Pitt Group Seeks Solution to Appalachian “Brain Drain” in Connellsville Study
A University of Pittsburgh study examines how Connellsville and other distressed Appalachian communities can use their resources to spur economic development and address a decades-long ‘brain drain’ – where residents who graduate from the university move elsewhere for better jobs, more pay or a different way of life.
“Brain drain is a common problem in rural Appalachia. This continually presents itself as a challenge for economic development, said Bryan Schultz, director of Pitt’s global and experiential programs at Pitt’s Honors College.
The common thought is that there aren’t enough jobs, or well-paying jobs, to keep them there, ”said Schultz, who is one of the professors involved in the funded pilot program. the Appalachian Education Project of the Appalachian Regional Commission. The commission provided Pitt with $ 5,000 for transportation and miscellaneous costs.
Through the study, Gabrielle Payne of Irwin, a senior from Pitt involved in the project, said she hoped to “shine a light on the strengths” of the community, not just the hardships it faces. These assets include parks such as Ohiopyle, Fallingwater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and its connection to history, such as George Washington and Fort Necessity.
The study is designed to assess the region’s natural resources, infrastructure and human capital, “to fundamentally improve our competitive position and our quality of life in the post-pandemic period,” said Daniel Cocks, executive director of Fayette County Cultural Trust, one of the study partners, as well as the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority.
Appalachian communities such as Connellsville could become attractive places to live due to the lower cost of living at a time when working from home and flexible working hours are becoming more popular, Schultz said.
“The youngest want to see what we can approve. It’s always good to have a fresh look at the area, Cocks said.
They toured the city, met with business owners, city officials and representatives from the Fayette County Cultural Trust, who gave the students an idea of what they can build on in the future, said Michael Glass. , professor of urban studies at Pitt and one of the professors involved in the study.
The challenges are great for any economic recovery in Fayette County. The poverty rate in Fayette County was 17.5% in 2019, around 21% of its population is over 65, the per capita income was only $ 27,360 and only 17% of residents did a college education, according to the US Census Bureau.
The county’s unemployment rate was 8.3% in September and there were 4,600 jobless workers, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry. The county’s unemployment rate is generally the highest among the seven counties in the Pittsburgh area.
“I don’t think there is a quick fix,” Schultz said.
The students were in awe of the number of people who are committed to helping turn the economy around and “having a vision where they want the community to go,” Glass said.
By interacting with students, local residents “have acted in a really positive way,” said Payne, a 2017 Norwin graduate.
Students are due to present the results of their study to members of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority and the public on Friday during a lunch at the Connellsville Canteen in the old refurbished Baltimore & Ohio train station on West Crawford Street.
Two or three students will continue to do internships in Fayette County, with the Cultural Trust, to move this project forward, Glass said.
“The idea is to stay engaged with the Fayette County Cultural Trust all year round. It can’t be solved in a semester, ”said Schultz.
The project will continue with another group of students in the fall of 2022.
“We want to be here for 10 years,” Glass said.