put down roots in the Sun Belt.

Big Ten coaches and players have defended their brand of football time and again from charges that the league is not athletic enough, that the Southeastern Conference or USC or Texas -- or all of the above -- has passed the league by.

That the Big Ten can flex its muscle as a business is a tribute to tradition, to Delany's acumen and to the 4.4 million living alumni from the league's 11 schools. However, if the loss of jobs and population have affected the conference at the business table, it's worth a fresh look to see the effects the economic downturn has had on the field.

I emphasized the part of the passage that jumps out at me. But the article is about the football talent drain from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. But that's not the problem facing Big 10 schools. The parochial recruiting strategy is the handicap.

If you don't cultivate enough football stars locally, then you recruit talent from elsewhere. Many universities in the Interior West have done so successfully for years. More importantly, no other conference has the geographic reach that the Big 10 does thanks to its alumni. Wherever you find ultra-competitive high school football, you'll run into a Big 10 graduate. That the Mahoning Valley doesn't produce as many collegiate stars as it used to do, doesn't matter.

Instead, the diaspora works in reverse. The head coach at the University of Oklahoma, Bob Stoops, is from Youngstown, Ohio. Not only can he attract talent from traditional Big 12 pools (e.g. Texas), but he can scour the Rust Belt and cherry pick the best players there. Stoops can easily relate to the young men living in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. He can offer them a ticket to the big time. I also wouldn't be surprised to find out that Stoops leverages a Rust Belt refugee network in the most competitive recruiting grounds.

The Rust Belt doesn't suffer from brain drain. The lack of brain gain is the drag on the economy. The Big 10 could learn a lot from Buffalo.

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