Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gumband Migration

"Gumbander" is Pittsburghese for return migrant, an expatriate who has moved back home. All the hype and publicity about the Marcellus Shale (real or imagined) is acting like a Bat-Signal for the Burgh Diaspora. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neill with the story:

Matt Curry, 40, is a Lower Burrell native who a few years ago was living in Dallas, which makes autumns tough on a guy with Steelers season tickets. Then Mr. Curry read an investor report on Range's play in the Marcellus Shale and shot a congratulatory email to Range senior vice president Ray Walker Jr.

Mr. Walker replied with something like "Hey, thank you, would you like a job?" That day, when Mr. Curry took his wife, Heather, to lunch to celebrate her 34th birthday, she read the email and said, "I guess we're moving to Pittsburgh."

Pittsburgh is one of the centers of the shale gas revolution. The global coverage puts the region on the map, which in turn catalyzes in-migration. You go where you know.

O'Neill's article also demonstrates the upside of outmigration:

Tony Gaudlip, 41, is another Penn State engineering graduate with a similar tale. He had lived all over the world with his wife and three children, most recently in Jakarta, Indonesia. Back there, his family had a gardener, two drivers and two maids because "that's what you did in Jakarta."

Mr. Gaudlip worried about what such luxury was doing to his children. On the one hand, they were getting an international education and befriending children from all over the world, which was great. On the other hand, they weren't learning a work ethic, and he didn't like the way other expatriates who grew up with that lifestyle treated those who served them.

When he brought the family home for a long visit with his parents in Huntingdon County in 2007, he got to talking with an old friend at a Pirates game. The man worked for Chesapeake Energy Corp. and told Mr. Gaudlip about the future of shale drilling, which went against most of what everyone knew about the oil-and-gas business to that point. Shale had never been a target; "pesky shale gas" was what you drilled through to get to sandstone.

Pittsburgh couldn't support Gaudlip's skill when he graduated. The Marcellus changed that. Southwestern Pennsylvania is now ready for him to come home. Pittsburgh has a de facto workforce scattered all over the world. The regional location quotients for different industries are the tip of the iceberg.

Lastly, both migration tales depend on strong networks. Jobs don't drop out of the sky. Opportunities appear via friends, family, and contacts. Just because Pittsburgh fretted over you leaving doesn't mean that the city will do anything to entice you to return. Furthermore, don't expect a welcome wagon. One more from O'Neill:

The only downside Mr. Gaudlip has seen is some of the native pushback against "Texpats" moving to Western Pennsylvania. He has lived all over the world, including Saudi Arabia just a couple of months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and has never been anything but welcomed.

Return migrants to Cleveland told me about a similar experience. They felt under-appreciated, if not outright hostility. That shocks repats. They think they are doing the homeland a favor by returning. If your only aim is to help your native shrinking city, then stay where you are and do it from afar.

1 comment:

David Passmore said...

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