Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brain Gain Report: Women Of New Mexico

Today, I'll finish the troika of posts about new patterns of gender and migration. In Part I, I explore the phenomenon of urban nationalism. I provide some background about the relationship between gender and nationalism in Part II. Lastly, I look at the case of brain drain in New Mexico.

In the coming weeks, we’ll all get our fill of state budgets, tax proposals, and spending cuts. No doubt this will be one of the most stressful legislative sessions in recent memory. And, because it’s only a 30-day session, many other important issues may fall by the wayside this year. Let’s hope not, though. Brain drain is a serious problem for New Mexico. That’s not big news to most people in the state, but a new report from UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Development Committee illustrates just how big the problem has become. As we mentioned in the show, nearly 60-percent of people born in this state will leave after completing their schooling. And, only 2-percent will ever come back. A few other notes from the study:

*People with higher degrees are four times more likely to leave New Mexico than other folks born here.

*More than half of native-born New Mexicans are likely to live in poverty, compared to people who were born elsewhere and migrated to New Mexico, regardless of educational attainment.

*Native-born New Mexicans who leave the state tend to fare better economically than those who remain, regardless of age, ethnicity or education.

*New Mexico brings in more people with advanced degrees than the advanced degreed residents the state loses, indicating there are plenty of jobs for well educated, native-born New Mexicans.

Head to to watch our interview with Senator Tim Keller, and Venture Capitalists Tom Stephenson and Kim Sanchez Rael. We ran out of time for our last question, which had to do with the potential impact of green jobs on the brain drain problem.

Turns out that all three panelists left New Mexico at some point but would later return. Senator Keller stresses how few come back, calling common perceptions of boomerang migration a "myth". The conversation is intelligent and an honest look at brain drain. However, there are more than a few misconceptions about talent migration and the overall picture is incomplete. Thus, the suggested policies aren't innovative. New Mexico is stuck in its own silo with little idea about what is going on in other states.

The video is worth watching just to see how smart and well-intentioned people can go down the wrong path. State-to-state comparisons are vital pieces to the puzzle, but are often absent from the debate. At about the 17-minute mark of the feed, the interview takes a surprising turn. Kim Sanchez Rael focuses on bringing more people back to New Mexico. She even mentions a successful case of luring talent home from Silicon Valley.

Rael is committed to replicating her own migration experience. She stated that the key to attracting expatriates is fostering better economic opportunity. Unwittingly, she described a boomerang entrepreneur incubator. Talent needs assurance that all the right elements for a successful venture exist in New Mexico. An incubator can provide that.

Women like Rael are the perfect targets for such an initiative. Traditional gender roles still matter. A married couple from different hometowns will more likely move back (if they do so at all) to the wife's native state. The links between gender, place and culture remain strong. Women are more closely identified with the land. While men are supposed to make like Odysseus, sowing their wild oats hither and yon. The prodigal daughters are a better bet to return. They shouldn't have left in the first place.

Senator Keller gets on the wrong side of the 2% who do move back to New Mexico. Boomerang migration is not a myth to be debunked. It is an opportunity to do better. As Rael outlines, the state could do much more to attract expatriates. Unfortunately, such a policy isn't on the table. Once again, all the focus is on plugging the brain drain.

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