Monday, January 03, 2011

Talent Migration Geopolitics: New Zealand

Brain drain is a big concern in New Zealand. There are a great deal of histrionics in the coverage of the country's talent "crisis". Over the past five years I've been blogging, various experts warn of New Zealand's looming demographic doom. Yesterday, I read an article that quoted a Kiwi who sees outmigration as an opportunity:

But business growth centre boss Andy Hamilton sees it differently. He wants young people to go offshore and doesn't mind a bit if they stay there.

The Icehouse centre he runs is a collaborative venture between Auckland University and several large businesses. Its website says it aims to take responsibility for delivering 350 of the 2000 companies needed to get New Zealand into the top half of the OECD by 2013.

"Our vision is to be the place for turning entrepreneurial companies into international successes."

Hamilton says that's about getting alongside businesspeople to help their talent pool increase and, in turn, the nation's prosperity.

"Our thinking is that we need more New Zealand companies building global success – and we need as many Kiwis offshore as we can get to help them."

It's a view that could be interpreted as supporting the Kiwi "brain drain", but Hamilton says he's seen a lot of Kiwis come home after creating a bit of wealth offshore who are not that useful.

"They're more useful to us if they remain away."

Hamilton is describing the alumni model of talent migration that China has used, quite successfully. Talent returning will help any region. But a network of expatriates who stay "abroad" is much more valuable (link to Mike Madison's comment at Null Space).

The hysteria about brain drain has kept such economic development in the shadows. How could talent leaving possibly be good for the region? Retention initiatives won't save cities. Trying to keep people from moving will harm cities.

But even in Ohio's strongholds, there is cause for alarm. Within three years of graduation, one-third of Ohio's university alums have left the state, according to a study of the graduating Classes of 2006 and 2007 done for the Ohio Board of Regents.

Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system, is pursuing a plan to enroll more residents in college and hold on to those who do attend. One focus is to get more university students to do work-study programs while in school and take internships with Ohio companies.

Fingerhut's plan won't help Ohio. It's a boondoggle, a scheme to help justify state expenditures for higher education. Going to college increases geographic mobility. Regions and states have yet to figure out how to benefit from the increased prosperity for graduates who leave. Place is prioritized ahead of people. That's a stupid way to go about your business, benefiting your region at the expense of its residents.

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