Friday, February 19, 2010

Brain Drain Rhetoric Heats Up In Ohio

Midterm campaigning is upon us. Along with it is an increase in the discussion of brain drain. Out in front of this favorite political red herring is Ohio:

John Kasich says that if you want to see a movie star, go to Hollywood.

The former congressman, currently running for governor, said if you want to find a successful, job-creating, charitably giving Ohioan, go to Naples, Fla.

The joke Kasich told Wednesday illustrated one of the largest issues facing Ohio: The consistent departure of young people and families, a so-called "brain drain."

"They go anywhere they think they can have a better chance," he said. "We're losing our seed corn."

This misleading message is popular with voters. I wouldn't vote for Kasich. He's offering bad ideas about economic development.

There is a way to more constructively beat the brain drain drum. Exhibit A, Congressman Tim Ryan:

The Bridgestone/Firestone project came together only after the company struck a deal that included a $68 million public financing package from the state, county and city. There are also federal stimulus dollars involved, for nearby infrastructure repairs.

The 260,000-square-foot new tech center along South Main Street maintains the company’s 110-year presence in the city. Though it still manufacturers racing tires locally, Firestone merged with Bridgestone in 1988 and moved it’s Rubber City headquarters to Nashville four years later.

More importantly, as Congressman Tim Ryan put it - it helps place a stopper over the so-called Brain Drain.

“Young people who have left this community want to come back here, and to see these jobs open up, these high-tech, well-paying jobs open up here, gives these young people an opportunity to come back to where they grew up.”

Implicit in the message is talent retention, but the boomerang angle is much more promising in terms of effective policy. Politicians don't like to talk about attracting outsiders. Luring expatriates home is a palatable compromise.

I'm reminded of Joe Cortright's sloppy analysis of the talent landscape in Akron. He offered a better mousetrap for retention, not realizing that the problem is attraction. He bought the hype and I'd bet so did most of his audience. Kasich is banking on it.


John Morris said...

I really liked the video and have to watch it again.

Yes, it's filled with a lot of bromides and plain common sense--but evidently people need to hear that again.

My impression is not so much that he doesn't think talent attraction is critical. He likely thinks his audience can't handle that.Portland's attributes and policies have obviously attracted a lot of outside people.

I liked the statistic he gave about spin off jobs and city size which rings very true. My guess is that most midwestern and western states would do well to move the bulk of their college assets into already large cities or aggressively work to build big cities around their colleges.

State College, Bloomington Indiana, Lawrence, Kansas; Norman Oklahoma? Really, you expect a lot of people to live there? These places have no logical reason for being where they are in an age in which agriculture is not a primary industry or at least not the major industry.

No wonder colleges have to spend so much on sports and stupid student ammenities. What are researchers gonna do, collaborate with deer and rabbits?

Jim Russell said...

Cortright definitely understands the value of talent attraction. I think he's right about a lot of things. Who can argue with the talent dividend?

But he has to reconcile the wayward graduates and the retention narrative. A dramatically more livable city doesn't mean that the grass isn't still greener elsewhere.

The most livable cities have substantial talent out-migration.

Promises of retention will get you the money. But those initiatives aren't grounded in reality. It stinks of snake oil.