Forging Innovation

Catalyzing economic development in Pittsburgh through collaborative discussion and emergent thought.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Editorial: Brain Drain

Today I had the pleasure of participating in a Career Cluster Event hosted by Chartiers Valley Highschool. One of the primary goals of this event was to help young people in the south hills area to "chart their course" and promote Western PA. During the event, I had the opportunity to chat with Bill Peduto and some other folks about the state of our local economy. One issue that seemed to resonate with all of the folks was the "brain-drain" issue.

For those of you that are not familiar with this issue, it is pretty simple. Lots of smart young people are fleeing Pittsburgh. Why are all of our best and brightest leaving? Simple--lack of opportunity. What opportunities are young people most concerned about? I thought you would never ask.

1. We want to have ample opportunity to establish relationships with other young people
2. We want a chance to make it big--high-powered jobs, rapid advancement, $$$
3. We want to have fun--it has to be easy to get around to a variety of places that provide (1)

That's it. How does Pittsburgh rate on this list?

1. Well, I wouldn't be writing this if that was working out ok.

2. I doubt anyone would say Pittsburgh is the place to go to strike it big. How many investment banks, management consulting firms, venture capital firms, and start-ups, do you see here? Better yet, how many young executives (under 30) do you see in Pittsburgh?

3. I always hear about our bus line. When was the last time you hopped on a bus to go out Friday night?

For those of you that do not seem to think this is a big deal, I challenge you to find a single person under the age of 28 that: (a) has not seen the majority of their friends leave the city, (b) does not have friends that plan to leave in the near future, or (c) or are not planning to leave the city themselves. If you are older and think, "this does not affect me," think again. This is a simple situation. Young people leave. Old people stay. City go bye.

There is nothing wrong with saying there is a problem. No place is perfect. What is wrong is to acknowledge the problem and then refuse to do anything about it. Pittsburgh is an amazing city. It is absolutely beautiful. We have strong universities and a strong community. But we can do better. We are a city forged by innovators--let's act like it. Our leaders need to work together, get out of the boardrooms, and start talking to people. When was the last time you saw a 20-something in a meeting involving the formation of economic development policy? Probably never. If you want to know why young people are leaving--ask. If you want us to stay, give us a reason to.

That's all folks. Go Steelers.


  • At 6:03 AM, Blogger Ed Engler said…

    Hooman implores us to:

    1. Provide "ample opportunity to establish relationships with other young people"

    2. Provide a chance to make it big--high-powered jobs, rapid advancement, $$$

    3. Make it easy to get around to a variety of places that provide (1)

    I'd claim that #2 is perhaps the most critical. If you give young folks the job opportunities they crave in large enough numbers, they will create their own social opportunities. We already have cool places to hang out on the South Side, Oakland, Shadyside and others. What's missing is the means to stay here.

    What kind of jobs could we provide? Large companies routinely recruit from universities - when they're growing. Our large companies are generally not growing, don't recruit university grads or don't have the kind of jobs they're looking for. I'd like to hear some ideas about if and how this fact can change.

    Small companies are growing but look for people with experience because they don't have time to train young folks or they don't have the expertise necessary and are looking for new hires to bring that expertise with them.

    How can we change this situation? I can think of several ways:

    1. Organically : As small companies grow and the labor market tightens, opportunities for young people will increase naturally. This is a slow process and will affect only a small percentage of the young people in our community.

    2. Attract more large companies : This is something we've been trying to do for years with limited success. This is an area where public policy can make a big difference. Reducing corporate taxes could help this effort a lot.

    3. Assist/motivate companies to hire young people and train them. A program called WEDNET exists in the state that is designed to help companies train their own employees. Perhaps expanding this program to add focus on new graduates who get training could help. Helping companies create programs for hiring and training new graduates might help as well. Creating a framework for companies to start with and assisting them in calculating the value of new graduates might be a good start. If anyone reading this has experience creating such programs, please post your experiences and ideas!

  • At 1:27 PM, Blogger Hooman said…

    I think that (2) is extremely key. Initially, I think you focus should be to attract those companies that would benefit from our strong research universities.

  • At 7:00 AM, Blogger Peter Durand said…

    The CommonCensus map project is a bottom-up, vote-driven mapping project in which citizens redraw their local cultural borders, ignoring state and local municipal boundaries, to reveal the cultural 'spheres of influence' that both unite and divide the United States.

    This project is an intriguing attempt at emotional mapping, but the story it tells is a bit lopsided.

    According to the project, which asks participants to vote on the greatest cultural influence in there region, Pittsburgh has a geographic halo reaching north to Lake Erie and south into West Virginia, and leaching over into Eastern Ohio and Western Maryland.

    While this may be true in regards to attracting a regional workforce--plus all important tourists and fans of the Steelers, the Pirates and Penguins--it doesn't reflect the devastating brain drain of talent that occurs.

    As with many once influential Rust Belt cultural centers (Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, etc.) the centers of excellence may still thrive (CMU in Pittsburgh, Cranbrook in Detroit, University of Buffalo) but the jobs don't.

    More devastating, the venture capitalists aren't stepping up to fund and retain the talent and ideas streaming out of the region.

  • At 3:26 PM, Blogger Mark Rauterkus said…

    I saw a bunch of 20 and 30-somethings at an economic development meeting. We were talking at Carlow's Science Building about the roads in those parts. Roads that connect Oakland and Downtown and South Side. Sorta important part of the city.

    The road plan SUCKS. S-U-C-K-S. They will build a bridge -- but won't put in a bike lane. That meeting was a joke. The public officials think they are doing well and have a good plan. I think they should all be fired.

    The excuse is this is a bridge re-building project. Not a road expansion. Not a sidewalk expansion. Not anything but a road re-do. Poor excuse. Poor policy. Poor Pittsburgh. Shame extension of the status quo. Poor creativity. Poor interacion among citizens who went there to express their concerns.

    And, it is like Pitt official act as if it does not worry what young people do. Hey Pitt honchos. Young people ride bikes! Make sure you have bike lanes into and out of campus from all directions. Otherwise, speak up.

  • At 3:49 PM, Blogger Hooman said…

    Peter, very cool project. I agree that we need to see more folks from the private sector step up and take some action. Good post.


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