Helping Shrinking Cities through Immigration

11 Dec

I had an unexpected link to my site from the “Burgh Diaspora” today. The post is entitled “Rust Belt 2.0”, and seeks to set up a meeting / collaboration between bloggers in various rust belt cities. Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Erie, and Youngstown bloggers have expressed an interest.

The premise is simple:

Create more H-1B visa immigration into the Rust Belt region:

This might be a good time to propose to Congress/Administration the creation of “High Skill Immigration Zones” in parts of the country that are struggling to making the transition to a knowledge-based economy (e.g., Rust Belt Cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.), and which are progressively depopulating and destabilizing.

Attracting educated immigrants to shrinking cities in the rust belt in order to help the transition from a post-industrial stasis to a knowledge-based economy. It’s intriguing. Sure, it’s hard to attract, say, a young college graduate to come to or stay in Buffalo when the pickings in places like Phoenix or Atlanta are more plentiful and appealing. But what about the eager immigrant for whom Buffalo conjures up no negative connotations whatsoever? Consider:

The United States is undergoing a profound economic restructuring, due to pressures of globalization and the rising knowledge economy. America’s Great Lakes region, once the core of the nation’s industrial production and wealth creation, is losing ground rapidly. At this critical moment, federal investment in U.S. competitiveness lacks a regional focus. Federal policy fails to recognize that national growth is driven by integrated regional economies with the strong underlying assets necessary for talent creation and innovation.

What do you think? Good idea? Pipe dream? Is this the kind of thing that could help Buffalo grow its economy and population in spite of Albany politics? I’m somewhat intrigued and prepared to learn more.

18 Responses to “Helping Shrinking Cities through Immigration”

  1. Chris from OP December 11, 2007 at 9:52 pm #

    Should Buffalo try to get more people who are disproportionately hard-working and entrepreneurial? Tough question.

    Because everything in urban planning has to be somehow connected to Richard Florida’s “Rise/Flight of the Creative Class” (I believe the law was passed in early 2005), all I can say is a downtown with more Ethiopian, Salvadorean, Vietnamese, Thai and Estonian (ok, kidding on that last one– Estonian food is awful) restaurants will be a downtown (and therefore, city) that will attract more upwardly mobile, overeducated young people (aka, yuppies).

  2. Buffalo Blood Donor December 11, 2007 at 10:36 pm #

    Maybe we should ask Tim Tielman this question.

    Okay, I’m kidding. The idea of a foreign immigration incentive is intriguing from the view that the H1B is a chain that effectively binds the foreign national to the company hiring him/her. For specialty areas (like engineering and medicine) this can be beneficial to companies in depressed areas like Buffalo. I’m sure non-depressed cities might cry foul, some local bigots won’t like the idea of foreigners coming to live here, and people with lots of pride will claim we don’t need the government handout. An interesting idea.


  3. Pauldub December 11, 2007 at 10:54 pm #

    Seems like a no brainer to me. I like the idea of Rust belt regionalization.

  4. jen December 11, 2007 at 11:17 pm #

    Chris from OP Says:
    “Because everything in urban planning has to be somehow connected to Richard Florida’s “Rise/Flight of the Creative Class” (I believe the law was passed in early 2005)”


  5. bfoj December 11, 2007 at 11:42 pm #

    I think it is a great idea – as long as there is work available. I mean, people keep leaving for a reason. Concentrated poverty is concentrated poverty, no matter what race, religion or nation of origin.

    Ideally in this vision immigrants will populate distressed areas, work hard and stabilize the neighborhood. That’s a great plan and it certainly could work. We could have ethnic enclaves like in the past, and hopefully that will keep people interested in living there.

    BUT – let’s not assume that just because someone has brown skin that they’ll enjoy living in the slums of the city. They might work hard, make some money and move to the suburbs like everyone else for all we know – hell, that is the “American Dream” isn’t it? Devil’s advocate says: If working hard so I can afford a nice house in …wherever… is good enough for me, why would I expect an immigrant to work hard, save money, but live in a place I would never even drive through? Seems strange.

  6. Denizen December 12, 2007 at 1:39 am #

    Fine and dandy….except the high-skilled immigrants usually move to the suburbs these days just like their native-born coworkers. Just look where in WNY most of the Chinese and Indians affiliated with UB choose to live: mostly in Amherst.

    The immigrants who move to inner-city areas typically know little no English and are limited to very rudimentary work skills like manual labor, crafts, or running a small shop. They huddle together in dense little enclaves for comfort and security in an otherwise alien new society. The Vietnamese and Somali, and other refugee populations on the west side are a good example of this.

    If WNY wants to lure more higher-skilled immigrants to the area, more high-skilled jobs are needed. UB is great, but it’d be nice if the foreign students had a reason to stay after their 4-6 years of university here.

  7. In Da Buff December 12, 2007 at 2:04 am #

    You are already seeing an influx of immigrants in parts of the city…B-F has Vietnamese and Arab…the latter is in the formative stages of building a huge community…

  8. hank kaczmarek December 12, 2007 at 5:18 am #

    as for
    and people with lots of pride will claim we don’t need the government handout.

    BUFFALO IS A GOVERNMENT HANDOUT–Government takes every penny it can from the state and Federal gov’t, and is not only the biggest disburser (the various welfare programs) but also the largest employer. Sort of like the Soviet Union used to be.

