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January 26, 2009

Foreign Born, Educational Attainment, and Entrepreneurship

By Britton Lombardi and Bill Testa

Attracting immigrants to the Midwest may be an especially lucrative objective from a regional economic development standpoint. As discussed in previous blog entries, the growth performance of metropolitan regions has been strongly linked with the educational attainment of its work force, especially college level attainment.

Educational attainment of the immigrant population in the U.S. tends to be skewed toward the high end (though it is also bifurcated—skewing toward the lower end as well). The high educational attainment of immigrants owes much to the top-notch university system found in both the Midwest and the nation, which brings many of the world’s brightest to our doors. Afterward, our market-based economy provides ample opportunities and rewards to talent, hard work, and new ideas of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs.

So far, even as the nation has experienced an upswing in immigration, the foreign born population in the Midwest lags well behind that of the nation. As the chart below suggests, the region’s large metropolitan areas host a much smaller share of foreign born, with the exception of Chicago.



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A closer look below reveals that the Chicago metropolitan area has attracted both the highly educated and the less educated. The share of Chicago’s foreign born who hold a college degree is below the U.S. average. In contrast, in the remaining metropolitan areas of the Midwest, the foreign born population includes a greater share holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2007. According to sample data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an incredible 50 percent of Pittsburgh’s working age population who were foreign born hold at least bachelor’s degree. Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Columbus are not far behind.



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Overall, however, the foreign born tend to lift Chicago’s average college attainment due to the city’s high overall propensity to attract immigrants. The Detroit area also rates highly in this regard, coming close to the national average.



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Metropolitan areas in the region may also prize the foreign born for their tendency to start new businesses. The foreign born are, on average, business owners and self-employed at about the same rate as native born, though their experiences and bahaviors are quite varied. In a recent study, Maude Toussaint-Comeau finds that self-employment of immigrants varies by country of origin and by differences in personal and human capital characteristics. Immigrant-owned small businesses often contribute importantly to urban revitalization and community development.

Many more of the (immigrant) college educated concentrate their studies in technical and scientific fields than their native-born counterparts. A report estimates that in 2005, 41 percent of science PhD workers in computer, mathematical, architectural, engineering, and science occupations were foreign born. As a result, many fast-growing scientific and technical firms in IT and software have been founded by foreign born (and often U.S. educated) entrepreneurs. Another study estimated that between 1995 and 2005, 52.4 percent of the engineering and technology start-ups in Silicon Valley had one or more foreign born key founders. For our region’s foundering metropolitan economies, such firms would be truly welcome.

Our reading of the same data source above shows that entrepreneurship of the foreign born in the region’s metropolitan areas lies close to national averages. This is true of both college-educated foreign born and overall foreign born. Again, these tendencies vary across metropolitan areas.

However, the overall paucity of foreign born in the region tends to depress their importance as entrepreneurs. As the chart below suggests, again only Chicago manages to climb above the national average in this regard. The Detroit metropolitan area comes in a respectable second place.



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Competition in attracting technical and educated immigrants can be fierce. At a time when skilled and educated workers are most in demand in the U.S., our immigration policy focuses heavily on family re-unification rather than criteria related to occupation or skill. And, to the extent that we do allow immigration based on applicants’ job skills, we cap such visas at levels far below what employers require. In the past two years, the quota for H-1B (skill-based) visas was met quite quickly. For fiscal year 2007, the H-1B cap was met two months after the application process opened, and for fiscal 2008, the cap was met in just under one day.

Metropolitan areas in the region differ in their overt recruitment of the foreign born. One way involves enhancing the process of assimilation into the fabric of the area for recent immigrants and foreign born residents. Pittsburgh has created the Welcome Center for Immigrants and Internationals to create a welcoming environment and to provide necessary resources and information, such as advice for small business owners and career counseling services. Indianapolis organized the International Center of Indianapolis to provide relocation and training services to both attract and retain well-educated immigrants. Indianapolis, too, has developed a Welcoming Center that connects recent immigrants with well-established immigrants to facilitate community integration. In the Chicago area, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs organizes events, speakers, and task forces to raise international awareness and to expand Chicago’s perception as a top tier global city. One such program in the past included a Mexican American Task Force that provided recommendations to businesses, governments, and other interested parties of ways to utilize the strong Mexican community as an economic asset.

Metropolitan areas have also taken to outwardly promoting their international diversity and available opportunities. Many cities participate in “Sister Cities” programs to build relationships with foreign cities to increase their international profile and potentially attract foreign investment, as well as visitors. Just to list a few: Chicago has 27 sister cities spread out across the world, while Detroit has 7, Columbus 8, St. Louis 14, and Milwaukee 5. Additionally, metropolitan areas promote their diversity and opportunities through cultural festivals and events. For example, Pittsburgh held “Global Pittsburgh Celebration,” a month-long celebration that worked to raise awareness about Pittsburgh’s global assets and technology, as well as showcasing the abundant opportunities for foreign-born entrepreneurship and innovation in the area.


