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Growing Number of High-Skilled Immigrants Favor Pittsburgh and Other Emerging Rust Belt Cities Over Silicon Valley, Brookings Study Reports

 
A growing number of high-skilled immigrants have been moving to Pittsburgh and other old-line industrial cities in recent years -- shunning places like Silicon Valley -- bringing their entrepreneurial spirit and balancing out the "brain drain" of native-born residents leaving the region, according to a new analysis of census figures by the Brookings Institution.

"Perhaps most notable is the very high concentration of high-skilled immigrants in older industrial metro areas in the Midwest and Northeast such as Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Syracuse," Brookings said.

"Immigrants in these metropolitan areas tilt toward high-skill because they blend earlier arriving cohorts who have had time to complete higher education with newcomers entering who can fit into the labor market because of their high educational attainment," the report said.

CLICK HERE for the full Brookings report (PDF).

The lower cost of living in Pittsburgh and other emerging Rust Belt cities is a likely factor in the shift, according to the study's lead researcher.

"We don't think of these areas as high-tech hubs, but they have been really active in trying to recruit and encourage the welcoming of foreign workers into their industries to rejuvenate their economy," Brookings researcher Matthew Hall told the San Francisco Bay Citizen website.

"Pittsburgh is an easier place to afford to live the American dream and get your foot in the door," Hall said. "That might sound like a pretty good option to a lot of people."

Brookings named GlobalPittsburgh and similar organizations in other cities for leading efforts to promote these regions as good places for immigrants to live, work and study.

"Using strategies to internationalize those metro areas, such as marketing the regions as immigrant-friendly, retaining international university students, and boosting foreign direct investment, allow local areas to reach out to immigrants in an effort to grow their international communities, their economies and their resident populations," the report said.

The Pittsburgh Region boasts the most highly skilled immigrant population -- three times the national average -- out of 100 major metropolitan areas studied by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution in a report released last week.

High-skilled immigrants in Pittsburgh outnumber low-skilled immigrants by nearly 4-1, according to the Brookings study of U.S. census results. (A skill ratio of 100 indicates an equal number of high- and low-skilled immigrants.) The skill ratio for all immigrants living in the 100 largest metro areas is 101.6, Brookings said.

"Several of the most highly educated immigrant populations nationwide (e.g., Pittsburgh and St. Louis) are located in former gateways that have transitioned, at least partially, into concentrations such as science, health care, and education," the study said.

While cities like Pittsburgh have seen many of their native-born residents leave for job opportunities elsewhere, the number of skilled immigrants has grown to fill specialized job openings, the study said,

"It is widely recognized that many of these "old" destinations suffer from native out-migration—particularly among adults with high levels of education," Brookings said. "One factor attracting highly educated immigrants to former destinations may thus be a demand for the skilled labor they can provide.

The study quotes Demographer William Frey stating that "'immigration tends to compensate, to some degree, for the "brain drain"' in these metropolitan areas.'"

"Conversely, in areas with slower-growing immigrant populations, high-skilled immigrants tend to constitute a larger share of the newest cohort," the study says. "In Pittsburgh, the most extreme example, the immigrant population grew by 13 percent between 2000 and 2009, and 76.4 percent of these new arrivals were college-educated, while just 6.1 percent lacked a high school diploma."
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