Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brain Drain Report: Midwest Studies Initiative

Globally, geographic mobility is increasing. A recent UN Development Program report goes so far as to call for even more migration. Ironically, Joel Kotkin sees a countertrend emerging in the United States:

Our less mobile nature is already reshaping the corporate world. The kind of corporate nomadism described in Peter Kilborn's recent book, Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s Rootless Professional Class, in which families relocate every couple of years so the breadwinner can reach the next rung on the managerial ladder, will become less common in years ahead. A smaller cadre of corporate executives may still move from place to place, but surveys reveal many executives are now unwilling to move even for a good promotion. Why? Family and technology are two key factors working against nomadism, in the workplace and elsewhere.

I mention Joel's analysis because it provides another perspective on the Midwest Studies Initiative:

One of the greatest challenges the region faces — and one the Midwest Studies Initiative is specifically designed to combat — is “brain drain,” or young adults born, raised and educated in the area who then move somewhere else. Ditzler said too often students are encouraged to work and study hard so they can get into college and use their education as “a ticket out of town.”

In the context of the UNDP report, the initiative would be dead before it started. But given Kotkin's new geography, the effort makes perfect sense. Thanks to the Great Recession, we should rethink our assumptions about globalization. This crisis of trust could break the chains of global production. We recoil from scalable algorithms and retreat to parochial networks that would shield us from turbulent outside forces.

We would be foolish if we thought the pendulum was simply swinging in the other direction. The new feudalism will come at great cost. Which places will be able to do business with the BRIC countries? Rust Belt ascendant.

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