Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ironic Brain Gain: Scranton

In my little world, the current news cycle is dominated by Brookings "The State of Metropolitan America" report. As far as I can ascertain, the think tank sent tailor-made press releases to each metro region. The Scranton story stands out to me:

On the flip side, the region's much-deplored "brain drain" flight of educated young people may be easing.

The area's over-25 population with a bachelor's degree is just 21 percent - almost 7 percent lower than the average - but the proportion of residents with a college education increased by 3.4 percent between 2000 and 2008. The advance was marginally ahead of the U.S. average.

"Some people may be surprised because they think everyone that's young and educated is running away," Ms. Ooms said.

"That trajectory was in a positive direction for the region for the decade," Mr. Berube said.

The region also gained population between 2000 and 2008 from movement within the country. The 0.7 percent migration growth rate outdistanced the national average, which was zero.

"Most places that are having a population decline are net exporters of residents to other parts of the country," Mr. Berube said. "The fact that people are moving to the Scranton area from other parts of the United States is interesting and surprising."

There is a lot to unpack in the above paragraphs. Scranton is a lot like Pittsburgh, two shrinking cities undergoing dramatic natural decline. Chris Briem has some more about the unique demography related to the Brookings release.

Brain gain is commonly thought of as at odds with a declining population. Consider the good news for Worcester:

Of the 19 metro areas classified as “Skilled Anchors,” such as Worcester, 17 are in the Northeast and Midwest, including Springfield, Boston, and Akron, Ohio. They are slow-growing, with higher than average educational attainment, most with significant medical and educational institutions.

“Worcester has to be pleased with some of the findings,” said Alan Berube, senior fellow and research director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and an author of the study. “Most notably, out of the 100 largest metro areas, Worcester experienced one of the highest increases in median household income, where there was a decline in the U.S. We know that it's related to the percentage of the population that has a college degree. They go hand-in-hand.

“I think Worcester continues to manage the transition from an industrial, manufacturing hub to a knowledge-based economy, with health, health technology and education.

In terms of growth in "college degree attainment", Worcester was #1 in the country. Pittsburgh comes in third (tied with Indianapolis) and Akron is 7th. Pittsburgh is also outstanding for "lowest growth/decline". Throw Scranton in that bottom tier, as well. However, Scranton is also near the bottom (along with Youngstown) for "higher educational attainment" rates.

Bottom line, Pittsburgh joins Worcester and Akron as Skilled Anchor as opposed to Industrial Core (low growth, low diversity and low educational attainment). The Industrial Heartland (home to moribund population numbers and relatively homogeneous) is shaking out between brain gain and brain drain cities.

The Cleveburgh Corridor ends up a curious mismatch of Industrial Core (Cleveland and Youngstown) and Skilled Anchor (Akron and Pittsburgh). When Joe Cortright came to Akron to speak to that community, he failed to understand the distinction. As I've cataloged at my blog, talent attraction experts and talent management consultants are unaware of the geographic details because they don't disaggregate the data. Treating Akron like Cleveland is a mistake.

I appreciate how Brookings has done away with the regional constructs of "Sun Belt" and "Rust Belt". The megaregion is a poor geographic abstraction, more of an anachronism than an emerging pattern. The analysis also challenges the idea of Northeast Ohio or the TechBelt. Youngstown is in excellent position to fish in the talent pools of Akron and Pittsburgh. I'm not sure where that leaves Cleveland.


Steve said...

I appreciate how Brookings has done away with the regional constructs of "Sun Belt" and "Rust Belt". The megaregion is a poor geographic abstraction, more of an anachronism than an emerging pattern.

The term "Sun Belt" seemed pretty silly to me. It includes multiple areas that are very different such as the Southeast, the Southwest and in some cases the Pacific Northwest. (Yes, I have seen the Pacific Northwest included as part of the Sun Belt in certain cases.)

Even the term "Rust Belt" hasn't always been very useful. There's a constant argument about whether Baltimore is "Rust Belt" or not with various positions in that arguement of Yes, No, Yes but it's a "satellite city" of the Rust Belt. Considering that Baltimore's problems and potential solutions are somewhat unique it's a really pointless argument.

One megaregion abstraction that has some limited usefulness is "Water Belt". While it's important for "Water Belt" areas to recognize the advantage they have in fresh water and use it, that only goes so far. Trying to make a megaregion out of the "Water Belt" idea is a fool's errand.

John Morris said...

Look how close Scranton is to NYC. It's hardly a surprise someone might stay or show up. What took them so long?

In fact, th really big question has to be asked about almost all of Jersey's major cities from Newark to Camden and Trenton.

Crime and perception of crime is likely the biggest wildcard along with public coruption and sprawl based urban policies/eminent domain.

It's sort of a race. If these places really got their act together, Richard Florida's mega region theory would be close to reality.