Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creative Class Is Dead

From my days as a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Russell Jacoby's "The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe" is one of a few texts that stands out in my memory. Jacoby laments the passing of a golden era for public intellectuals. I read it in the late 1990s, not too long before blogging ushered in a renaissance. In the same vein, Robert Anasi offers up “The Last Bohemia: Scenes From the Life of Williamsburg.” An interview with Anasi demarcates the precarious balance of Bohemia Williamsburg:

I thought that everyone had their own story of Williamsburg. My book is certainly not this overarching oral history view of everything that happened. Given the time constraints I had [nine months], I thought it'd be good to focus on people I knew first-hand. So everyone I talked in the book was someone I knew from that time period. It gave me a way to draw a certain social network. This is my version of the neighborhood.

I include a local guy who grew up in Greenpoint, and he has the perspective of, in his words: "I thought I was growing up in the worst place in the world and I wanted to be an artist. Here I am, in this dying industrial town right across from the U.N., nobody knows we exist, everyone here says it sucks. How am I going to be an artist and get out of here?" But then the artists came to him. So for him, it was a super positive experience. Or for someone like Napoleon, who's a south side Dominican guy also with an artistic temperament, it's surely a positive experience. He went from gang-banging on the south side to opening the first lounge in the neighborhood—being someone who was able to navigate both those worlds, having the intelligence and the talent to make an opportunity out of that.

Emphasis added. Save the part about the U.N., that could be the story of any Rust Belt native. Cities such as Cleveland are poised to boom just like public intellectuals have in the blog world. Will Doig (Dream City):

With cities so accessible, some people are looking further afield — it’s becoming fashionably counterintuitive to declare that the ‘burbs are, in fact, the new creative heart of America. The most recent assertion was a New York Times Op-Ed published in May by Malu Byrne (daughter of David), who wrote that she “might need to be out of the city in order to sustain my creative spirit.” “The notion of ‘making it in the city’ is increasingly nostalgic and impossible,” she writes. “Yes, the city supports the arts, but not its up-and-coming artists.”

Of course, Byrne is talking about New York specifically. (She’s also the daughter of a millionaire, but we’ll let that slide.) Maybe it’s simply a matter of looking to different cities. Buffalo, Cleveland and Dayton offer plenty of empty space and cheap living. Detroit, America’s go-to example of urban decline, now gets pegged as bohemia’s new frontier all the time. (At a reading in Brooklyn earlier this month, bohemian queen Patti Smith was asked how young artists could make it in New York today, and she bluntly told the questioner to move to Detroit and do her work there.) A recent Los Angeles Times story described Detroit just like ’80s Williamsburg — “eerie shells of one-time factories, warehouses …” — before gushing over the “2,500-square-foot studio with a kitchen and a Jacuzzi” occupied by an “ebullient painter.”

If gentrification is happening on such a large scale, then we are seeing the convergence of the Innovation Economy. The world of the public intellectual (Jacoby's ideal) used to be spiky. Blogging platforms made it flat. The agglomeration of talent in a few cities (divergence) has been spiky. We seem to have reached a tipping point where labor costs and rising rents are forcing a migration of geographic arbitrage. The world of innovation is getting flat (convergence).

What's next to agglomerate (i.e. diverge)? I argue that we are on the cusp of a Talent Economy, where talent production will cluster in a few key places (e.g. Pittsburgh). Public higher education employment and the Great Recession:

Despite cost pressures that are driving tuition up, employment grew by 90,000 jobs, or 7 percent nationwide since 2007, the year before fiscal woes hit states and localities, as public colleges and universities added both instructional and administrative personnel.

In the public sector, the focus is shifting to talent production. Rising tuition costs don't seem to matter. I think that suggests divergence. The high price tag isn't a deterrent. Students are eschewing arbitrage opportunities to attend the best schools. This world is spiky.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Talent Outmigration Is Not A Problem

You don't want to leave. But the lousy economy is pushing you out. Shouldn't you be able remain in your hometown if you want to stay? Failed migration happens all the time. Someone visits Portland, Oregon and decides to put down roots. Unfortunately, a lot of people do that. Jobs are scarce. It's hard to make a living. Nikki Sutton moves back to her hometown of Indianapolis. Imagine the uproar that Sutton couldn't stay. Try harder. Portland isn't worried about it. The people keep coming, stealing jobs from natives.

The local girl or boy matters more than the outsider. The talent retention anxiety is different. A city would rather keep its own than bring in someone new. Thus, we tend to work the wrong side of migration equation:

You can’t help but see irony all over New Brunswick these days.

North Dakota oil – most likely extracted using hydraulic fracturing – is being brought in by rail to be processed in New Brunswick’s oil refinery while two of New Brunswick’s three main political parties are falling over themselves to try and stop our nascent natural gas development industry in its tracks.

While our sons and daughters line up to leave for the oil and gas industry elsewhere, some of New Brunswick’s most visible mayors are serving up tasty but ultimately hollow quotes such as “our water is more important than gas” and making grand statements during council meetings about protecting New Brunswickers.

Apparently watching our kids leave to frack elsewhere doesn’t bother them much.

Who can blame our young people for wanting to leave?

Behold the brain drain boondoggle. Residents hate to see the young people go. Policymakers squeeze political gain out of the emotional tie. Allow fracking, catalyzing job creation, and they won't have to leave.

Brain drain hysteria is gripping New Brunswick. An odd spin on what seems to be good advice:

A labour history expert from the University of New Brunswick says creating entrepreneurs is one key to stemming the latest tide of regional out-migration.

About 2,000 people from across the Maritimes showed up for a job fair hosted by Alberta oilsands companies in Fredericton last week, ready to move west for work.

Bill Parenteau says people are leaving due to the declining number of opportunities in rural areas.

“I don't know that there's any resolution to this phenomenon that's really been going on for 150 years, but part of it is targeted immigration programs, which bring in people that will start businesses," he said.

Emphasis added. The title of the article is "Create entrepreneurs to stem out-migration, says expert." No, the expert didn't say that. Parenteau suggested attracting immigrants might be part of a resolution. Policy should be about encouraging inmigration.

New Brunswick desperately needs people to move there. But the obsession with brain drain reinforces parochial attitudes that forces movers elsewhere. It also paints a dismal picture that isn't grounded in reality. Prodigal sons and daughters leave every community. Lastly, the lack of newcomers makes the province more risk averse. Fracking is foreign. That's something those weirdo half-humans in Alberta do. Endeavoring to encourage young adults to stay, New Brunswick is killing itself.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Regional Economic Development Goals

Increasing population should not be a goal. Population is one of many metrics regions can use to see how they are doing. In and of itself, a rise in population is not necessarily a good thing. Thus, I'm disappointed when I read blurb such as the following in the news:

Businesses and nonprofit groups are mounting a renewed effort to restore Pittsburgh's luster as a magnet for immigrants, a move intended to increase population and make the region a more vibrant place.