    It’s an idea worth exploring. Sure the houses are newer in Amherst, but lots of the houses still left refurbishing in Buffalo have Character. And with all those houses in Amherst with the bad foundations, etc….

    When my aunts house at 280 East St. In Black Rock was sold in the mid 80’s, the entry hall, as well as several other places in the house still had the gas lighting fixtures in the walls, the lines were capped in the basement. More wooden pegs than nails held on the clapboards. and the place was still solid as a rock. If it was for sale today it could be had for a song vis a vis a house in Amherst.

    No reason not to cultivate some immigrants here to form a new technology corridor along the lake/river from Cleveland to Buffalo and on past!

    Black Rock was an “immigrant” neigborhood beginning in the 1850’s when the Germans who built St Francis Xavier church came here. Then it transitioned to 2nd-3rd generation of those same immigrants. Now the local minorities have hold with section 8. The next step is revitalization by the young upwardly rising as many neigborhoods nationwide have seen.

    Check it out. Haight Asbury in SF is now one of the most expensive zip codes in the US. And when you see the pictures of places where groups like The Diggers once lived, you’ll know why.

  9. mike hudson December 12, 2007 at 5:20 am #

    aside from the fact that i have a team of great doctors, all of whom are from the punjab, keeping me alive, i would refer everyone to the major piece on buffalo in the current edition of of the highly respected quarterly “city journal.”

    entitled “can buffalo ever come back? probably not and the government should quit bribing people to stay there,” its author, harvard economics professor edward l. glaeser, points out a number of things civic boosters of the nickel city or the queen city of the great lakes or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week tend to overlook.

    like that the only reason for buffalo’s existence in the first place was its location at the terminus of the erie canal, which doesn’t exist anymore. or that an astonishing 10 percent of buffalo’s residents in the 2000 census had just moved there since 1995, nearly all of them low income people attracted by dirt cheap housing and new york-style welfare benefits. or that just 19 percent of the people here have a college degree as opposed to more than 55 percent in new york city.

    of course, the professor’s assessment and advice will fall on deaf ears here, as members of the brain trust are far too busy thinking happy thoughts and being “positive.”

    yeah! maybe people from darfur won’t think it’s so bad here! things are looking up already!

  10. Mike Miller December 12, 2007 at 6:50 am #

    I believe Masiello started recruiting immigrants several years ago.

  11. Ben Fleming December 12, 2007 at 9:00 am #

    First all of, the City Journal is highly respected by whom? It’s an afterthought rag published by the libertarian crackpots at the Manhattan Institute. Urban planning, budgeting, education … if you can predict their policy prescription literally 100 percent of the time, then maybe it’s not that valuable. Also, I love how you call him “the professor,” as if that has shit to do with shit. A hack is a hack whether he has tenure or not.

    In any case, the article reads as if it were written by someone who had zero interest in whether Buffalo survives. Surprise. The guy wants smaller government whether that would help or not (which, in our case, it certainly wouldn’t). Turning a deaf ear to such “advice” isn’t just advisible — it’s all but necessary.

  12. Mike December 12, 2007 at 9:36 am #

    Hudsons blogs are like paid advertisements for anyone who ever bought him a drink or mentions his paper in print. You sound like your part of that 10 percent, no college degree (sorry mike university of phoenix doent count), cheap housing, and soon to be on welfare because you cant afford the meds.

  13. mike hudson December 12, 2007 at 11:27 am #

    you order any pizza lately, mike?

  14. Mike December 12, 2007 at 12:57 pm #

    sure, did you deliver it? i heard you were working part time. i hoped i tipped you better than your buddy the judge tips, he’s well known for stiffing delivery people and mooching bus rides to dame games.

  15. NathanK December 12, 2007 at 1:57 pm #

    Bringing H1-B immigrants could help. If they choose to live in Amherst, that’s their prerogative. At least they would still be contributing to the local economy. However, I don’t think our efforts should be restricted to just H1-B immigrants. Other immigrants and refugees, and our local economy, could benefit from the creation of new partnerships between government, higher ed institutions, and human service agencies that would help immigrants get a college degree and start their own business. I don’t know what a program like this would look like, but maybe it could include a business incubator located in an area with a high concentration of immigrant residents.

  16. Mike C December 15, 2007 at 10:29 pm #

    What use are more H1B visa holders to Buffalo? It’s all about jobs! How many former Buffalonians with IT skills now live in the Carolinas, along the front range, in Phoenix, California, Seattle, etc. How many would move back right now given a favorable employment situation?

  17. John Morris December 16, 2007 at 8:48 pm #

    If Buffalo is anything like Pittsburgh the major problem will be getting any significant local support for the idea. It’s pretty strange and ironic but many of the most extreme anti immigrant laws and policies have been put out in places that have almost no foreign immigration. Altoona, PA is a good example. In depressed cities convincing people that the pie could actually grow is pretty hard and most people just see the downside.

    Maybe since you are closer to Canada there could be more awarness of pro growth immigration policies.

  18. John Morris December 16, 2007 at 9:01 pm #

    I don’t think the “all about jobs” argument carries much weight. If high skilled immigrants are in the kind of short supply that a lot of experts and companies claim then increasing the number of Visas only for targeted areas would likely cause a lot of people to open up offices to take advantage of the labor pool.

    The whole situation calls into question the whole mythology of the industrial age– that rich, smart skilled people “exploited” the unskilled and poor. If there was any truth in the myth it has nothing to do with the world of today in which brains and skills are priceless.

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