Harold Miller has the statistics and the argument exactly right: Pittsburgh runs woefully short by national standards when it comes to attracting immigrants of all skill levels and colors.
Although our current rate of in-migration is still too low, at least it’s moving
us in the right direction – attracting young people, highly educated
individuals, and a somewhat more diverse population than we have today. Our
challenge is to make them feel welcome, and to provide the job opportunities
they need to stay and build roots here.
Harold ends there; he doesn't detail the end of the argument: Why, exactly, is low immigration a problem for the region?
As one commenter at his blog notes, low immigration is a symptom, not a problem. The problem is the economy. People go where the jobs are, and Pittsburgh isn't creating enough new jobs -- Sycor notwithstanding -- to generate the in-bound migration that other regions see. "Spin-off" and start-up development based near Pitt and CMU is important and useful, but it's not a jobs-generating sector, at least not in the short term.
Moreover, there are sizable communities in the Pittsburgh region that see potential increases in immigration rates as undesirable -- either because immigration of lower-skilled workers threatens existing blue-collar employment and depresses wages, or because in-bound higher-skilled workers compete for positions with people who already live here, or both. Somewhere in Pittsburgh, someone is asking why Sycor wants to raise the H1-B visa cap rather than hire skilled people who already live in Pittsburgh.
The problem, in other words, is that immigration is perceived by many as a threat to the pie that we already have, rather than as part of a process of growing the pie. Chris Schultz reprises some concrete ideas for breaking out of this cycle and growing the pie -- I'm especially partial to transit-oriented development, and to growing Pittsburgh's green energy economy. But who will lead?
I think that Sycor's leadership is also on the right track. Part of the solution here has to be in-migrants themselves seizing positions as opinion leaders, making the case that they are Pittsburgh's future, just as immigrants created Pittsburgh's past. Left to its own devices, the region may lack the rhetorical or political will to escape the mentality that prioritizes conserving wages and jobs over expanding them. Is this the ultimate immigration irony? That only immigrants themselves, with sufficient numbers and visibility, can lift Pittsburgh out of the doldrums? If only we could attract them and give them a platform . . . .