I'm not sure if businesses and nonprofit groups are explicitly seeking a population increase and more vibrancy. Vibrancy is like population increases. It is an indicator, not a policy goal. Thomas Frank took, among others, Vibrant Pittsburgh to task:

Your hometown is probably vibrant, too. Every city is either vibrant these days or is working on a plan to attain vibrancy soon. The reason is simple: a city isn’t successful— isn’t even a city, really—unless it can lay claim to being “vibrant.” Vibrancy is so universally desirable, so totemic in its powers, that even though we aren’t sure what the word means, we know the quality it designates must be cultivated. The vibrant, we believe, is what makes certain cities flourish. The absence of vibrancy, by contrast, is what allows the diseases of depopulation and blight to set in.

Population increases and vibrancy have taken on normative qualities. Initiatives designed to stop the brain drain often state population increase as a goal. Such growth is an economic effect, not a cause. The same is true for vibrancy. More than anyone else, Richard Florida has popularized this backwards thinking. Be a cool city so your population goes up and downtown is more vibrant. Tolerance and diversity comprise a silver bullet. Chris Briem (Null Space) has a post about why such misperceptions matter:

I saw the story boards for the Border Guard Bob production being toured around and the projected ad buy I remember clearly as being touted was going to be ~$8mil and that was nearly 15 years ago.  Real money and the real cost was not the $$ but the self-defeating message it gave to ourselves... and let's not even ponder what fun the world might have had with it all.  It was a pre-sarcastic age (no Colbert) so it may not have been so bad. 

Population decline meant all the young people were leaving. This supposed exodus, simply not true statistically speaking, is the muse for Richard Florida's Creative Class enterprise:

Over the years, I have seen the community try just about everything possible to remake itself so as to attract and retain talented young people, and I was personally involved in many of these efforts. Pittsburgh has launched a multitude of programs to diversify the region's economy away from heavy industry into high technology. It has rebuilt its downtown virtually from scratch, invested in a new airport, and developed a massive new sports complex for the Pirates and the Steelers. But nothing, it seemed, could stem the tide of people and new companies leaving the region.

I asked the young man with the spiked hair why he was going to a smaller city in the middle of Texas, a place with a small airport and no professional sports teams, without a major symphony, ballet, opera, or art museum comparable to Pittsburgh's. The company is excellent, he told me. There are also terrific people and the work is challenging. But the clincher, he said, is that, "It's in Austin!" There are lots of young people, he went on to explain, and a tremendous amount to do: a thriving music scene, ethnic and cultural diversity, fabulous outdoor recreation, and great nightlife. Though he had several good job offers from Pittsburgh high-tech firms and knew the city well, he said he felt the city lacked the lifestyle options, cultural diversity, and tolerant attitude that would make it attractive to him. As he summed it up: "How would I fit in here?"

This young man and his lifestyle proclivities represent a profound new force in the economy and life of America. He is a member of what I call the creative class: a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries---from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.

Politicians still line up to gulp down this snake oil. Population decline! Brain drain! We must be more vibrant! A few anecdotes does not a trend make. Pittsburgh's young adults were not leaving for Austin in droves. There wasn't a Creative Class crisis. On the contrary, Pittsburgh was on the cusp of a boom. Florida couldn't see it. He was too busy preying upon local anxiety.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Importing Talent Problem

In the diverging world of innovation, most places get smarter thanks to migration. What happens when the talent stops coming? New Hampshire is grappling with this question:

As it turns out, only a small share of New Hampshire residents who hold bachelor's degrees were actually born in the state. Of the New Hampshire residents aged 25 to 64 holding a four-year degree, only 18.8 percent of them were born in the state -- a percentage low enough to place the state 46th nationally for its share of college-educated native-born residents.

Horgan said he was "very surprised" to discover the state's low standing, "because we perceive ourselves as being so highly educated ... but obviously our native population is ranked very low."

Where the figure becomes especially troubling, he said, is when it's considered in the context of New Hampshire's aging population and slowing rates of in-migration.

Because, as its population grays and fewer people move here, "what's our future workforce going to look like if we're not educating our native population?" wondered Horgan.

Most states and metros are drunk on inmigration. Now that geographic mobility is declining and the Innovation Economy is showing signs of convergence, anxiety is acute. Producing talent organically takes time.

I've noted the same red flag being raised in Silicon Valley (see here and here). Cities such as Pittsburgh and Boston have a huge competitive advantage thanks to those regional talent production clusters. Pittsburgh boosted its concentration of college graduates almost without any inmigration, foreign born or domestic. With the local economy booming, migrants are now pouring in. My bet is that talent production centers will become hot destinations for people who do relocate. New Hampshire is right to be worried.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Memphis Tries On Rust Belt Chic

Memphis is trying to catalyze return migration:

You can get the whole story at Marketplace. The campaign is focused in diaspora hot spots such as "Little Rock, St. Louis and Nashville." The comparisons to "Imported from Detroit" and "It's Halftime, America" ring true. Does Wieden + Kennedy have this account?

Grit. Authenticity. Return migration. Urban rebound. That's Rust Belt Chic, not Creative Class Cool. Might it appeal to people not from Memphis? Detroit has that kind of draw. So does Pittsburgh. The stage is getting crowded.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Silicon Valley Is Dying

I have to be careful about citing other Rust Belt boosters. I'm often preaching to the choir. Thoughts and ideas circulate in small circles, like an eddy closed off from reality. The echo chamber:

I've been saying this ever since I left California and headed back to the Rust Belt, and now it seems that others are chiming in with the same sentiment. As reported recently in TechCrunch, David Sacks, former CEO of Yammer, which recently sold to Microsoft for over a billion dollars, said the same thing in a [Facebook post], noting, "I think Silicon Valley as we know it may be coming to an end." But while Sacks attributes the exodus to the lack of new and viable ideas, the reality may be a little more than that. ...

... Success was a matter of connections and networking with the right people, and it still is—the difference is, today the "right people" are just as likely to be in South Bend, Indiana as they are in San Jose, California. And, because of cloud technology, the barriers to entry are lower, and connectivity and networking is easier across geographic boundaries.

In the end, Silicon Valley has rendered itself obsolete, and it has done so by design. The incredible technology that it has created has now made geographic boundaries irrelevant, and that is already giving rise to an incredible new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship—not just in Central California, but all over.

