Thursday, December 01, 2011

Age Of Return Migration

The Rural Rebound is a dusty story that sounds like news. That's especially true when the weaver of discourse is researcher Ben Winchester. Watch "Rewriting the Rural Narrative" on Lakeland Public Television. The interviewer is visibly surprised by Winchester's findings. Not much has changed over the last 40 years. Winchester offers only a shift in framework. Brain drain becomes brain gain. The interviewer can hardly believe his ears.

Very quietly, until now, return migrants have been transforming the economy in the rural hinterlands and around the world. In Korea:

Kim was one of more than a dozen American entrepreneurs I met in Seoul. They were the founders of media start-ups, video-game start-ups, financial-services start-ups, manufacturing start-ups, education start-ups, and even a start-up dedicated to producing more start-ups. "It's a big trend here," says Henry Chung, managing director of DFJ Athena, a venture capital firm with offices in Seoul and Silicon Valley. "There's a growing number of students studying overseas and coming back."

Korea is like a rural community. The culture is adamantly risk averse. There isn't a significant influx of outsiders. The most entrepreneurial leave. Return migrants are the lifeblood of transformation and prosperity.

In September, Kim raised $500,000 from investors in South Korea. His goal is to raise enough to qualify for an American investor visa.

He isn't the only entrepreneur who talks about coming to the United States. "I know for sure that I want one more stint in the States," says Shin. He is curious to find out if he can replicate his success in America's larger, more competitive market; and even though he now speaks passable Korean, he has never stopped thinking of himself as an American. "I don't know when, and it's too early to think about ideas, but I know I'll probably end up going back and forth," he says. "I think it's possible to do stuff in both places."

The migrant's connection to two places is the missing part of rural narrative rewrite. Relocation isn't a zero sum game. The two communities both benefit from the talent trade.

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