Friday, June 18, 2010

Marge Versus The Monorail

If you have a speaking engagement in New Brunswick and you aren't from Atlantic Canada (or anywhere in the Great White North), then you best bone up on the regional geography. A few of you reading this likely know Kevin Stolarick since he spent so much time at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Dr. Stolarick is working with Richard Florida at the University of Toronto, the current home of the Creative Class enterprise. In today's news, Stolarick offered some advice to Atlantic Canada:

Stolarick's points are as follows: You have to think big; you have to look big; you have to use a shotgun, not a rifle; and you have to be lucky.

The solutions may sound nonspecific but they are the result of his studies of jurisdictions in the same predicament across the globe.

He says rural parts of the United States, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England and in particular southern Ontario face the same challenges in retaining talent.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know what I think about talent retention policies. That's not the point. How the advice played with one economist living in New Brunswick:

Not all of New Brunswick has trouble retaining talent. Again, another broad sweep based on the definition that New Brunswick=Rural. Certain parts of New Brunswick and certain industries are having trouble but I wonder if the Toronto-based guru realizes that from 2001 to 2006 there was a positive net-migration from Toronto to Moncton. Take a look. 675 people were living in Moncton in 2006 that were living in Toronto in 2001. 445 people were living in Toronto in 2006 that were living in Moncton in 2001. Oops. Maybe Toronto has a brain-drain problem - at least to Moncton it does.

I’m sure this guy is well intentioned. New Brunswick isn’t on his radar so he is plucking concepts from other locations and trying to tweak them for relevance here. Fine. Hope the lobster was good.

That's a snippet of the rant. You must demonstrate an intimate understanding of the regional geography if you want residents to buy into your policy prescription. As far as I am concerned, the gaffe is unforgivable. Lazy.

Stolarick made the same type of blunder as Joe Cortright did in Akron, Ohio. The bristly reaction:

Cortright said ''close-in neighborhoods are the key to keeping young talent. Young people are much more likely to choose to live in close-in neighborhoods.''

Dr. Luis Proenza, president of the University of Akron, said he is proud of the region's ability to keep UA's products.

''We have 28,000 students each year at the University of Akron,'' he said, ''and 85 percent will stay in the region after they graduate.

''We realize with the young, educated people that location matters. So long as they stay in the region, because it's the region that defines our economy and will define the long-term economic vitality for us all.''

Again, a local expert cites a counterfactual. The underlying premise informing the suggested policy is flawed. The problem identified is not the problem. Bottom line, both Stolarick and Cortright stepped on some local toes. A little more research could have prevented the quick dismissal of advice. Of course, a little more research would have resulted in different advice.

Not all of the Rust Belt has trouble retaining talent.

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