Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Brain Drain Chicago And Turkey

If you are a booster of New York City or London, this post doesn't concern you. For those of you fretting about Chicago, read on. Your city is in trouble. Global talent migration patterns are leading indicators of economic development. Turkey is booming:

"In the U.K. or the U.S. I couldn't have had this success and certainly not this quickly. I also couldn't have had this network—it just wouldn't have worked," Ms. Dagli says, explaining the year-and-a-half journey to build the company from scratch after returning from London. "The trend of young Turks returning home to seek opportunities here is going to grow as people now believe that they can make a sustainable fortune here away from the political and financial instability they were used to in the past. If you're a young Turk and you're not going to make it here, where are you going to make it?" she says.

Global cities are beacons for talent. People flock there from everywhere. Chicago is among the select few that has enjoyed this privilege. But in the Age of Return Migration, the tide has turned against it.

Turkey represents a trend, the flow of talent from developed markets (e.g. London) to developing markets (e.g. Istanbul). The same thing is going on domestically in the United States. Chicago's fresh blood is "repatriating". The brain circulation isn't new. The issue now is that these former skill feeders to Chicago are becoming attractive to talent from elsewhere. Chicago is no longer the only game in the Midwest. See upstart Indianapolis:

Well, I recently came across a blog post by Kelly Campbell, one of those cool people I'd never heard of, that presented her passionate case for pursuing global humanitarian efforts in Indy, using her grass roots example to show how. Kelly previously worked in the fashion industry in New York, and now runs The Village Experience and writes for the Blue Vine Collective (She was also one of the IBJ's 40 Under 40 last year, and you can read more about her over at the IBJ). Kelly not only sees humanitarian efforts as a whitespace opportunity to exploit, they are a personal passion of hers. This shows it as an area that not only has good strategic relevance, but also fits with the cultural ethos of the city. Which is exactly what cities should be looking for.

Emphasis added. This story is familiar to me. Return migration is revitalizing the Rust Belt. Why is this return migration happening? Because in Big City Chicago or even New York you "couldn't have had this success and certainly not this quickly." In NYC, Kelly Campbell is a cog in the fashion industry. In Indianapolis, Kelly Campbell is transforming an entire city. New York can afford to shrug. For Chicago, it is a signal of decline. Ms. Campbell in the United States and Ms. Dagli in Turkey are on the same path.


pete-rock said...


I agree that Chicago is at a crossroads in terms of its future as a global city, but I don't think the end is here yet. I think maybe what's happening is a unique set of migrations patterns that run counter to each other.

Yes, Chicago has long been the capital of the Midwest and attracted the best and brightest from surrounding states. But at the same time Chicago was very much a Rust Belt city that was losing people in the same way that Detroit, Cleveland and others were -- it's just that the decline was masked by the best and brightest influx.

I think the best and brightest influx, especially from the Midwest, has hit the plateau, but the Rust Belt escape has continued. Witness the huge decline in Chicago's black population in the 2010 Census. Unfortunately for Chicago, Pittsburgh, Indy and other cities are learning of the value of the return migration, and Chicago has been slow to pick up on that.

Just my way of applying what I've learned from you to Chicago's experience.

Jim Russell said...


I'm not throwing dirt on Chicago. It is hard to make a critique or sound warning without being characterized as sticking a fork in a place. More concisely, here is my concern:

1) The dominant talent migration patterns used to favor Chicago.

2) The emerging dominant talent migration patterns seem to work against Chicago.

I think point #2 is still a matter of debate. What's your take?

Pete Saunders said...

I would agree that emerging migration trends currently work against Chicago. I would also argue that because Chicago ruled the roost in the Midwest for so long, it hasn't developed the chops that others have to benefit from the shifting trends.

I do think return migration will hit Chicago, but after it has hit many other cities.

urbanpln said...

Honestly Jim do you really think Chicago is threaten as a magnet for the young talent? Sure it has serious problems and always have but, to think it is on its last leg is pure hyperbole.

Chicago had a strong showing in Fortune Magazine's list of best start ups. I believe there were 5 companies out of the top 20. The City and State along with other venture capitalist just opened a new 50,000 s.f. tech hub at the Merchandise Mart. Over 65 new companies have signed leases and 400 are on the waiting list. Google has just announced it's looking for 500K office space to locate the Motorola Mobility offices into the city. It is estimated there will be 3,000 new workers in this space. A steel company located in suburban Cleveland is locating its headquarters here.

Are there problems in Chicago? Without a doubt. Major problems that need to be addressed immediately. Are we in for a fight from other cities in the region? Yes. I personally think we need this competition. I also believe that having other thriving cities in the region helps the entire region including Chicago. But anyone who thinks Chicago is dead in the water is not being honest.

Jim Russell said...

Honestly Jim do you really think Chicago is threaten as a magnet for the young talent?

Yes, I do think there is a serious threat to Chicago's ability to attract young talent.