Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.'s New Silver Line - Pacific Standard

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.'s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.
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The Silver Line under construction. (Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikimedia Commons)

The Silver Line under construction. (Photo: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz/Wikimedia Commons)

Over the weekend, the Washington, D.C., metro system opened the Silver Line. Anyone hoping for a relief in traffic congestion will be sorely disappointed. However, the new rail will have substantial impacts on the region. "The Silver Line Is a New Weapon in the Local War for Talent":

Local recruiters and businesses are betting that there are many more workers like Weisse-Bernstein who might be newly receptive to working in neighborhoods along the Silver Line. And so the opening of the transit option adds a new dimension to the local war for talent: Companies in McLean and Reston believe they have a new recruiting tool for getting far-flung workers to consider their jobs. ...

... “A lot of the folks who [just] graduated from college, they want to live in Arlington or D.C. The lifestyle there for people right out of college is great,” Eden said. “To them, it seems like Tysons Corner is way far away. A lot of them don’t want to have a car.” ...

... LMI, a mid-size company, has been touting its Silver Line access in job postings in hope that it will help it better compete for talent with larger contracting firms who are already Metro accessible.

Notice the geographic scale for the "new weapon in the local war for talent." Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees. I buy that argument. I don't buy the following argument:

If political and business leaders want to recruit and retain young talent in Wisconsin, they need to reconsider our state transportation priorities and make sure we provide the transit, bike and non-driving transportation options that young people gravitate toward.

Again, notice the scale for transit's influence on the war for talent. It's national. I think amenities such as light rail and walkability can (and do) affect relocation decisions. However, the scale of that influence is regional, not national. I don't expect a household to relocate across the country for a better school district. Besides, the billion or so dollars your region invests in light rail will only get you in line with dozens of other cities elsewhere. Long-distance migration is all about economic opportunity, not cool amenities (or diversity).

Not all economic opportunity will pull in migrants. People won't move for an opening in non-tradable (i.e. geography-dependent) jobs. Non-tradable jobs influence local migration patterns the same way amenities do. As for tradable jobs (i.e. global labor market), people will move anywhere in the world for a shot at these high-paying jobs. In doing so, migrants will endure awful conditions (crappy amenities such as horrible traffic) and the antipathy of tenured residents.

Does your town want to out-hustle the next one over? Go ahead and splurge on that real estate developer boondoggle promising to plug the brain drain. Does your town want to compete in the global economy? Go ahead and close that Creative Class playbook. It won't help win the war for talent.

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