Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Ironic Brain Drain: North Carolina

I intended to take this story about a depressed textile mill town in North Carolina and hammer home the postindustrial blues gripping the Sun Belt. There is a stunning example of Rust Belt stereotyping in that article. But you'll have to read it for yourself.

This post is about the other North Carolina: Cool cities, innovation, and boomtowns. This is the Sun Belt we celebrate. However, all is not well in the Research Triangle:

In the western part of the Triangle, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC have banded together and are holding a public forum March 15 at which they'll ask residents to nominate the Chapel Hill/ Carrboro team and provide feedback via an online survey. Chapel Hill resident Brian Russell, founder of the local Internet advocacy nonprofit Orange Networking, also started a Facebook fan page, called Bring Google Fiber to Chapel Hill & Carrboro, N.C., the day after Google's announcement. It now has more than 700 members, including mayors of both Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

"Google is an incredibly deep-pocketed partner that could make everything that I've been advocating for last five years in this town to happen, and in my lifetime, and hopefully before my kid gets to school," said Russell, whose 11-month old son, Izzy, has regularly updated Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Russell said high-speed Internet could keep UNC-Chapel Hill start-ups and entrepreneurial students in town, benefiting the local economy and curbing brain drain. Russell houses some of those innovators at Carrboro Creative Coworking, a small business that rents work space to micro-businesses and other independent ventures.

Chapel Hill is struggling to retain its talent. Perhaps Joe Cortright or Rebecca Ryan can come to the college town's rescue if Google decides to wire another city. North Carolina needs a lot of help. The well educated are fleeing the state in droves, a brain drain crisis of epic proportions.

The Research Triangle needs to do a better job of providing what Generation Y wants. The state needs to be more start up/venture capital friendly, not Google Fiber. Otherwise, the flight of the creative class will continue.

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