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The sponsor of this analysis, Global Cleveland, is an organization, but global Cleveland is also a reality. Elaborating, when it comes to the task of economic and community development, think of a city as a feather in the wind, or a stick in a rapid of water. Global forces push and pull at places, affecting a city’s relevance, or it’s standard of living. Yet some indicators are better measures of where a city fits into the global order of things than others. This analysis shows that standard measures of “success”, like population size, are relics of a bygone era where size mattered. In today’s idea economy, a better measure is gauging the quality of life in city, not the quantity of lives. This analysis looks at GDP per capita for the nation’s large metros, defined as “the amount of output or income per person in an economy…that’s indicative of average productivity or average living standards.”

The GDP per capita in the Cleveland metro is currently $ 57,700 and ranks 78th out of 374 metros. This is up from an inflation-adjusted $51,320 in 2010. To the extent Cleveland can prepare for progress entails examining what explains progress. The analysis looked at what features are driving GDP per capita growth across America’s metros from 2010 to 2019. To do this, Rust Belt Analytica deployed a machine learning algorithm called permutation feature importance. This is our “Progress Model”. Out of hundreds of variables analyzed, two clusters of features dominated the model results: educational attainment and migration. That is, the rate of a metro’s GDP per capita growth could be predictively explained by the educational attainment of a region, and the migration rates of a region. Migration features included the in-migration of college- and non-college-educated foreign born, and the in-migration of college- and non-college-educated native born, particularly if the domestic migrants were arriving from the Northeastern or Western parts of the U.S. This latter migration pattern of coastal-to-inland migration has been dubbed “The Rise of the Rest”, characterized as the convergence of American tech labor from the costly coast into the American heartland.

It is a pattern of migration that highly-educated immigrants have in fact been doing for some time. The analysis found that the percent of Cleveland’s immigrants with an advanced degree was 21.4%, which ranked 8th out the nation’s largest 40 metros. Interestingly, 6 out of the top 10 most highly-educated cities for immigrants were in the geographic area of the Rust Belt, led by Pittsburgh.

The analysis finds that migration is crucial to the evolution of cities. Migration does not only allow for the accumulation of human capital, but for global connectivity as well. Connectivity is part and parcel with the act of migration, allowing for the deepening of a city’s “thought bank”. This depth of ideation is crucial to the process of innovation which, in turn, is crucial economic evolution. Put another way, migration is economic development. It is today. It was yesterday. And it will be tomorrow. The issue for Cleveland is whether the region can leverage its global assets to incur its global relevance, and ultimately the increased well-being of its people.