Home > Pittsburgh’s “Brain Gain:” A Model for San Antonio?

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The Alamo / Photo by Billy Calzada Copyright San Antonio Express-News

The Alamo / Photo by Billy Calzada Copyright San Antonio Express-News

By Jim Futrell, vice president of market research and analysis for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance

A recent article published on Texas CEO Magazine’s website talked about the “brain gain” in San Antonio, citing a rise in the number of talented young people with college educations choosing to move to that medium-sized city – particularly to its more urban neighborhoods — to live and build their careers.

Sound familiar? It should, as we’re seeing those same trends in the Pittsburgh region, as I’ve noted here before. Similarly, the Alamo City is also seeing strong “return migration” of native sons and daughters who went away for college or to launch their careers. (We call them boomerangers, or as a colleague prefers, gumbanders.)

As a model for this new “talent economy,” the article cites Pittsburgh and specifically Carnegie Mellon University. It notes that instead of trying to lure graduates away in competition with other firms and locales, companies like Google and Disney are relocating right on campus. (Google has since moved to Bakery Square.)

It’s an interesting take, and of course it’s always nice to see Pittsburgh held up as an example to follow.  But I don’t think you can give sole credit to the activity generated by CMU. Overall it’s a relatively small (albeit very important) part of the economy. Our talent economy (and the talent spun out of Pitt, Duquesne and our many other regional colleges and universities) also manifests itself in all our other key sectors each of which has contributed to our growth.

Personally, I am not sure the comparison between the two cities is as strong as the article makes it seem. San Antonio’s economy was largely built around its several military bases, and government is their largest employment sector, accounting for 19 percent of employment (one-quarter of those with the federal government). In Pittsburgh, 11 percent of regional employment is in government. Tourism is also a critical economic generator for San Antonio.

And while I am sure University of Texas in Austin has some powerful spinoff benefits, San Antonio does not have a CMU or a Pitt. Their major research university is one of the University of Texas Health Science campuses, which does about $200 million in R&D. In fiscal year 2010, that figure in the Pittsburgh region was just over $1 billion.

But it does sound like the city itself is a talent magnet which I can certainly understand. I love San Antonio; it‘s my favorite city in Texas.

Jim Futrell

Jim Futrell

Jim Futrell is vice president of market research and analysis for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development that markets the 10-county region for business relocation and expansion. Futrell conducts in-depth research on targeted businesses and industries -- work that attracted such companies as Google, which now employs more than 150 people at its East Liberty engineering center. An avid amusement park enthusiast, he has authored four books on the subject, and serves as historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association.

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