Move to Pittsburgh!

I like the spirit of this little perspective piece in today's P-G, arguing that Pittsburgh needs to expand its immigrant population and take after Minneapolis. But the author combines two perspectives that are really very different--be like Minneapolis, and be like Palo Alto. On the one hand, there's attracting poor, dependent populations like the Hmong who moved to Minneapolis. That community worked hard and has slowly begun to moved into the city's middle class. On the other hand, there's attracting educated, upper class immigrants, like the large number of entrepreneurs and software developers from India who have energized much of the Silicon Valley economy over the last 15 years.

First, southeast Asian populations in many Middle West communities have survived and prospered in part because many of those communities had extensive social service networks to support those populations--and in part because many of those communities have a large number of low-paying, dangerous, backbreaking jobs those only those at the absolute bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are willing to take. The immigrant community comes in, takes over those jobs, saves enough money to escape them and move into the middle class. Another immigrant community follows. Repeat pattern. I have a lot of family members around Iowa. There are a lot of small Iowa towns now with pretty good Vietnamese restaurants--often not too far away from meat packing plants.

Lesson: Immigrant populations migrate toward jobs. Low-wage jobs and high-wage jobs. Pittsburgh will have a hard time attracting poor immigrant populations without an abundance of low-wage jobs and/or a far more generous government benefits structure than we have today.

Second, Indian entrepreneurs and software developers have been attracted to the Silicon Valley for all the usual Californian reasons. The heart of the Valley is a social and economic culture that values imagination, expertise, and energy--Seize the Day!--over history and skin color. No one sits around Palo Alto whining that there isn't enough to do downtown and waiting for someone to do something. There isn't a lot to do in downtown Palo Alto (I grew up there, my family still lives there, I go back at least once a year), but everyone and his mother is brainstorming new ideas, raising money, hiring friends, and launching new businesses. Many of them fail. Even most of them. But they get up and start again.

Lesson: Pittsburgh will have a hard time attracting more of these sorts of immigrants without doing more to change its historical resistance to social and economic entrepreneurship.

Get yo Pittsburgh on.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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