Tuesday, March 03, 2009

March of the Brains

Statistics help us test our perceptions. But when it comes to brain drain, we tend to ignore the numbers. A few encouraging words for Massachusetts:

The number of Massachusetts residents with college degrees is increasing, giving hope that the state's "brain drain" is slowing as researchers look hopefully at more funding from the National Institutes of Health.

"In this region, I think we are seeing is a steady production of people with college and advanced degrees," said Dr. Paul Friedmann, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in Springfield.

"But we are also seeing these people leave the area. It's one of the reasons we need to develop our scientific base," he said.

The number of Massachusetts residents with four-year degrees increased from 1.46 million in 2005 to 1.62 million in 2008, according to the 2008 Index of Massachusetts Innovation Economy from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The Collaborative didn't break down statistics by region within the state.

That's compared with a 2 percent decline in the state's population of people ages 25 to 65, from 3.58 million to 3.51 million people, said Beth E. Ashman, research manager at the John Adams Innovation Institute, part of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

The out-migration of talent is a problem, even in Boston. But as Richard Florida would tell you, innovation is spiky. There are only a handful of states where most of research and development occurs. The report from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative defines the innovation cohort (Leading Technology States or LTS) as follows:

A primary goal of the Index is to measure Massachusetts' performance in the context of various indicators and appropriate benchmarks. The main focus of the Index is Massachusetts and other Leading Technology States (LTS) that were selected for the purposes of comparison. In addition to Massachusetts, the LTS includes: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The LTS are selected based on the total number of 11 key industry clusters having an employment concentration above the national level. States with employment concentration exceeding the national level in three or more clusters are included among the LTS. This methodology yields a roster of LTS that is comparable to Massachusetts and has a similar composition of industry clusters.

Pennsylvania couldn't possibly be a Leading Technology State, could it? Taxes are too high. Government is too corrupt. People are too risk averse. The LTS benchmarking flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which is still stuck in 1982.

On page 50 of the report, talent migration is discussed. The first thing I notice is the disparity between population growth and the in-migration of college educated adults. Massachusetts is at the bottom of the LTS for growth, but ranks second for in-migration of talent. We're incorrectly obsessing the number of people living in the Pittsburgh region. However, Pennsylvania is last among the LTS concerning talent in-migration. That's a problem and we should be crafting policy to fix it. Instead, we worry about young adults leaving.

In-migration fuels innovative industries by bringing in skill-sets and educational backgrounds that are in demand. While a positive net-talent exchange is important, Massachusetts benefits from the brain exchange connecting Massachusetts institutions and businesses to other regions through in- and out-migration.

In-migration is vital to economic development.

No comments: