Monday, December 07, 2009

Xenophobia Of Talent Rentention Policy

The post title is a reference to Vivek Wadhwa's recent article at TechCrunch. I think the anti-immigrant sentiment and brain drain hysteria are cut from the same cloth. A guest piece at Generation Y Michigan will help me to explain:

Everyone in Lansing is talking about talent retention. “How do we keep students in Michigan?” With over 54 percent of students in Michigan leaving the state after they graduate, the “brain drain” is certainly a problem.

So I have a solution: let’s build a wall around every campus in Michigan. It will certainly keep our bright students here and away from those evil places like Chicago and D.C. Sure, it might prevent those smart and talented young adults from Ohio and the East/West coast from getting in.

The sarcasm isn't that far fetched if you remember the buffoonish Border Guard Bob:

The focus on retaining vs. attracting workers is pervasive in local policies. One marketing character thought of by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, whose mission is to promote Pittsburgh, was the genial "Border Guard Bob." The image was of an older, uniformed sentinel on Pittsburgh's borders keeping our citizens, in particular the younger workers, from leaving the region. This is the same logic that inspired the East Germans to build a wall around Berlin and is likely to have as much success in the long-run. An advertising campaign with Bob or any of his relatives is focused on selling Pittsburgh to Pittsburghers. Why money or time is spent on selling the region to the people who know it best is a mystery.

Michigan would like to build an Iron Curtain around the state. I'm sure the surrounding states would split the cost for the wall along the shared border. The point being is that more and more people recognize the absurdity of brain drain policies. They speak to local passions, but fail just about any economic test. That would also describe the anti-immigrant fervor that Wadhwa felt the need to address.

The inspiration for the company came from 12 students sitting around and looking at the statistics like 54% of Michigan university graduates leave the state and its 15.4% unemployment and the fact that a family leaves Michigan every 8 minutes. The group of us realized that we cannot just let this go on anymore and need to step up and take action and put all of our research and knowledge into legitimate action. We just couldn’t watch these things get worse and worse and realized we HAD to do something.

One doesn't need to dig very far into this issue to see how dysfunctional the framework is. At best, attraction strategies get lip service. At times, I feel like the policy debate is hopelessly backwards. I see the same dynamics in play concerning immigration reform. Natives first, economic development second.


Mark Arsenal said...

You can't entirely blame them, human nature and politics being as they are: natives do the electing and pay the bills, so that's the constituency you have to cater to. You can't blame granny for voting in the guy that she thinks will keep her grandbabbies close...

Not disagreeing with you, just sayin'.

Jim Russell said...

I understand the motivation. I'm sure politicians do, too. It reminds me of the kidless voters who always say no to more money for the school district.