Dan Blacharski is waving the same pro-Rust Belt flag for South Bend that I am waving for Pittsburgh. At least he can claim intimacy with Silicon Valley. Indeed, Blacharski adds "a little more than that" to the conversation. Even TechCrunch's summary of the Sacks argument advances the concern:

... because major Internet companies (like um, Microsoft?) are on the prowl for innovative ideas, it’s too risky and costly for entrepreneurs to attempt to create successful new companies.

The Innovation Economy is shifting from divergence to convergence. The costs of innovation are hitting a ceiling that make Flat World Rust Belt cities attractive to companies such as Electronic Arts. I saw evidence of this yesterday in Sharpsburg, PA (near Pittsburgh) while touring RoData, which is housed in the old Fort Pitt brewery. I'll have more to say about that visit in a future post. Suffice to say for now that RoData is cashing in on the Rust Belt Chic dividend. Talent is ample and inexpensive. So are the gritty cool environs, where innovative talent wants to work. Leaving Silicon Valley for Pittsburgh never looked better.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Buzzing Hive Of Innovation

Place narratives drive talent migration. Employment fundamentals can look good, historically great. Prospective residents remain wary. The irrational choice, picking one job opportunity over another, can make the difference between backwater and boom town. In Pittsburgh, a new mesofact has taken hold:

My heart bleeds for Buffalo: its post-Apocalyptic squalor, indelicate accents, and biblical house fires. And most of all, its inability to rebound from the turn of the last century. Unlike its Rust Belt cousin Cleveland, this Lake Erie underdog never built a tourist mecca like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Nor did it pull a Pittsburgh, which reinvented itself as an buzzing hive of innovation.

The triangle of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo forms my psychographic homeland. Canada weighs heavily on my world view. I enjoyed a transnational upbringing. I grew up in a frontier region. For most people outside this area, there is no difference between Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. It's another Bermuda Triangle where fire and brimstone torture the economically disconnected.

To pull a Pittsburgh means to rise out of the slag heap and join the globalization club. The triangle ceases to be. PA Governor Tom Corbett was in Silicon Valley banging this drum:

Corbett said California’s technology companies and their investors seemed especially interested in Pennsylvania for its relatively low cost of energy and the high caliber of its college graduates, particularly those from CMU.

“We want to attract companies to use the students we have in Pennsylvania, and to use them in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said.

Pittsburgh has talent. Pittsburgh is known for its talent, leaving. Now Pittsburgh is a buzzing hive of innovation. Richard Florida famously overstated the Pittsburgh-to-Austin brain drain, the archetype of Creative Class migration. The myth he weaved became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pittsburgh isn't cool. Pittsburgh isn't tolerant. Don't move there. How that narrative affects venture capital and innovation:

Tom Joseph, CEO of Epiphany Solar Water Systems Inc., New Castle, was one entrepreneur who met with some of the California venture capitalists, whose combined assets are worth more than $20 billion, according to Corbett’s office.

Joseph’s early-stage company produces a solar-powered water-purification system aimed at helping an estimated 2 billion people without much access to drinkable water.

“When I’m in Pittsburgh, a lot of investors I talk to say I’m thinking too big,” Joseph said. “When I say we have these water systems that are going to change the world, they say, ‘can’t you take it step-by-step first?”

Joseph said he “can’t think that way” and is more attuned to most California venture capitalists, “who don’t even want to talk to you unless you’ve got a billion-dollar idea.”

The most risk averse stay. The billion-dollar idea folks leave and move to a purported buzzing hive of innovation. Silicon Valley is full of people who have pushed their way into the United States from China and India. These New Argonauts define the culture. How they came to agglomerate there is a different kind of migration tale. The geography of international college students:

Many recruiters say that while Canada has a generally positive name abroad, they have difficulty articulating exactly what its brand is. And considering that education in Canada is primarily a provincial jurisdiction, developing a national brand is a challenge.

Some provinces, such as B.C., have already announced province-specific plans to recruit international students. Even so, Dr. Chakma said a “united front” is needed. That’s because research indicates that while students will always seek out well-known schools like Harvard, Oxford and McGill, most choose their international education destination based on a country’s reputation.

“Several university presidents went to Brazil, and while we were all promoting our individual institutions, we got much better access and coverage because it was a Canadian mission under a Canadian banner,” Dr. Chakma said.

Ms. Samarasekera agreed, adding that “people get confused when you talk about provinces with international students.”

“It doesn’t mean anything to them ... students don’t necessarily want to go to California or Massachusetts; they want to go the United States,” she said. “We need to do the same for Canada.”

Emphasis added. Talented Chinese entrepreneurs are not moving to Silicon Valley. They are moving to the United States. Pittsburgh can and does compete for this inflow. Relative to China, Pittsburgh is as good as Boston. The landscape changes on a domestic scale. Pittsburgh is not as good as Boston, not even close. Talent will always seek out well-known places like Austin and Portland. Tolerance doesn't make a difference, nationally or internationally. Creative Class theory has always been wrong on that score.

Being more tolerant and cool with world class urban amenities won't dispel the mesofact geography. A buzzing hive of innovation has nothing to do with any of those over-hyped variables. Buffalo's new hipster hotel will do as much for that city as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has done for Cleveland. You go where you think you know and Pittsburgh is finally on that mental map.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pittsburgh's Soul: Steelers Versus Pirates

I have a confession. I'm not a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. While I am at it, I don't root for the Pens. Prior to marrying a Burgh gal, my only connection to the city was my die hard allegiance to the Steelers. I was born in a small city (Erie, PA) with no professional sports franchises. One could pick from the nearby cities of Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. But that's not why I'm a Steelers fan. I'm a child of the 1970s and tabbed teams that were dominate during the decade. In baseball, I follow the Dodgers. I can't shake my interest in the Boston Celtics. I'm crazy for the Habs. I'm a front runner, sometimes called a bandwagon fan. I started with all winners and stuck by them.

I've also picked my hometown, which is Pittsburgh. I'm a geographer, a connoisseur of place. Pittsburgh is special. It is a winner, even when its teams are losers. That brings me to the following brilliant essay about Pirates fans:

In September, when (and if, always if) the Pirates win their 82nd game of the season, a couple of things might happen. The first is that my friend JB, who has been flipping the bird to the Port Matilda highway exit as a spiritual release anytime he drives back through central Pennsylvania, may finally let his anger go. The second is that a man named Tim Crouse may engage in a solitary prayer ritual in Columbus, Ohio.

Crouse grew up sitting in the cheap seats at Three Rivers; on that night in 1992, he sat by himself in the dark, in an armchair situated about two feet from the television because the rest of his family had gone to bed. He was 16 years old, and the next morning in the hallway at school, nobody really spoke. He has never gone back and watched the ninth inning since.

