Rural sociologist Ben Winchester said small town Iowans should not be concerned about a “brain drain” as much as what they decide to do with their “brain gain.”
Winchester does not dispute that 18-25-year-olds are leaving small towns for other areas, many of them to metro areas.
What is not readily understood is that while 18-25-year-olds leave small towns — a natural consequence of college and single years — 30-45-year-olds are moving to them.
And those are the ones we should care about more, he said.
“Losing young people is the rule, not the exception — don’t beat yourself up because it’s been that way for 80 years,” he said.
“And it is not a measure of failure; it is a measure of the success of our school system” that allows students to attend college.
Brain drain is not a failure. It is a community success story. When people leave their hometowns, they make more money than they would if they had stayed. They are more productive. They are more creative. They are more entrepreneurial. We should be encouraging more migration, not trying to impede it. I do not want to raise my children in a place that stifles their economic development. Your latest talent retention initiative is a bad idea.
The blind spot in regional workforce development is how to manage outmigration. What kind of economic development could your community derive from that flow of personal growth? I'd like to see that conversation become commonplace. You don't get to choose your hometown. That connection lasts a lifetime.