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LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King's return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.
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A postcard of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, from 1947. (Photo: Roger Wollstadt/Flickr)

A postcard of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, from 1947. (Photo: Roger Wollstadt/Flickr)

Richey Piiparinen, senior research associate at the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "It's what we call 'big fish, small pond' talent migration. Are you going to get lost in the shuffle of New York City, or are you going to come back and make a huge difference in your community?" Richey's comment takes the return of LeBron James to Cleveland and makes it a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration. The domestic odyssey:

Traditionally, chefs trained in New York and then stayed, with the goal of running big kitchens or opening their own places. Yes, there have always been chefs who have left, for reasons that are familiar to New Yorkers of any profession: to have more space for children, or to be closer to family (the reason Mr. Kaysen gave) or to have a nicer life at a far lesser cost. But if making it in New York was viewed as the ultimate measure of success, then leaving was something of a rogue move, maybe even an admission of defeat.

No more. Smaller cities are increasingly attractive for New York chefs; there, they find savvy audiences who support innovative restaurants. It’s yet another sign of the change in food culture in the last decade, in which people throughout the country are more interested in where ingredients come from and the creative possibilities of how they are prepared. ...

... “Chefs like myself, who have trained in New York and all over the world, can bring their talent home to train other cooks,” he said, noting that he received résumés from Minnesotans cooking throughout the country. “I’m excited to do it. I feel like I can have longer arms, if that makes sense.”

About a week ago, I wrote about the irrational choice of LeBron James leaving Miami for Cleveland. Conventional wisdom holds that going back home is "an admission of defeat." The original sin of leaving home is thanks to some sort of place-failure. Migration is a negative outcome, a policy problem that must be solved. Big chef (success in New York City) seeking small pond (hometown of Minneapolis) suggests otherwise. Chef Kaysen "can have longer arms." Considering the Return of the King, that does make sense.

The LeBron James migration highlights a national and global trend of return migration. Domestically, talent flees Los Angeles for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Internationally, Poland takes back what it doled out for years. To date, all I've done is build a mountain of anecdotes concerning my proclamation of the "Age of Return Migration." Putting some academic rigor behind my working hypothesis, LeBron James migration to Mexico:

José Antonio Pérez and Liz Barron represent two very different faces of a singular phenomenon: a return migration flow that has completely altered previously conceived notions of migration patterns.

Migration between Mexico and the U.S. has historically been cyclical, with emigrants returning home periodically after a decade, a year, or even a single harvesting season. Over the past few years, however, a combination of factors has radically shifted this dynamic. Economic transformation and growth have created new job opportunities in manufacturing, services and IT in Mexico; and population growth has slowed, diminishing the need for out-migration as a “pressure valve” for excess workers in the Mexican labor market. ...

... On March 26, 2014, the Mexican government launched its first official program addressing the re-integration of return migrants. Although the details of how this program will function are still fuzzy, and a budget has yet to be determined, this is a significant forward step.

An official government program for return migration is a good data point. Institutionalizing a trend is the mother of all lagging indicators. Which Rust Belt city will be the first to formalize the re-integration of expatriates?