Friday, April 03, 2009

Exit Michigan

Like Pittsburgh in the early 1980s, Michigan is hemorrhaging people. The Detroit News published a special report on the demographic crisis the state faces. Among the useful tidbits of information, an article detailing the brain drain problem:

Saying that college grad rates must increase for Michigan to remain competitive, [Gov. Jennifer Granholm] set a goal in 2004 of doubling the number of college graduates.

Since then, the number graduating from Michigan colleges has inched upward from 38,615 in 2004 to 41,250 in 2008.

But the burgeoning exodus of college grads has wiped out that gain.

The biggest beneficiaries of Granholm's efforts so far have been states like Washington, where officials bluntly describe the influx of thousands of college-educated workers from Michigan as a cost-effective approach to education.

"That we can attract those people (with degrees) is a benefit to the state," said Washington state Rep. Glenn Anderson, the ranking Republican on the higher education committee. "We are importing intellectual capital at a very low cost to ourselves."

So many college grads have flooded into Washington to work for companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, that Anderson has had trouble pushing for increased higher education funding for in-state students.

Indeed, since 2000, Washington has jumped from 18th to 12th in the nation in the percentage of adults with a degree. Michigan fell from 30th to 35th.

I think the "adults with a degree" ranking is much more important than the number of graduates leaving the state. Washington's good fortune is a story of attraction, not retention. Regardless, the geography of talent migration is a symptom of an underlying issue, not a riddle to be solved.

I've come to appreciate that Pittsburgh's investment in human capital initially fueled out-migration, but now is paying dividends. Furthermore, tales of the Boomerang Back to the Burgh (thank you, Chris Briem) seem to be on the uptick. Michigan could learn a great deal from Pittsburgh. However, even Pittsburgh could better manage its diaspora. Policies harnessing the geographic mobility of talent are just beginning to appear.


Unknown said...

Shouldn't Pittsburgh be looking to poach some of this brain drain?

I grew up in SE Michigan and several of my friends (all recent state university grads) are moving or planning to move to Pittsburgh in the near future.

Pittsburgh is actually a very nice fit for Michiganders, the weather is familiar (but warmer in the winters!) and it's close enough to drive home and visit family.

Jim Russell said...

While Detroit to Pittsburgh isn't what I would call low hanging fruit, your anecdotal impressions suggest a possible talent source for a growing Southwestern PA.


SE Michigan might be a talent market worth exploring despite its failure to rank as one of the top Burgh Diaspora hot spots.