Monday, November 15, 2010

Don't Move To Pittsburgh

Is your company looking for talent? Don't look at Pittsburgh. The region, as the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette once told the world, is suffering from acute brain drain:

If there's a road map to Rust Belt renaissance, a model of postindustrial success, it may be in Buffalo's one-time steelmaking soul mate, a city once described as hell with the lid off.

The leaders of the world's economic powers convened there Thursday for the two-day Group of 20 summit, prompting the question, "Why Pittsburgh?"

"It's a wonderful story of redemption, renewal and renaissance," said David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

It's also a story of pitfalls and stereotypes and of a city still facing serious economic challenges.

"There's still litter on the streets, you can't fly anywhere from our airport, and it's still hard to keep our young people here," Shribman added. "Having said that, there may not be a better place to live in the United States."

Pittsburgh's big moment in the sun and Mr. Shribman mistakenly laments the outmigration problem. This is Pittsburgh's Cleveland Moment, the inexplicable tendency to torpedo your own city about a shortcoming that isn't even true. It's a baffling approach to economic development and improving a region.

Important Nathan Bomey article on It’s entitled “University of Michigan microcontroller startup leaving Michigan for Texas”. The reason: not enough talent here. That’s right, not enough talent in our supposedly high tech mecca Ann Arbor. As Bomey writes: The firm, Ambiq Micro, determined that the Austin region offered the best chance of landing the talent to advance its integrated circuitry technology, which improves energy efficiency in wireless electronic applications. ...

... The lesson we need to learn is if you care about the Michigan economy you had better care about the location decisions of mobile talent. And that mobile talent increasingly is concentrating in big metros with vibrant/high density central cities. No vibrant/high density central cities, no prosperous Michigan. It is the straight forward!

Perceptions matter. Mesofacts drive migration and company relocation decisions. Not only is Ann Arbor in Detroit's shadow, many people think the area suffers from brain drain. That includes local people who run or fund start ups. The hysteria over outmigration has a serious negative impact on the bottom line.

CEOs are just as susceptible to geographic stereotypes as anyone else. Would you move your business to the brain drain belt of the United States? Yet this is how shrinking cities choose to present themselves to the world. Never mind that the migration data suggest the exact opposite to be the case.

You best wire me money or your youngins are gonna leave! It reads like extortion given the ignorance. Regions are paying to chase away companies. They are also scaring away talent. Who wants to move to a place that everyone is leaving?


Jerry Paytas said...

Have you ever seen Bob Gradeck's work when he was at CMU?

Destination Pittsburgh (PDF)

Published June 2003
Concerns about population loss have brought retaining and attracting talent to the forefront as a key policy issue. In 2000, the CED issued a series of reports examining migration trends in the region. These reports found that contrary to popular belief, Pittsburgh was not losing people so much that it was not attracting people. In-migration and out-migration were both extremely low. The difficulty of further reducing out-migration required a focus on in-migration. This report focuses on the in-migration half of the equation

The Root of Pittsburgh's Population Drain (PDF)
Published November 2003
Recent population estimates and migration data show that the Pittsburgh region is losing population. News coverage of the release of the annual estimates have explored why the region is losing people. The most-common speculation is that young people are moving out of the region. This report attempts to quantify the impact of net migration losses in terms of those that moved away, and the children and grandchildren born elsewhere to former residents of the region.

Who is Leaving Pittsburgh? (PDF)

Published April 2004
Who is Leaving Pittsburgh? addresses the question of youth migration and demonstrates that the 20-29 age group is not the only category losing population.

Origins and Destinations of Pittsburgh Migrants (PDF)
Published April 2004
Origins and Destinations of Pittsburgh Migranst provides a data chart breaking down the state of birth for those entering and exiting the region.

Jim Russell said...

Is Bob no longer at CMU? I had some interactions with him concerning credit card relocation data, but the funding for that project didn't materialize.

I've seen some of the reports you reference. It dovetails with the research coming out of other Rust Belt cities. Yet the young adult exodus story persists. More than a few people make substantial income thanks to this myth. Why any community would throw money at Collegia or Next Generation Consulting is, to me, a mystery.

Ed Glaeser has even banged the brain drain drum. I'd like to think he knows better. I suspect he does.