Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fixing Ohio Brain Drain

States invest in higher education. Tax dollars help support public universities and residents often pay dramatically less in tuition than students from out-of-state. Thus, all the hand-wringing about graduates chasing jobs around the country. That's the economic rationale for plugging the brain drain:

During a speech to the Van Wert County Republican Club's luncheon, Buehrer said that part of his solution to the economic situation in Ohio is his priority bill Grants for Grads. The bill has been created to address the idea of "brain drain" from Ohio. He pointed out that a lot of state taxpayer money is being used to encourage high school students to attend higher education after graduation. The problem is those same students who grew up in Ohio and maybe went to college at Ohio State or Bowling Green are then turning around after receiving their bachelor degrees and leaving the state.

Grants for Grads is modeled after a Louisiana program that gives money to college graduates for a down payment on a house if they choose to stay in Ohio. The idea is that as more college graduates stay in state, the more attractive the workforce will be to prospective employers of white collar and highly skilled workers. His belief is that as more graduates stay and employers move in, the increased tax base will more than pay for the incentives. The first part, however, is changing the trend from graduates leaving to graduates staying in Ohio.

The proposed legislation is insidious. As we've learned from the current economic crisis, home ownership decreases geographic mobility and keeps talent from moving to a job market where there is greater demand for their skills. Ohio would be doing its college graduates a grave disservice.

The economic geography of these policies is hopelessly stuck in the industrial era. Workforce development strategies are parochial in outlook and tend to ignore the forces of globalization. This is the paradigm of failure that has plagued the Midwest, turning it into the Rust Belt. Furthermore, creating a pool of captive labor will impoverish the community and accelerate the downward spiral.

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