Crouse lives in Columbus now. He, like Pat Lackey, is a member of the Lost Generation, one of those Pirates fans scattered across America who has spent the past 19 years feeling lonely and disconnected. A few years ago, his brother-in-law, as a taunt, gave him a baseball card, an Upper Deck commemorative shot of Bream's foot touching home plate while the Pirates' catcher, Mike LaValliere, lunges at Bream's thigh. He keeps it in his wallet as a reminder.

"I'm just a really optimistic guy by nature," he tells me. "I don't think I ever really got close to giving up on them."

Since he left town, Crouse's city has evolved, even as his baseball team has struggled to keep up. The transformation that Midwest cities like Cleveland and Detroit are trying to muddle through has already taken place in Pittsburgh. This is largely because of the fortune that industrialists like Carnegie and others endowed to local institutions; Pittsburgh is no longer one of the largest cities in the country, but it is a pioneer of Rust Belt urban renewal.

If the Steelers represent the city's ties to what it used to be, it is not hard to imagine that the Pirates can become the embodiment of the new Pittsburgh, an extension of the aspirational ethos that led Barney Dreyfuss to build Forbes Field. There is no reason to endure history anymore, which is why, when (and if) the Pirates win their 82nd game, Crouse plans to remove the baseball card from his wallet, whisper some sort of invocation, and then set the damned thing on fire.

Emphasis added. Pittsburgh boomed while its Pirates imploded. The Steelers and Pens found success in the Paris of the Rust Belt. Pirates fans didn't have anything to hang their caps on. Like the Burnt-Orange-at-Birth Browns fans, they looked forwards. They didn't quit. They couldn't quit. Something about Pittsburgh demands you never quit.

In Pittsburgh, the past is a foundation. It isn't an albatross. What are legacy costs in most cities, serve as assets in Pittsburgh. Visiting the region last weekend, I see that this urban gem is still a secret. I gave a guided tour to my Cleveland Rust Belt Chic counterpart. It still felt parochial, not cosmopolitan. But Pittsburgh is a paradox. It is an Appalachian city with a sense of parochial cosmopolitanism, Hillbilly Urbanism. Anyone from elsewhere in the postindustrial landscape can blend in seamlessly.

During the Super Era in the National Football League, the Steelers are symbol of stability and success. During the same period, the Pirates are the picture of spectacular collapse. The latter best defines today's Pittsburgh. Once the Pirates end the season above .500, you can come home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fort Pitt Tunnel As Birth Canal

I'm still waiting for Pittsburgh's "Sleepless in Seattle" moment. Nora Ephron's movie helped to put the city on the mental maps of thousands, if not millions, of people. Perhaps the new Emma Watson movie will do the same for Pittsburgh:

The cast — which includes Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller —  all bonded while living in the same hotel in Pittsburgh, which Watson now calls one of her favorite places. It was there that Watson can point to one particular scene — when Sam stands up in the back of a pickup truck driving through a tunnel — as the moment she was able to truly graduate from Hogwarts. “I started as Emma with some Hermione still left in my system,” she says. “I went through the tunnel and I came out ready to start something new.”

You can see a bit of the scene in the movie trailer. I can't tell how important the location is to the film. But this could be the one that drives migration.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Migration More Important Than Education

Going to college is good for personal and community economic development. I argue that leaving home (i.e. migrating) is also good for personal and community economic development. Granted most places don't see outmigration in a positive light. To sharpen the point, migration is more important than education for individuals and communities. Brain drain should be encouraged:

Traditionally young twenty something Chinese migrants would come to the UK for an education, to seek out opportunities and to start a better life. Many of them were very successful and contributed towards the UK economy by working hard or starting businesses. However, in the current economic climate and with entry-level jobs being cut due to the recession, are we now seeing a role reversal with unimpressed UK twenty somethings looking to China as the new land of opportunity and experiences? ...

... As time goes by, the barriers to entry for working abroad are becoming less and less problematic. Twenty somethings are able to take their pick of foreign countries to work in while we speed towards becoming a borderless, interconnected world. Asian countries, with their booming economies and seemingly low unemployment, are also becoming increasingly popular destinations for young graduates looking to begin their careers, particularly China, and it’s not hard to see why. China is the world’s emerging superpower with the second biggest economy and a population of over 1.3 billion, therefore becoming an obvious choice for career driven twenty somethings and young entrepreneurs. There is also the notion that graduates can get hired by Western companies in Asia and get promoted quickly. The message from Forbes’ editor for Asia, John Koppisch, is “look for your first job in Asia. Economies are booming and companies are often desperate for educated and skilled job seekers… Often you can get hired by a Western company [and] quickly get promoted because of the fast growth.” ...

... CRCC Asia is one UK company benefitting from the increased interest by young twenty something students and graduates looking to work abroad. CRSS Asia offers the UK’s twenty somethings their first taste of working life in China through internship placements. Edward Holroyd Pearce, a director at CRCC Asia, said: “China represents an exciting new market and an exchange of human talent between the countries has benefits for both.”

Your college degree won't do you much good in austerity strangled Britain. In fact, skip university altogether. Set sail for Shanghai and launch your career. Migration matters more than a diploma.

China understands the value of migration better than any other country in the world. Talent was intentionally exported. Outmigration is a geopolitical and geoeconomic strategy. Globalization worked for China thanks to  both domestic geographic mobility (i.e. internal relocation to coastal cities) and emigration. It wasn't the result of a massive higher education effort.

Monday, August 13, 2012

San Antonio And Innovation Convergence

Like agriculture and manufacturing before it, the Innovation Economy is converging.  Knowledge production is shifting from expensive global cities (Spiky World) to former backwaters with ample cheap housing (Flat World). This transformation is still in its infancy. Joel Kotkin (New Geography) notes the trend is gaining momentum:

Yet the pattern is clear: brainpower is spreading out. The notion that companies seeking skilled labor have to go to one of the “hip” cities — an idea relentlessly marketed by the New York and D.C.-based press — appears greatly overstated. In reality, skilled, college-educated people are increasingly now scattered throughout the country, and often not where you’d expect them. For example, Charlotte, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City and Atlanta now boast about the same per capita number of college grads as Portland and Chicago, and have higher per capita concentrations of grads over the age of 25 than Los Angeles.

Like I've seen with Pittsburgh, much of this brain gain is ironic and hidden beneath larger demographic forces. I've learned a lot about the economic geography of talent from the Rust Belt. I'm now applying those lessons in San Antonio, Texas:

Attention hand-wringers: There is no brain drain from San Antonio.

That's the counterintuitive news from [a report released Wednesday that looked at migration patterns in and out of San Antonio.]

