Talk of Cleveland’s population tends to focus on an assumption that people often leave, and few are coming back. Richey Piiparinen, a senior research associate at the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, last week released the second in a series of three papers about where Cleveland’s population and economic prospects really stand. He speaks with ideastream's Tony Ganzer.
Talk of Cleveland’s population tends to focus on an assumed truth—that people often leave, and few are coming back. Richey Piiparinen wants to shift that conversation. He’s a senior research associate at the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, and last week released the second in a series of three papers about where Cleveland’s population and economic prospects really stand, and how it can progress into the global economy. Piiparinen says the data show population in-flows come in at least three main types. He says about half of foreign migrants who came between 2007 and 2011 had a college degree, and most of those had a professional or graduate degree. Another source of new residents are places closer to home - Detroit’s Wayne County, for example, and Brooklyn’s Kings County. The third source is the boomerang resident—someone who grew up here, or had roots here, and has come back.
PIIPARINEN: “There’s family. There’s a very serious sense of place in the Rust Belt. And that is a big driver of migration into the region, especially as the cost of living becomes so costly on the coasts.”
GANZER: “The first sound bite that came out of this report was ‘Brain Gain.’ People jumped on this saying ‘Well, highly educated people coming into Cleveland, wow, that’s amazing.’ I immediately thought of the hospitals, and I thought that maybe they are skewing that sort of data. Can you address that?”
PIIPARINEN: “The thing about ‘Brain Gain’ is, what was surprising is, everyone didn’t believe it was happening. You know, everyone’s still stuck in this kind of mindset that the Rust Belt is simply about decline.”
GANZER: “So that those people simply wouldn’t come?”
PIIPARINEN: “Right. So I think the first key point is to expose that there actually is positive in-migration of educated individuals into the Rust Belt, that’s very important. For those people who are coming in for jobs, I think the healthcare industry is a huge driver of that. Cleveland has a newer economy, and an older economy, and we have to be careful with how we say older economy, because manufacturing is still a huge base. But within manufacturing is what we call advanced manufacturing, so there is a huge knowledge industry. What’s important here is that newer industries drive population growth, whereas older industries are responsible for population loss. So when you look at Cleveland you look at healthcare, you look at health services, you look at biotech, look at new materials, advanced manufacturing—those are real sources of population gain because that’s where the jobs are in the future. So in a sense, yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s skewing it.”
GANZER: “I guess I’ll qualify that. You have these Eastside communities that often see folks coming in either for the Clinic, Cleveland Clinic jobs, or Case (Western Reserve University) jobs, and maybe these are two-year rotations or three-year rotations. And I am just curious how that quick turn-around is either benefiting the area, or, that’s why I said, skewing the data.”
PIIPARINEN: “I think that’s a great point. Traditionally when we talk about migration and economic development we talk about retention: if you come here and don’t stay, that’s a failure. But that’s not really how economic development works. If your city is a fish tank, and it has circulation—and that means both in-migration and out-migration—that’s a good thing. Migration is like the laying down of human fiber optics, and Cleveland needs to be connected more than it is. Clevelanders often think that the world ends at Medina County and Lake Erie, and that’s simply not the case. And from an economic development standpoint you want to be able to chart migrations, even if it’s not a retention strategy, but chart migrations and circulations so you know that you can still do business with someone in Hong Kong if they stayed here for three years. That’s very important.”
GANZER: “This may come out in your third report, but what needs to be done, I guess?”
PIIPARINEN: “Before I became..I got into economic development, urban planning, I was in to clinical psychology. And so, for me, marrying these two fields really informs how I strategize about this. Cleveland, because of its lack of in-migration and lack of churn, it became an insular, parochial community. And so the conversation really sticks on kind of a nativist conversation. ‘What can we do to help Cleveland?’ So we’re facing inward in our strategy, in our policy, in our communication. But I think the more and more we have these conversations, and the more and more we have new migrants coming in, I think there’s going to be a natural evolution of being able to face outward, being able to focus outward, being able to know that nativist policies and somewhat xenophobic thinking is not a way to grow your city, when it exists on a globe. And I hope that this series of papers can direct that conversation so we make these ideas and data very actionable.”
Richey Piiparinen is a researcher at Cleveland State University. He mentioned at the end of our interview that he is a native Clevelander not wanting to bash the region. Instead he wants to show that being globally minded and invested locally are not ideas at odds with each other.