Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boomerang Atlantica

One of the more intriguing boomerang initiatives I've come across is East Coast Connected (ECC). ECC stood out because of its approach to promote brain circulation instead of mitigating brain drain. Actually, I'm more interested in the networking opportunities ECC fosters for Atlantic Canadians in destinations such as Toronto. But evidence is emerging that a signficant return migration is taking hold:

In 2006, faced with thousands of their best and brightest fleeing the region for western employment, 600,000 copies of a glossy workers-wanted magazine were delivered to residents of East Coast provinces and in Alberta. The hope was that worker families would urge their breadwinners to return or that homesick ex-pats would be enticed back by Atlantic jobs in energy, engineering and research sectors. ...

... If the boom dies too abruptly and the nomads get laid off en masse, the paycheques they send home will stop and they'll return to lousy job prospects in provinces where unemployment rates hover between 8.6 per cent and 14.3 per cent.

Is New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham worried? "Very much so," he lamented to Calgary reporters. "Those (Alberta-employed) New Brunswickers file taxes in our province that helps contribute to our education system, our health-care system."

Labor will often return home and ride out the economic storm there. I doubt ECC will be throwing welcome home parties. Of course, this isn't the brain circulation Atlantic Canada has in mind.

The blue collar Alberta migration reveals an important dynamic for regional workforce development. Exporting talent can be advantageous if the right connectivity infrastructure is in place. I'm not suggesting the embrace of Canada's strange tax regime. I've observed that intellectual capital follows the same pathways as financial capital. Brain circulation isn't as nearly as important as brain networking.

Update: An Atlantic Canadian economic development blogger suggests a few solutions of how to address the talent migration problem. My favorite:

Share those alumni lists with repatriation and investment attraction efforts. I realize you are trying to guard those lists religiously but if there is a VP in company in New York that graduated from your school, we need to talk with him/her about expanding in this region. Don’t obstruct. Help.

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