That's not to say that those who earn their degrees in the Alamo City aren't pulling up stakes for greener pastures; they are. But college grads in other parts of the country are moving here, and they, along with those who return, are ultimately more valuable, said Jim Russell, a geographer who studies the relationship between migration and economic development.

“We know people are going to leave. That's a fact of life,” said Russell, who was asked to look at how San Antonio might become more like Austin, its more highly educated neighbor to the north.

[This report], commissioned by Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston's 80/20 Foundation, doesn't answer that question. First the problem needed to be measured, Russell said, and what he found upends the conventional wisdom about the inevitable flight of San Antonio's young and educated.

As I told San Antonio journalists last week, the results are surprising. I did take a look at how such brain gain could go unnoticed. The metro is booming across the board. Relative to the rest of the country, the concentration of college graduates barely moves forward over the last Census decade. That's the source of the hand-wringing about brain drain. The region sees itself as, “Poor, Hispanic, low wage, third tier city." The rock bottom percentage of 25+ year-old adults with a college degree reinforces the perception.

The data show that more people with college degrees are moving to San Antonio than leaving. Like in Cleveland, return migrants are leading the charge:

Teno Villarreal is part of that coveted cohort of young educated workers, and he's just returned home.

The 34-year-old St. Mary's University graduate returned two months ago after a stint in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill and in the Department of Labor.

San Antonio is doing some great things that made me want to come home and get involved,” said Villarreal, who works for the marketing firm Interlex.

Emphasis added. The sentiment is common in the Rust Belt. I didn't expect to find it in San Antonio. The similarities speak to convergence, not continuing talent agglomeration. I'm now more confident that the last financial crisis served as a tipping point for the Innovation Economy. The world is now getting flatter. The Creative Class is diffusing.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Hamilton Throwing Haymakers At Toronto

Toronto sucks:

Chuck Gammage Animation on James Street North designed and produced the cartoon.

The studio relocated to Hamilton from Toronto in June 2011. Owner, Chuck Gammage, lives in Paris, ON. He wasn’t available for comment.

A number of his staff do live in Hamilton, however, while others still commute from around the region. Shane Doyle, an animator at CGA is grateful his boss relocated. He lives in Mount Hope.

“I’ve got a 20-minute drive to work instead of two hours,” he said smiling. “I used to be full of rage, thinking ‘what am I doing on this highway?’” He uses the extra hours to spend time with his wife or out golfing, he said.

Creative industries are the fastest growing business sector in Hamilton’s downtown, according to the economic development office. The video is just one way of trying to highlight that.

The Creative Class world continues to get flatter.

Pittsburgh Economic Boom And Marcellus Shale

Big Energy would like to take credit for the Pittsburgh boom. An inconvenient truth is that the City bans the drilling process hydraulic fracturing. PA Governor Tom Corbett would have you believe that any such zoning restriction would torpedo the development of shale gas within the state. Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber went so far as to claim the ban was a matter of national security. Fact is the rush is a sideshow for Pittsburgh and its remarkable turnaround. Eds and meds deserve the lion's share of the credit:

By the end of March, jobs in the Pittsburgh region’s gas industry had almost quintupled to 437 from 93 in the first quarter of 2009, according to state Labor and Industry Department data. Within the seven-county metro area, employment had climbed 4.1 percent, or 46,000 jobs, in the past two years, Wells Fargo economists led by Jay Bryson said in a [March report].

Much of the gain was in health care and education, which accounted for 30 percent of the added jobs and 20 percent of all payroll positions in the region, the economists said. Yet 5 percent of the growth was driven by shale drilling, they said.

Shale drilling is a boon to the region and the City of Pittsburgh. But the concerns raised about the ban, like the hyperbolic employment windfall from hydraulic fracturing, are hogwash. Pennsylvania does not need the local zoning preemption provided for in Act 13. The Pittsburgh rebound preceded the Marcellus Shale boom. Furthermore, the glut of natural gas occurred without the benefit of Act 13. With or without Act 13, the Marcellus Shale is projected to be the number one play in the United States. The governor has no clothes.

Pittsburgh is a thorn in sides of Corbett and Klaber. The energy industry would love to point to the region, with its run of positive publicity, and say, "We did that." No, you didn't build that.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Talent Economy Agglomeration

In the Talent Economy (as opposed to the Innovation Economy), universities are primarily sites of talent production instead of knowledge production. Knowledge production is diverging. The world of innovation is getting flatter. M.B.A. programs are spiky:

Successful business schools have become major businesses themselves, but as I spoke to Snyder, I realized that the ones that bring in the most money might be doing the least for the global economy. It wasn’t always this way. In the early 1950s, my grandfather paid around $800 a year to attend Harvard Business School. The course work gave him some practical skills that helped him move up from assistant foreman to full foreman at the same machine-tool company. These days, though, the value of your M.B.A. is as much symbolic as practical. With increased global competition, the real money is in résumé polishing and status, not supply-chain management. Harvard Business School now costs about $120,000, which, after taking into account room and board and two years of lost wages, comes to around $400,000 in real cost. This year, more than 10,000 people applied for fewer than 900 slots.

Harvard and the other top schools can charge their students (or customers, really) a huge markup for the same reason that Nike or Apple can. This leaves the hundreds of lower-tier business schools competing as something of an undifferentiated mass. These commodity-level players, like the Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University, are effectively stuck with the increasingly difficult task of trying to distinguish themselves.

Emphasis added. Tuition, instead of rent, be damned. I don't know if it is still in place, but the United Kingdom had an immigration policy that favored admission of graduates from a government list of the top-50 MBA programs. Brand trumps value. You go where you know.

The above NYT article is about Yale's effort to crack into the top-tier of business schools. It's like New York City trying to compete with Silicon Valley. Most of the action is concentrated in the alpha group of the hierarchy. Agglomeration rules. Michigan State may produce better graduates at a fraction of the cost. The price of a Harvard MBA continues to skyrocket.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Next Seattle

After the Steel City came Roboburgh. A more recent incarnation is Energy Burgh. I don't know what you call eds and meds Pittsburgh. Eds and Meds Pittsburgh? Today, CNN Money floats Tinseltown of the East down the Mon:

While all of Pennsylvania has seen filming increase due to the tax credit, the Pittsburgh area is particularly unique in its labor situation. Both Keezer and Breakwell cited the skilled and inexpensive local unions as being an important part of the recent boom.

And when location scouts are looking for their next space, they'd be hard-pressed to find more diverse offerings.

"There was an excellent opportunity to do film here because of the talent, the infrastructure and the diversity of the landscape. You can shoot a farm in Ireland 15 minutes south of here or you can shoot a scene in New York City. And everything is less expensive," said Mike Dolan, who founded Smithfield Street Productions with partners Benjamin Barton and Brian Hartman in 2007.

