About a year ago, I wrote about the difference between Cleveland’s and Pittsburgh’s responses to brain drain, a rough economy, and their impotent positions within the economy. The “Brain Drain” is one of the large elements of this discussion, given its ability to steal away a community’s future.

In a recent essay in 2007, Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser argued that funneling resources into “place-based strategies” to reinvigorate worn-down cities is wasteful and ineffective. Instead, Glaeser argues that any redevelopment effort should incorporate “people-based strategies,” investing in the people living in a community — acknowledging that these new skills could be put to use in places like Buffalo (the focus of his essay) or Las Vegas. Yes, Glaeser accepts the notion that people might leave.

Glaeser’s point is that communities need to begin looking long-term as opposed to short term. Jim Russell’s blog at Burgh Disapora takes a shot at what this might look like in a place like Erie, PA, a community definitely suffering from Brain Drain:

I propose starting a boomerang migrant incubator in downtown Erie. Boomerang migrants are natives who left and then returned. As you probably know, moving back home is almost an impossible task. Employment is scarce and relocation logistics can be a nightmare, particularly during a deep recession. Yet people find a way to pull it off. More might do the same if they knew how and had some help. The key is motivation and the willingness to overcome any obstacle. These are the traits of entrepreneurs and Erie could use more of them.

The idea is that whether or not youth leave (they actually probably would if given the education necessary in a people-based approach), we should be investing in everything possible to prepare to welcome them back in ten or fifteen years. That is what Pittsburgh did when it went through its own hard times in the 1980s, and it has paid off beautifully now.

It is unconventional, and it might hollow out a community before making it better, but eventually it could work. The question is do we have the patience?

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