Sunday, August 24, 2008

Brain Drain Texas

Is Dallas shrinking? Dallas-Ft. Worth doesn't have Tier 1 research university. That spells crisis and the metro region is on the path to doom in the battle for brains:

David Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas, told the UT System board of regents this month that it would take a minimum of $70 million per year in additional incentive and matching funding to bring just one of the state’s "emerging research universities" (a list that includes UT-Arlington and UT-Dallas) to Tier 1 status.

The cost of not building up those universities, the value of lost economic opportunities, is harder to tally. Still, we know this: In 2006, Daniel said, 10,163 Texas high school students left to attend doctoral-granting universities in other states. Similar institutions in Texas attracted 4,358 high school graduates from other states. That’s a net brain drain of 5,805 Texas students going elsewhere.

The ploy for more money is obvious to me. Daily, I read stories about the same issue in just about every state. Different red herrings are invoked, depending on the economic context, but the fear played upon is always the same: Local graduates are leaving the state!

That cry loosens up the purse strings and taxpayers throw their nickels around in a desperate fashion. The presence of a Tier 1 institution doesn't mitigate the brain drain in Rust Belt cities. Why should it work in Dallas? If innovative companies can attract the necessary talent in order to thrive, then Dallas shouldn't worry about graduates leaving.

Just for the record, Dallas County, TX is shrinking, at least in terms of net domestic migration. A bit dated (2006), read the following passage from a Houston blogger:

Here's a trivia question you won't believe the answer to: Guess which city is losing domestic migration at the slowest rate (i.e. doing the best) among these six: NY, LA, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, or SF? The answer: Detroit! It would fall into the sixth position in the table graphic at the bottom of this post. Don't believe me? Just check out Table 3 on page 8 of the report. Looks like housing costs trump healthy industry economics when it comes to domestic migration for a city.

Linking through that blog, I found a story about "Bay Area Brain Drain." International migration tends to cover up the domestic exodus, which demonstrates that different factors explain those respective flows. I read a lot about the influence of housing prices on domestic migration (ye olde "drive until you qualify"), but I think the quality of schools is another important value proposition attracting talent.

Here in Colorado, I know a lot of California refugees who toil in the IT industry. Those in location-independent jobs maintain Bay Area salaries in a relatively low cost Front Range residence. The quality of life is much better and there are a number of excellent schools where you can send your children. But the knowledge of the opportunities here is not all that fluid.

I see a similar trend beginning to take hold in Pittsburgh. But the word is slow to get around. There should be a way to do this more efficiently.

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