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Posted by Testa at 2:10 PM | Comments (1)

January 8, 2009

Growth and Great Lakes Cities

For half a century or more, the industrial belt of the Great Lakes and Midwest has lagged counterpart regions in much of the South and West. Large midwestern metropolitan areas arguably offer the best prospects for relief from this historical pattern. The reasons are rooted in a fundamental restructuring of the global economy that favors cities. In underdeveloped countries, rapid urbanization and the emergence of large cities have gone hand in hand with economic growth and progress. And in developed countries on all continents, two factors have lifted growth opportunities for large cities. Foremost, technological gains in transmission of information have intensified the productivity of cities because of their role as meeting places. Face-to-face communication complements digital information flows. As business people can more easily transmit and receive information via electronic devices, their time has been freed so that they can engage more intensely and broadly in in-person dialog and social interaction. In other words, carrying one’s office in the palm of one’s hand allows one to leave the physical office to better explore opportunities and ideas. Cities tend to maximize these encounters in person. Enhanced and cheaper air travel lends a helping hand.

A second factor, the opening of global trade and capital markets, has increased the possible scale and opportunities for large cities. Cities tend to function best in managing and administering far-flung markets. More open and intensive global trade has tended to broaden the reach and scale by which successful cities can perform such functions in finance, advertising, research and development, law, and company management. For this reason, some analysts believe that they can identify the emergence of “global cities” that have succeeded in such opportunities.

To date, large cities of the Great Lakes have not fully benefitted from these “new economy” trends. Migration to regions with warmer climates has slowed these cities’ work force and population growth—a trend also reflected throughout the remainder of the region. But more fundamentally, many if not most of the region’s large urban economies were built not on the service industries that benefit from the ongoing global changes, but rather on the manufacture of goods and associated freight transportation. These cities’ transition to services and knowledge-based economies has proven difficult because manufacturing-oriented places must overcome and replace larger portions of their economic base. Manufacturing-oriented income in the region has withered because of global competition, falling real prices for manufactured goods, and technical advances that have allowed goods to be produced with less labor. To these obstacles, technical changes in the production processes themselves may be added: Such changes have made the more-densely populated parts of large cities especially difficult places in which to manufacture, compared with those far suburban and rural places, where land is cheap and the transportation of materials is more convenient. The growth-retarding effect from manufacturing on U.S. metropolitan areas over the 1960–90 period has been documented in a statistical study by Edward Glaeser.

Have the relative growth rates of midwestern metro areas coincided with the degree of their original manufacturing orientation? The charts below display employment concentration in manufacturing for the eleven largest metropolitan areas in the industrial belt on the vertical axis. The horizontal axis displays each metropolitan area’s total job growth on the first chart and real per capita income growth on the second chart. The inverse correlation of economic well-being with initial manufacturing concentration is quite evident. A simple correlation between job growth from 1969 through 2006 and the manufacturing orientation in 1969 is a strongly negative 0.8. Similarly, the correlation between manufacturing and per capita income growth is -0.7.


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What might be some other reasons behind varying performance of these metropolitan areas? For one, even within the manufacturing sector, industry mix (and related performance) varies markedly. For example, the Twin Cities’ manufacturing base included emerging medical instruments and computer equipment during this time period, while Detroit hosted sagging domestic auto production.

Other observers wonder about the role that the metro core or central city has played in its relative growth and development. Due to marked suburbanization within metropolitan areas, and fixed central city boundaries, some cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis became relatively small islands of population; today, the city population accounts respectively for only 20.9% and 12.5% of these two metropolitan areas. As such, cities such as these were left largely alone to provide public services to low-income populations—and to do so with a rapidly diminishing tax base. Accordingly, some researchers speculate whether growth and development suffered as a result of this trend—not only in the city but in the entire metropolitan area. In contrast, central city Columbus and Indianapolis began with a broader geography and richer tax base with which to provide public services and development-oriented infrastructure.

While Midwest cities have many challenges to overcome, there are also assets on which to build. As widely shown and increasingly recognized, the most important overall determinant of regional growth performance has been the educational attainment of its population and work force. This is not surprising given the structural changes that have taken place in the emerging economy—changes which place a greater emphasis on information exchange and the development of creative ideas. For Midwest metro areas, and as discussed by Timothy Dunne in a recent Economic Commentary, educational attainment may be more important than for other regions. To succeed in overcoming the shocks that rocked their industrial bases, educational attainment in Midwest metro areas may have been most helpful in adaptation and re-invention. Tim Dunne displays charts similar to those above which indicate a weaker correlation between educational attainment and growth in warm weather metro areas as compared to cold weather climes. In considering educational attainment of the populations, the table below displays the ranks of Great Lakes metropolitan areas among 118 metropolitan areas in 1970 and 2006. The two local leaders in 1970 college attainment, Columbus, Ohio, and the Twin Cities also experienced the fastest employment growth. While Pittsburgh ranked low in college attainment in 1970, its gains in this metric since then have been the most rapid. Perhaps not accidentally, Pittsburgh’s growth in per capita income also outpaced other cities in the region.


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As for policy, while the region’s goods-producing industry mix has left behind a legacy of a slow-growing industrial base, the region also boasts top-notch colleges and universities. With regard to elementary and secondary education, the region maintains a healthy income base with which to support its schools. Similar to most other parts of the country, the region’s educational challenges are to have its students to perform much better, especially in central cities and lower-income communities.

Note: Vanessa Haleco-Meyer contributed to this weblog.

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Posted by Testa at 12:25 PM | Comments (2)