Sunday, May 20, 2007

Brain Circulation Vermont

The demographic of concern is young people in the 25-to 29-year-old range. A shrinking population in this bracket seems to define brain drain, which many cities and states see as a crisis. Why is there such an obsession with 20-somethings? Considering that criterion, Vermont must be brain dead. But when you look at the numbers for people in their 30s and 40s, the landscape looks much brighter. Young people do indeed leave Vermont, but many of them eventually return:

The Vermont report suggested the problem exists but may need to be looked at in a new way, replacing the term "brain drain" with "brain circulation."

"Most young people have the need to leave the nest, and they come wandering back," said Rebecca Ryan, founder and CEO of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis.

Ryan said she believed Vermont was way ahead of other states and communities because it remains an alluring place to live, even for its former residents.

Vermont also has a strong "brand" perception other states don't, according to Karen Beard, an economic analyst with Austin, Texas-based TIP Strategies.

There is a certain cachet to living in Vermont that gives it an edge in winning back residents, Beard said, although not necessarily in retaining young college graduates.

In a survey conducted for the Next Generation Workforce report, about 40 percent of college graduates said they had considered returning to Vermont. A 2006 study found that while 75 percent of those living in Maine saw themselves staying there for the next five years, only 12 percent living outside the state saw themselves returning.

Vermont may not have the assets to attract youth, but it does sell well to an older demographic. Furthermore, the geographic fickleness of young adults makes them a bad bet for almost any region. 20-somethings do more than leave the nest. They may need to relocate a few times, chasing an ever-evolving career track and experiencing the latest cool city.

Trying to keep young people from leaving is doing them a disservice. Vermont should help them find the best location to advance their lives. Those same nomads will mature and remember the lift the state provided them. What better place is there to raise your own children?

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