Saturday, August 21, 2010

War For Talent: Sudbury

In my book, Sudbury (Ontario) is an economic development star. Michigan, in particular, should be paying close attention to the nuanced understanding of talent migration that exists in this Canadian city. Via Michigan Future, why Ann Arbor needs to visit Sudbury as soon as possible:

We lose Gen Y to Chicago constantly, but I also wanted to see what people liked about their new digs in other locations. Trisha Khanna grew up in Orchard Lake, had left Michigan to go to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and returned to Michigan in 2007 to work for Google's Ann Arbor office. She enjoyed her three years back in her home state, and then made the leap to Boulder, Colo., six months ago.

I ask Trisha what Boulder offers that Michigan will never have. "Ah, this one is fairly easy", she says, "Mountains, more sunshine, and my boyfriend." Well yes, Michigan has its own geographic charm, but we're not a mountain town, and that's part of our individuality.

We do have lakes, though, and this was highlighted again when I asked Trisha what she misses about Michigan. "The Great Lakes are spectacular! Also, I really appreciated the people in Michigan -- genuine, hardworking, intelligent, caring, and fun. Not to say that those types of people don't exist outside of Michigan, but there was also a lot of state pride. People from Michigan tend to tell you they are from Michigan."

If you haven't guessed already, the author is leading up to a plan that will help Michigan better retain talent. The policy prescription overlooks the obvious. Ms. Khanna is a likely (and ideal) candidate to return to the state, with that boyfriend in tow. Sudbury doesn't overlook the obvious:

Leaving after graduation is common, but so is returning later on, said Josee Ethier, the youth strategy co-ordinator with the Regional Business Centre. ...

... Students are beneficial economically, said Ethier, with spending from Laurentian University and its constituent institutions estimated at $54.8 million in 2006-07.

While many students leave, many also return eventually, she said. "Some youth choose to leave Sudbury simply to explore other cities, while others look to gain independence while pursuing their education or professional opportunities. However, many choose to come back to Sudbury once they are ready to settle down. "We are therefore lucky to live in a city where our youth eventually migrate back, bringing with them an array of expertise and experience," said Ethier.

Truth be told, Ethier's job is to encourage youth to stay put after graduation. The approach is ineffective, but she still sees great value in fostering community engagement among students. The end of the article hammers the point home:

Soon to be fourth-year Laurentian University student Derek Chung sometimes feels like an outsider in Sudbury. He moved here from Markham, Ont., to study aquatic and terrestrial ecology. Laurentian was ideal for his program and "Sudbury seemed like a charming city to spend my time in," he said.

Once he moved into residence, Chung felt disconnected from the larger community. "However, after moving off-campus, you slowly pick up the lifestyle of the locals and become in-tune with the community and its many events," said Chung.

Chung has felt welcomed and appreciated in the community, but not always. He said he feels some residents have mistreated him because of his Chinese heritage.

"Even though Sudbury has become a multicultural city over the years, it is unfortunate to say that racism still exists," said Chung.

He does not entirely blame the city or the institutions for these negative experiences.

Beyond graduation or postgraduate studies, Chung does not see himself in Sudbury. "There isn't exactly anything keeping me in Sudbury so I may leave to pursue endeavors elsewhere in Canada," he said.

He will probably come back to visit, but feels Sudbury is just not his kind of city, said Chung. "There is just something here that does not make me feel like it's home," he said.

That said, Chung said he might return someday.

When a graduate leaves Michigan, that's not the end of talent management. That's the beginning. The majority of students will stay regardless of your investment in retention. You community would be better off focusing efforts on attracting newcomers. Again, from Sudbury:

Twice a year, the dean of Laurentian University’s management program travels to China in an attempt to persuade students and their families that Sudbury is the place for them. For most, Canada ranks below several other countries as their choice of where to study abroad. A small northern Ontario city known for nickel mining isn’t even on the radar.

And yet, with students drawn by everything from smaller class sizes to the prospect of a more “Canadian” experience than they’d get in a multicultural metropolis such as Toronto, Mr. Luk is finding takers. In 2008, his first year at Laurentian after nearly three decades at Toronto’s Ryerson University, he recruited four Chinese students. The next year, it was eight. This year, it was 25.

The trend is reflected across campus. With an aggressive recruitment strategy driven by an ambitious new administration, Laurentian reports that it received 952 international applications in 2010, more than double the total from three years earlier.

That's not to say that everything is rosy in Sudbury. The townies wonder about attracting foreign-born students when so many of them leave after graduation. The simple brain drain narrative obscures a tremendous economic development opportunity. Where there is churn, there is money to be made.

I'm not sure if Sudbury understands "economic development through geographic mobility". I am almost certain Laurentian University does. Much can be gained through the export of talent. Aside from Youngstown, no place else in the Rust Belt gets it.

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