Pittsburgh has Hollywood-class talent at a fraction of the cost. The Creative Class world is flat. The convergence of the Innovation Economy is gripping the region like no other place in the United States. Industrial ghost town? No, startup boomtown. It's a trend and Pittsburgh is leading the way.

The success sets the stage for ironic references to Pittsburgh's past. Two consecutive Tweets from writer Jesse Crall:

Kinda disappointed I'm taking the 90 through Pennsylvania. Always wanted to see Clairton.

Wouldn't mind seeing Pittsburgh, but not the new, Hollywood-revitalized Pittsburgh. I want the classic, rust-belt Shittsburgh version.

Give me Rust Belt Chic. Do you remember when Pittsburgh was cool? To put a bird on it:

And while the city's most noteworthy contribution to the culinary world has been to slap French fries atop supersized salads, Pittsburgh is becoming a foodie town, with upscale restaurants in the downtown Strip District and a wealth of ethnic eateries sprinkled around town.

Layers of hip are quickly burying the blue collar ethos that once defined the city. Seattle underwent a similar transformation. Cosmopolitan Seattle bears little, if any, resemblance to its working class identity that cratered in the 1970s. Thanks to the return migration of Microsoft's founders, the parochial intolerance is forgotten. Instead, we have Rust Belt Chic Seattle:

Ballard, a few miles north of downtown Seattle, retains a funky, working-class charm that hints strongly of its Scandinavian heritage and, more than just about any other neighborhood, paints a vivid portrait of city life a century ago. Ballard is the place for a growing number of bistros, pubs and art galleries. Farther south, along the Ship Canal, are steel fishing boats, giant crab pots in huge stacks, and in off-season, much of the Alaska salmon fishing fleet rests dock-side at Fisherman's Terminal.

Emphasis added. Sound familiar? That's where Pittsburgh is heading, faster than most appreciate. And boom goes the Burgh, Tinseltown of the East.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Innovation Convergence In The UK

All the initiatives aimed at being the next Silicon Valley may be bearing fruit. That's not to say any place is approaching the size and scope of the San Jose-San Francisco Innovation Economy. Creative work is converging, often setting up shop in postindustrial greenfields:

Birmingham is already drawing on a rich heritage. The most populous British city outside London, the city was prominent as part of the Industrial Revolution, which saw the city at the forefront of worldwide developments in science, technology and the kinds of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society.

And the modern foundation stones for its future are today being re-laid. The UK government has marked the city out as an Enterprise Zone with simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and over £150 million in tax breaks for new businesses over the next 4 years. A planned high-speed train link to London will cut the journey time from 1 hr 14 minutes to 49 minutes (although that won’t arrive until 2026).

But crucially, it’s the people that are starting out today to make Birmingham into a new UK tech hub. ...

... [In] its favour Birmingham has potentially costs and a better standard of living for its talent, outside the cost vortex that is London.

So far at least, Birmingham’s tech scene is not about to wait for high speed trains to arrive. It’s getting on with the job of building its own tech startup scene amid the clashing architecture of its industrial past, the 60s and the new century to come.

Legacy cities are well-positioned to take advantage of the diffusion of innovation from global cities such as London. The divergence of talent production is an asset for Birmingham:

Data published for the first time shows that more than half of students with the best A-level grades are currently concentrated in just 12 elite institutions.

Some 26,121 out of 50,712 students who gained at least two As and a B took up places at a dozen of the country’s top universities, including Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham. ...

... Data from Hefce shows the number and proportion of top students admitted to each university in 2009/10.

It shows that the highest number of AAB students attend Manchester, Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Leeds, Exeter, Bristol, Warwick, Birmingham, Sheffield and Southampton.

Figures also show 99 per cent of Oxford and Cambridge's UK students in 2009/10 achieved at least AAB – the highest rate in the country.

Emphasis added. As in the United Kingdom, elite talent production in the United States is concentrated in the Rust Belt. The Sun Belt is way behind. Most of the money and people are still in the postindustrial areas. Top-10 states for attracting out-of-state freshmen:

  1. Pennsylvania
  2. New York
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Virginia
  5. Indiana
  6. North Carolina
  7. Ohio
  8. California
  9. Illinois
  10. Wisconsin

Proximity explains a lot of the rankings. High school graduates often end up in neighboring states. There's a tremendous amount of talent churn within the Frost Belt. But the Sun Belt population boom gets all the headlines because it supports the poorly reasoned benefits from lower taxes and right to work legislation. The other factor is that the bulk of the elite colleges and universities are located in states such as Pennsylvania. I would like to see a similar analysis of metros.

Michigan is a remarkable exception. Its post secondary system is downright parochial compared to other Frost Belt states. The state is ranked 27th in the number of freshmen from out-of-state. The Midwest is strong in talent production. However, divergence favors Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. The Talent Economy is spiky.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Creative Class Flat World Geography

A feature of Creative Class migration is the agglomeration of talent in a few cities. The world is spiky, not flat. (Read an academic paper that digs into the debate between Richard Florida (Spiky) and Thomas Friedman (Flat) here.) High rent be damned. You must live in New York City or even Austin, Texas.

A few exceptions do not undermine the rule. But if we could establish a pattern to those anecdotes, such as why an artist would leave Toronto or Austin, then we would begin to build a case that the world is flat. Katherine Losse's journey after leaving the Hotel California (i.e. Facebook):

After quitting in summer 2010, Losse decided to move to Austin, known for its vibrant cultural scene and lefty sensibilities. But on the way, she stopped over in Marfa, a cow-town-turned-artists-colony on an austere desert plateau three hours from the nearest city.

After Austin proved too crowded and expensive for Losse’s taste, she returned to Marfa and bought an adobe house. And she got a shiny aluminum Airstream trailer that let her get even farther away when the mood struck.

There, away from the clamor of her former life, she would write her book — something she called “an act of resistance.” She took it as an unexpected blessing that Marfa’s weak cellphone coverage could not sustain enough data flow for her to Tweet directly from her iPhone.

Marfa was just a dusty ranching town when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved here in the 1970s, drawn by the entrancing landscape and the chance to escape the hectic, claustrophobic New York art scene. Other artists gradually followed, many on fellowships from the foundations that set up here, and Marfa developed into a bustling, if unlikely, cultural center.

By the time Losse came around in January 2011, Marfa featured fine dining, its own NPR station and more than its share of digital connections.

