Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brain Drain Report: Texas

Concerning the population gain game, Texas is a winner. Yet the state worries about brain drain. The problem becomes more acute as one moves down the urban hierarchy:

The closing would leave the city of almost 200,000 without a bookstore, mirroring a drain of local brains and talent; border communities often struggle to keep younger, educated residents when larger cities dangle economic and quality-of-life opportunities.

The bookstore example, some have argued, is one that accurately reflects why cities on the Texas-Mexican border are often afflicted with a reputation of being a black hole of talent where escape is necessary in order to prosper.

Even if this talent stayed within Texas, that does Laredo little good. The agglomeration economies of globalization make the gravity of world cities too strong to resist. Cutting taxes or shrinking government won't change this migration. Neither will another cool cities initiative. The exodus of the best and brightest is structural.

Brain drain policy almost always works against the grain as if the globalization genie could be put back into the bottle. Any success in greater retention would be an economic development failure. And population growth in and of itself is indicative of nothing. That doesn't mean that shrinking cities don't have a serious problem. They do. But don't characterize it as brain drain. That's a policy dead end.

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