Monday, June 16, 2008

What Makes Richard Florida Wrong?

In the spirit of Richard Florida challenging Thomas Friedman's "world is flat" metaphor, I'm taking issue with Florida's contention that Buffalo (and other shrinking cities) should keep its graduates from leaving:

A recent Buffalo News article by Charity Vogel mentioned the problem of young people leaving town, and she quoted one as saying, “Most of the time it’s jobs, but a lot of the time it’s nothing major. They just go.” This impulse to skip town has a lot to do with how welcoming and vital a place feels — or doesn’t feel.

But to get them to stick around after college, a city must stay ahead of the curve in the competition for talent. Once people reach the age of 30, they tend to settle and have kids; it’s much easier to retain them after graduation than it is to lure them back once they’re gone.

I addressed Charity Vogel's article back in April, but the link to the item in question no longer works. However, Richard Florida has archived the piece here. I find Florida's recommendation for Buffalo to play Border Guard Bob irresponsible. I think he knows better, but he might have some research in support of his policy prescription.

But Florida's article doesn't make a clear case for retaining college graduates. On one hand, he describes how people past the age of 30 tend to be less geographically mobile. Why fight the trend? But that's exactly what he suggests concerning nomadic twentysomethings: Buffalo should strive to keep young adults from relocating. Granted Florida is telling Buffalo to make itself more attractive, but he's still working against the grain.

Ironically, regions using local colleges and universities as the main source of human capital invokes the bygone industrial era. Nowadays, just about every state is concerned about native brain drain. I know from firsthand experience that the institutions of higher education located in the IT corridor of Colorado are concerned about graduates leaving the area. Many talented French and British young adults aren't even staying in their respective countries, despite the draw of Paris and London. The UK is fretting about the largest exodus of people in 40 years. Why are they eschewing an alpha world city such as London and working abroad?

The best of the Creative Class will leave their college city or town. I would recommend that Buffalo do a better job of attracting those graduates, not retaining the ones already in house. The local bias Richard Florida is promoting runs counter to most of his message.

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