Emphasis added. In Marfa, Losse could have the best of Austin without the crowds and expense. The world is flat, not spiky. For artists, there are a bunch of places like this, where you don't give up anything to get away from it all. If you prefer the urban experience, you can live in Hamilton or Pittsburgh instead of Toronto or New York City. Mesofacts help keep the world looking spiky, which opens up tremendous geographic arbitrage opportunities.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Pittsburgh Not Swimming Naked

Chicago is guilty of indecent exposure. That's one of two conclusions I've come to this morning. On the other hand, Pittsburgh's new bathing suit is rather flattering. Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) explains the metaphor:

The 1990s were a great decade nationally. Combine that with these forces I mentioned, and Chicago really had the wind at its back. It’s easy to do well in that environment. However, when the national economy took a turn for the worse in the 2000s and we experienced a “lost decade,” things were very different. It’s when the tide goes out that, as Warren Buffett likes to put it, you get to see who’s been swimming naked.

In a sense, the 2000s tough times exposed the weaknesses of Chicago in the same way that the financial meltdown blew up so many Ponzi schemes.

Aaron is in the midst of a cogent analysis, the rise and fall of Global Chicago. His essays are a lightening rod for debate between civic boosters and detractors. I'm mainly interested in the world view articulated. The lost decade revealed that Chicago has no clothes. Other candidates might include Atlanta and Charlotte. I welcome other suggestions.

The flip side of that coin are those metros not skinny dipping. A subset are regions suspected to be naked but found to be otherwise. The tide went out and a few cities were surprisingly clothed. Pittsburgh is one of the ironic winners of the recession litmus test. As for the negative nabobs, they were the ones caught streaking.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

US Manufacturing Renaissance

As the United States reorients towards an export economy, some CEOs are clamoring for better manufacturing policy. That's a bad bet. Manufacturing is converging on a global scale:

Despite the lack of convergence among economies as a whole, there is apparently quite strong convergence within manufacturing industries.  What this means is that manufacturing sectors that are further away from the technological frontier tend to experience more rapid productivity growth.  And -- this is the really interesting part -- this happens regardless of the quality of domestic policies, institutions, or geography.  Manufacturing productivity converges even if you are in a remote country with lousy policies and institutions. In economics jargon, manufacturing industries are subject to unconditional convergence.

Dani Rodrik goes on to explain the implications for the fastest growing economies around the world. For manufacturing, geography doesn't matter. For innovation, geography is destiny. If Ohio is hoping that cheap shale gas will revive manufacturing there, think again.

The Rust Belt needn't worry. The trouble is mostly in the Sun Belt:

Blue-collar jobs lost in the recession might never return, and Florida’s housing collapse and health care concerns are barriers to a quicker economic recovery.

[A study released today by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce] says the South has a “vicious economic cycle” in which high-skill, high-wage employers avoid the region because of its unqualified workforce.

“Industry has no incentive to locate in those states, employers have no incentive to create jobs that require anything but low skill and pay, and workers have no reason to attain much beyond a minimum education,” the report states. “This, of course, is no way to compete in a global economy that increasingly emphasizes competition based on knowledge and skill.”

The rapid growth in the Sun Belt was a product of the unconditional convergence of manufacturing, not low taxes and right to work policy. The same goes for the narrative about cheaper housing and liberal zoning practices.

The South has a talent problem, which will be a major drag on innovation. The Georgetown professors reckon that megaregional talent is about a decade behind the nation as a whole. Thanks to legacy assets, the Rust Belt has a wealth of talent production hubs. The early rumblings of convergence in the Innovation Economy should privilege shrinking cities.

Going further out on a limb, I think the above report maps the emerging divergence of Talent Economy. Knowledge production will continue to diffuse. Talent production will agglomerate, mainly benefiting Boston and Pittsburgh (the two biggest talent production clusters not only in the United States, but perhaps the world). Regardless, the Sunburnt Belt is losing the war for talent.

Creative Class Fleeing Toronto

For talent migration, Rust Belt Chic is more important than Creative Class Chic. Agglomeration is pushing artists out of cities such as Toronto for funky Flat World destinations such as Hamilton, Ontario. My favorite anecdote in this CBC story:

Lisa Pijuan-Nomura finds the same thing. A multi-disciplinary artist, she is a storyteller, dancer and puppeteer who also creates and performs one-woman shows.

Pijuan-Nomura moved here from Toronto in January and finds the creative energy flows in Hamilton. She has started a new performance series called The Quarterly at The Pearl Company, and her company, Girl Can Create, has a studio in Hotel Hamilton.

Pijuan-Nomura lived in Toronto for 22 years. But when she had a baby two years ago, she started to feel stifled.

“I sort of came to the point of feeling that things were very saturated,” she said. “It felt like physically there wasn't a lot of space. Whether or not that was true or if it was me personally, I felt like I needed more space.”

At first, her friends were skeptical. Like Pijuan-Nomura, they only knew what they saw when they drove over the Burlington Skyway. She didn't realize the architecture and rich artistic scene that lay behind a single glimpse from the highway. When she visited last August, for her second visit ever, she saw the possibilities.

“Since I've moved here, I know seven or eight people who have moved,” she said.

Hamilton, the place, is a muse. It fosters creativity. For the artists in the above article, Toronto stifled development. The Innovation Economy is beginning to converge.

The main barrier for Pijuan-Nomura's migration was intimate knowledge of Hamilton. The "single glimpse from the highway" did not betray the wonderful Rust Belt Chic assets to be found there. Mesofacts continue to dog shrinking cities. But there's a dramatic shift lurking below the moribund population numbers. The urban pioneers have already discovered these diamonds in the slag heap. The flow will get bigger each year as the word gets out. If you were too late for Pittsburgh, Detroit will be available for some time to come.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

SW PA Latino Migration

Over the last few months, I've been studying Latino migration patterns for Global Cleveland. With the project completed, I can discuss some of the things I learned. Domestic migration and natural increase, not immigration, are driving the population increase of Latinos throughout the United States. Latinos have moved out of New York City in huge numbers, with many of them settling in Eastern Pennsylvania. I figured that wave would inevitably reach Pittsburgh. Perhaps it already has. But evidence suggests a different part of the United States as the source:

Outside of the Mid-Atlantic region, the Southwest has become the biggest contributor of domestic migration to Washington County. Hundreds of people came from Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, according to census data from 2009-10, up from only a few dozen from Phoenix and San Diego 10 years before.

Not all of those people are Latinos, but that portion of the population is on the rise, too. The number of Latinos in Washington County more than doubled to 2,366 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Much of that growth probably is a result of the gas industry and its spinoffs, local experts said. Since fall, real estate agents have noted a surge in home buying from executives and middle managers who moved from Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, West said. The AAA on Murtland Avenue handled a spate of car title transfers early this year from Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, travel counselor Donna Kotchman said.

