Friday, May 07, 2010

Brain Drain Cincinnati

If you care about American cities, then you'll want to listen to this podcast featuring Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) and Randy Simes (UrbanCincy). Urban redevelopment in Cincinnati is the focus, but the guests cover a lot of geography (e.g. Atlanta) over the course of the discussion.

Brain drain is one of the primary subjects. I'm familiar with Aaron's take on outmigration. Mr. Simes seems to share the same perspective. Bottom line, Cincinnati needs to pay more attention to talent attraction.

However, I would disagree with the characterization of the Midwest as somehow uniquely obsessed with those who leave. (Mr. Simes posited this dichotomy) It's a universal concern. Aaron does a good job of highlighting how little we know about other cities. Brain drain is almost completely divorced from good data analysis. Over the past 3 years, I've read about outmigration anxiety in Portland (Oregon), Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Denver (To name a few ironic locations).

Later in the podcast, Mr. Simes looks at the differences between Cincinnati and St. Louis. The primary concern is the lack of attendance for the Reds relative to that of the Cardinals. (Two professional baseball teams) Why is there such a large discrepancy? Answering that question requires an intimate knowledge of both markets (not to mention the respective histories of the franchises). I would suggest that the brain drain story is similarly esoteric. A comparison is possible, but one should be aware of the different contexts.


BW said...

Hi Jim,
Long time lurker on your blog. I am a rural and small town researcher. Yes, people in the midwest do hear about brain drain ALL THE TIME - books like Hollowing out the Middle are written without a balanced perspective on the dynamics of population movement, rather they just look at the kids that leave. However, our towns are more proud of the fact they can prepare the kids well for the larger world.

My research shows that people aged 30-45 move to rural areas, and in many cases provide a balance to the kids that leave. I call this the Brain Gain. Yes, we lose kids making $7/hour and have a HS education - yet we gain 30-45 year old people, with life experience, education, and kids (in 4th - 8th grades).

Anyway, thought I would throw a note your way. You can google "brain gain of the newcomers" to find out more.
Thanks for your thoughtfulness! Keep up the good work.

Jim Russell said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think I came across your research via ReImagine Rural. For anyone interested, here is a link to the "Brain Gain of the Newcomers" report. Anyone interested in the revitalization of any sized community should read it.

The Urbanophile said...

Thanks for letting me steal all your talking points, Jim!

Randy Simes said...


My comments comparing Cincinnati and St. Louis in regards to their baseball franchises were anecdotal in nature, and were primarily meant to highlight how one city is maximizing its regional population and economic standing to its advantage to fill a baseball stadium while the other was not. Obviously sports are tricky to use in a city/region comparison due to the many intricacies involved with fan support, but my point stands about some cities maximizing their regional population and economic standing, while others don't. Is this because of a city/suburb divide? I don't know, but the difference is palpable and should be explored.

I also do think that this obsession with Brain Drain is more pronounced in the Midwest than anywhere else. Large coastal cities just don't seem to care, but certainly do give it some lip service. In Atlanta where I work professional, there is no where near the attention paid to Brain Drain, and specifically talent retention, as compared to Cincinnati.

Honestly, I think it has to do with the image problem Midwestern cities have, and feel that they have. Midwestern cities have been out punched by smaller, less educated Southern cities for several decades now. Midwestern cities also can not compete with the size of coastal cities, or the perceived affluence of the Pacific Northwest. Combine this with the huge number of colleges/universities established throughout the Midwest, in part thanks to the Northwest Ordinance, and you have yourself a situation where residents in the Midwest know they're producing a ton of talent, and feel that they are losing more than their fair share. When these residents wake up and read news stories about declining population and economic standing of their respective cities respective to other peer or lower tier cities elsewhere across the nation and you have a perfect incubator for this obsession.

Hopefully this helps clarify my comments. Thanks for sharing this with your audience.

Jim Russell said...


Thanks for clarifying. My comments about the stadium attendance comparison was just an off-the-cuff reaction. Your anecdote just got the wheels turning. Sometimes I throw too much into a blog post.

As for brain drain, I still disagree with your observation. I could write a book about the obsession in Boston. Tampa has a huge complex, as evidenced by the spat between the mayor there and the one in Louisville. It's a touchy subject in a lot of places. Most of the anxiety is voiced at the state level, which can mask the concern in major metro regions.

I can assure you that Philly definitely cares and Georgia spends millions of dollars every year trying to keep graduates from leaving. Believe it or not, so does Texas.

If there is a difference, I'd guess it mostly concerns the size of the native population. Newcomers from out-of-state don't care locals sticking around. Most Midwestern cities don't have many newcomers.