Saturday, October 16, 2010

Announcing Pittsburgh Expatriate Network

I'm involved in a new diaspora networking project, the Pittsburgh Expatriate Network (PEN). My blog is a catalog of diasporas, both domestic and international. I intend to use what I have learned for the benefit of PEN and Southwestern Pennsylvania. More about PEN soon enough, but I wanted to offer a remark or two about an article that I've noticed making the rounds:

Launch a state marketing campaign — Project Boomerang — to bring back skilled Oklahomans who left to seek out the bright lights of bigger cities.

Oklahomans who departed after college or high school often feel homesick — and open to the sales pitch — as they get older and start thinking about buying a house or starting a family. "Oklahoma is one of those places you have to come from to think it's beautiful," says Jamey Jacob, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University.

Rod Whitson was lured back three years ago to run an Oklahoma City bank after working in Los Angeles for 10 years. "After a while you kind of burn out on the traffic, you burn out on all the people, you burn out on the cost of everything," he says.

That's from a story concerning Oklahoma's recent economic boom. I covered that about a month ago with a focus on the good times in the state capital. I copied and pasted the above part about returning expatriates as an example of the various initiatives I have been tracking over the last four years. There's a lot of low hanging fruit for places not associated with a rush of inmigration.

The key to seeking any talent dividend is shifting the conversation away from traditional thinking about brain drain:

Some critics of Hollowing out the Middle claim that raising achievers so that they want to stay is condemning them to lives of unfulfilled expectations. To these critics, achievers can only “achieve” if they go to the city. While I disagree with the argument that human talent has to leave its roots in order to achieve its full potential, I don’t want to see talent settle into lives of mediocrity either.

Such thinking is doomed to failure. As Mike Madison recently wrote:

The game plan has to be *attract* people to Pittsburgh. Attract their energy, their enthusiasm, their passion, their ideas, and their money. Let the college grads go away. Some of them will come back. The rest become part of the Pittsburgh Diaspora.

Amen. The same goes for rural communities. Trying to keep achievers from leaving is not only foolish, it is wrong. It is fundamentally anti-economic development. That's why PEN makes so much sense. Don't write off talent that leaves. Work with the flow instead of against it. What benefits the individual can also benefit the community.

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