Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brain Drain Report: Indiana Versus Ohio

Putting aside the hand wringing over population numbers, brain drain is about educational attainment. There are three ways to improve this magic metric. Typically, regions aim to retain. A few forward thinking places are trying to attract college graduates. Even less discussed is improving the local workforce. Conceivably, any of the above approaches can push up the percentage of people with a bachelor's degree.

Ohio is a state obsessed with keeping its brains. The boondoggles continue to make the rounds in the legislature:

State Rep. Cheryl Grossman gets frustrated when she talks about Ohio’s brain drain problem, a topic that hits close to home for her. ...

... “We have some of the most prestigious colleges in the nation,” Grossman said, “yet we’re not benefiting by retaining that talent. To lose them is really a travesty.”

To chip away at the problem, she introduced legislation – House Bill 144 – 11 months ago that would give a state income tax credit for six years to recent college grads who receive bachelor’s degree and live in Ohio. They would forfeit the tax break if they leave the state within the first five years of the credit period.

There is a graphic associated with the story. The bar graph suggests a leakage of about 20% for college graduates who are Ohio residents. However, the total number of college graduates is increasing (from 2004-2008) and we don't know how many non-residents stay in Ohio. We also don't know how many college graduates are moving to Ohio each year. Just on that score, the proposed bill is absurd. Furthermore, better retention rates won't amount to much more than a drop in the bucket in terms of overall educational attainment. I cringe at the thought of the cost-benefit analysis.

Attracting new brains has a much higher ceiling. Indiana finally seems to have figured this out:

Indiana's philanthropic foundations five years ago gave away nearly $450 million -- nearly half their money, and more than twice the national average -- to educational causes in an attempt to combat the state's brain drain, one study said.

But another foundation-funded initiative to be unveiled today in Indianapolis hopes to lure young professionals with these online keywords: arts, dining, fitness, museums, nightlife, outdoors, shopping and sports.

CirclingTheCity.com lists places to go and various groups that try to attract young professionals. One group -- the privately funded Indy Partnership, which serves 10 Central Indiana counties' job-creation and investment needs -- today will host the formal unveiling of the Web site. The Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation funded the site.

$450 million down the brain drain? Is it any wonder that the likes of Next Generation Consulting are bellying up to the trough touting retention snake oil? That's where the money is thanks to the irrational fear that dominates most communities.

Talent attraction is a policy frontier. How does a region manufacture in-migration? I think the process starts with a firm understanding of the flows. I know from firsthand experience that maps of outmigration surprise most people. They defy expectations, including those of foundations. I'm amazed at the waste stemming from the ignorance of talent geography. I'd like to understand how the perception shifted in Indianapolis. I want to replicate the new mindset in other Rust Belt cities.


Anonymous said...

"in-migration" and "outmigration"? I believe there are already words in place for these concepts; immigration and emigration.

Jim Russell said...

And the big news of the day is that Pittsburgh is now a domestic net "immigrant" MSA.

Brain Gain Pittsburgh