“I’ve been trying to tell people in Pittsburgh (these workers) are buying houses, they’re going to our schools, they’re bringing their families. It’s not just a bunch of bachelors or husbands coming up here to work and then go home eventually,” said Milana Nick of South Strabane, director of research at PittsburghTODAY. “I think a lot of them would like more Mexican restaurants here, but ... a lot of them feel surprisingly at home here.”

The growth started before the gas drilling boom. The Spanish Mass at Holy Rosary parish in Muse began about eight years ago, said the Rev. George T. DeVille. Attendance started at about 25 people, and the growth seems most connected to how regularly the service has a Spanish-speaking priest, DeVille said.

The origins of the Holy Rosary parishioners are likely key to Washington County's Latino migration story. As the shale gas boom took hold, word travels through the network. That's how a family from Los Angeles or Phoenix ends up in Washington, PA. With the region accelerating out of the recession, more Latinos will come looking for work. We should see a similar effect take hold in Cleveland as the Utica Shale play ramps up.

In terms of Latino domestic migration, the sluice gates are now wide open. Check out the demographic transformation that occurred over the last decade in the eastern-most parts of the Rust Belt. That's happening now in Washington County.

Globalization Of Parochial Americana

I've submitted a conceptual piece to "Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology." I use the Pittsburgh Potty as a counterpoint to Richard Florida's book, "The Rise of the Creative Class." Quirky charm trumps tolerance in the fight to attract/retain talent. Parochial Pittsburgh is a legacy benefit instead of a legacy cost.

To explain what I mean, let me put aside my civic boosterism and Rust Belt pride. Journey with me to Minneapolis, US center for Scandinavia Chic:

And although Minnesota is not generally considered a nexus for new ideas in world cuisine, this Scandinavian surge is intersecting with the most avant-garde movement in food today: New Nordic cuisine, based on cold-weather crops, traditional foodways and naturalistic presentations.

“We kind of stumbled into the New Nordic thing,” said Eric Dayton, an owner of the Bachelor Farmer. “Our goal was something that was authentic to Minnesota, not necessarily authentic to Scandinavia.” ...

... The upper Midwest, with its forbidding climate, wasn’t thickly settled by American immigrants until the late 1800s, a period that was marked in Scandinavia by widespread food shortages. Thousands of Swedes and Finns, and even more Norwegians, arrived in this region, where timber and flour mills, mining and dairy farming were thriving. Some Danes immigrated as well, but according to Mr. Dregni, they found the conditions and climate even harsher than back home and many returned to Denmark.

“But for the Norwegians, this was a huge improvement over the old country,” he said.

In particular, Mr. Dregni said, the plentiful butter and cream that immigrants found in America guided the food culture. Butter was in short supply and often heavily taxed in Scandinavia. “There was almost a worship of butter among the early settlers,” he said, a cult that lives on at the Minnesota State Fair, where every year the heads of 12 “dairy princesses” — the finalists for the statewide title Princess Kay of the Milky Way — are still sculptured in butter and displayed in a refrigerated case.

Over the last few decades, Minneapolis has become cosmopolitan. You can find a wide range of ethnic food. Like Rust Belt cuisine in Pittsburgh, Scandinavian foods weren't part of the restaurant revolution. It didn't count as ethnically diverse. It wasn't as Creative Class cool as Vietnamese pho.

Minneapolis chefs are literally harvesting the region's roots. The city is developing a unique flavor. The allure of butter sculpted princesses is a lot like the Pittsburgh Potty.

Along with the locavore movement, I think return migration is fueling the renewed interest in regional culture. Leaving town creates quite an appetite for home cooking, "authentic" Minnesota. This is the grand irony of globalization. As the world shrinks and flattens out, places become more distinct. That's where talent wants to be.

Teasing Out Pittsburgh's Boom

Update: Pittsburgh Today has a great graphic that helps to put peak labor force Pittsburgh in a national context:

End Update

In absolute terms, Pittsburgh's population numbers still look sluggish. Fair to say that the metro has stabilized, the long decline arrested. But is Pittsburgh booming? If so, where are the migrants?

Regarding the first question, I did a blog post for Area Development last summer to help promote the magazine's "Leading Locations" rankings. Pittsburgh did well, which might have surprised the editors. The 2012 version is now out. Looks to me like the criteria has changed. Pittsburgh is 12th overall and 3rd among big MSAs (population over 600,000). Only San Jose and Austin rate better. The write-up:

Shining brightly on a wide range of measures, the Pittsburgh area made it through the recession remarkably well, with employment growth among the best in the nation across the last three years as well as a five-year span. It’s an incredible turnaround from the economic woes of about three decades ago, and what was once an economy that relied heavily on steel has been diversified with a focus on innovation, including in the energy sector. Just one example is the decision in March 2012 by Shell Oil to build a multibillion-dollar ethane refinery near Pittsburgh, promising some 10,000 industry jobs and about that many construction jobs. Meanwhile, the area is also home to Westinghouse, where thousands of jobs are linked to commercial nuclear energy.

Some of the biggest employers in the Pittsburgh area are in health care, education and government, and nearly 18,000 jobs are supported by financial giants PNC and Bank of New York Mellon. And steel certainly hasn’t gone away, as United States Steel Corp. remains a major local employer. The region’s successes have attracted the attention of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which in July 2012 hailed Pittsburgh’s job growth as exceeding the national average. As for quality of life, Farmers Insurance Group in late 2011 ranked Pittsburgh the safest big city, and The Washington Post in early 2012 hailed it as the new “In” city.

The economy is booming. The local supply of talent can't keep up with the demand. Pittsburgh should be pulling in the workers from elsewhere. I expect to see confirmation of the inmigration come Census 2020. Meanwhile, we have to look for clues:

And just in case we are lacking a resident labor historian I will point out one last little observation. Compare the rates at which Pittsburgh's labor force was growing in the 1970's and what has been the trend the last few years here. Comparable periods? There was this minor social phenomenon called the 'baby boom' that resulted in more than a few people entering the workforce mostly in the 1970s. I think we can all rest assured on the assumption that there was not some secret ramp up in births in Pittsburgh 20 years ago that is responsible for what is going on now. 

Historically-speaking, Pittsburgh's labor force is peaking and trending ever upwards. That's not a function of more births than deaths. It must be migration. Nationally, the labor force is shrinking. Pittsburgh is exceptionally positive (see all of the above), instead of its usual exceptionally negative.

The evidence isn't definitive. Quantifying the migration to Pittsburgh is hard to do. Even with IRS data, a lot of relocation can fall into the cracks. If there's a better measure than labor force, I don't know what it is. Suggestions are welcome.