Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Urban Hierarchy Of Talent Production

There exists an urban hierarchy for talent attraction. The alpha global cities stand at the top, sucking up all the best brains from around the world. Any exception to that rule is worth noting:

The local unemployment rate of 6.2 percent in December was stable from a year earlier and well below the national rate of 7.1 percent. Out on the main street in a cafe and whiskey bar called Death Valley’s Little Brother that appears to have been dropped in from a fashionable part of Brooklyn, seats are scarce despite prices that could make a New Yorker wince.

Google’s logo on a former leather tannery in Kitchener, a relic from the region’s past as Canada’s shoemaking capital, provides a vivid illustration of the way that, when a company starts to slip, the best talent goes elsewhere. BlackBerry aims to reverse its fortunes with radically new smartphones and equally innovative software that runs them. It introduced the phones to the public last week to strong reviews.

Steven Woods, the director of engineering for Google in Kitchener, said that the search engine company established an operation here about eight years ago and expanded into the tannery building in 2011 as part of a broad plan to absorb foreign talent and sensibilities.

Most of the company’s other new operations were put in major metropolitan centers, including New York, London and Tokyo.

“Waterloo is different,” Mr. Woods said, sitting in a scaled-down version of Google’s Silicon Valley office, down to a gourmet, no-charge cafeteria. “It’s got this amazing university which has long been one of our top three recruiting universities for Google as a whole, worldwide,” said Mr. Woods, who earned a doctorate at Waterloo.

Kitchener is on Google's map not because it rates as a magnet for talent. It's not New York, London, or Tokyo on that score. But in terms of talent production, the University of Waterloo is world class. In the realm of talent migration, this little known fact is hugely disruptive.

It's also a new paradigm for economic geography. Richard Florida's map of the Creative Class is a relic of an economy in decline. More and more cities are getting in on the game of talent attraction. Joel Kotkin (New Geography) has noted the shift. My research revealed a similar trend benefiting San Antonio. That's increased competition for a talent pool already suffering from over-fishing. So, the likes of Google (e.g. Disney) go to the source where it is easy to poach the cream of the crop. Business chases talent not in Creative Class cool Portland. Instead, it is popping up in Rust Belt Chic Kitchener.

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