Monday, March 22, 2010

Cleveland Brain Drain

A few days ago, a fellow blogger sent to me a few links concerning the brain drain issue in Cleveland. The Cleveland Commitment is a project designed to get regional talent to return after seeing the world. I like the concept.

I have two tales in support of the Cleveland Commitment. First, a different take on the "forced" out-migration going on in Ireland:

An Australian, Mark Ballantine, who runs the Belavista restaurant next door, is the son of Sligo emigrants. He came back to visit family, fell in love with Strandhill and never left.

"The general consensus among everyone is doom and gloom at the moment," he said.

"A lot of young people ask me about Australia and the state of the economy there.

"The older guys who are going over have worked in the building trade but there is absolutely nothing happening here for them. The kids are different. They are going for the adventure."

The economic push factor is very real, but graduates might leave even if there were a few more job opportunities. To reinforce the point, consider some brain drain from the UAE:

“I often ask myself what I’m doing in China when I go back home and am reminded of the bountiful comforts of the UAE,” Amina says. “But the scale of the opportunity here is huge – everything is bigger, faster and crazier. Abu Dhabi has changed a lot, but I feel like my own life there would be predictable.”

The sisters say there’s a generational difference between the adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit that drew their parents to the UAE in search of a better life, and a more laid-back approach among their UAE-born peers, who are enjoying the fruits of their parents’ success. That’s exactly the course they wanted to escape.

The sisters, who studied at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, say all of their UAE high-school classmates took university courses abroad, with about 90 per cent returning to the UAE after graduation. The rest moved back to the countries that their parents had left a generation earlier, such as Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt, which now afford greater opportunity than in the past.

There are jobs at home, but young talent leaves anyway. I suppose someone might point out that life in the UAE is boring and that spicing up the downtown offerings might keep graduates from exploring the world. I think the article makes clear just how ridiculous the cool city concept is. The transient journey is about getting out of one's comfort zone, not finding a place more hip.

Yet this perspective persists, even at the highest levels of leadership. Back to Cleveland:

The [Beachwood High School] students decided to focus on reversing the “brain drain” for their project after interviewing [Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc.,] and other key Cleveland leaders, such as Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic; Charles Ratner, president and CEO of Forest City Enterprises; and Mayor Frank Jackson.

“We asked them about their views on Cleveland and what could be improved,” Stern said. “The major idea that came across was that we have this problem of ‘brain drain.’ ”

Crosby said what stood out in her mind from the interviews was that “Cleveland’s biggest problem was among Clevelanders and their view of (the city), not necessarily an outside view.”

And so the cycle continues ... The people at the helm of the region's economy perpetuate the brain drain myth and prescribe an attitude change so graduates won't leave. The solution to the fabricated problem isn't even novel. It has all been tried before. Which is why the Cleveland Commitment is so refreshing. A better understanding of the baseline is always welcome.

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