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Where are the young knowledge workers going? November 10, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Education, Workforce.

I was amazed to stumble across this article from the Boston Globe, which suggests that Boston is suffering from its own brain drain:

Half of all college students in the Boston area leave after graduation, according to a 2003 [Greater Boston] chamber study, and 15.8 percent of the area’s 20- to 34-year-olds left between 1990 and 2000, a “brain drain” that became the catalyst for the [Chamber’s college graduate retention] program, the goal of which is to keep as many students here after graduation as possible.

The graduate exodus frustrates corporate leaders because those leaving would likely make high salaries and boost the area’s tax base. What’s worse, they say, is that many are leaving even though there are good jobs available.

Thirty percent of graduates leave the area for better jobs elsewhere, according to the study, but 47 percent leave either because of Boston’s exorbitant cost of living, or because they think other cities are just a better place to live.

This baffles me. Boston is perhaps THE higher education capital of America, with over 20 colleges and universities in its small geographic footprint. The Boston Foundation says that one in every four residents is a college student. Having lived out there, I can see Boston as being a place that should gain, as opposed to lose, post-collegiate workers. It is, as Michigan Governor Granholm would call it, a “Cool City.” But they leave. And the Boston Chamber is forced to conduct a graduate retention program.

[Side note: In finding the date from The Boston Foundation, I cam across this impressive report, “A New Era of Higher Education-Community Partnerships.” Enjoy!]

Other logical communities are in the same boat. The Columbus Chamber in Ohio is trying to figure out ways to retain a disproportional share of the graduates of America’s largest institution of higher education, creating a graduate retention program of its own. And Columbus is a pretty darned cool town for a young professional, much in the same way that Boston is.
So, let me ask out loud: Where in the world are these young professionals going? What communities are experiencing a net gain in young workers? Maybe this 2003 map from Choices Magazine could help explain:

This could be the top economic development issue of the decade.



1. globalburgh - November 12, 2006

The lesson here is that college graduates move. Trying to entice them to stay is a fool’s errand. The Choice Magazine article you cite does a good job of outlining effective policy:

“Policies designed to keep rural area college graduates “home” when they would be better off someplace else are clearly inefficient from society’s point of view. However, strategies to attract experienced college-educated workers may not be. The current debate over brain drain overlooks the possibility that individuals’ reasons for moving and their preferences for certain locations may change with age. Younger people move to take advantage of school and job opportunities. However, as people marry, have children, and acquire job experience, they may choose to relocate for “quality of life” reasons. There is little information about the motivations and choices of “reverse” migrants opting to relocate in mid-life. Policy makers should be concerned about the supply of all educated workers not just young educated workers.”

Boston should work on trying to attract college graduates from other regions, not trap the people going to school in the area. The upside of having all the universities in and around Boston should be job creation. However, there is likely a scarcity of talent (see Seattle and the problems with biotech start-ups). That puts Boston up against other cool cities, many of them with a better climate.

2. Adam Steen - November 16, 2006

Speaking from an Iowa perspective…
We seem to have the same “brain drain” here. Or at least that’s what is publicized. I am originally from Iowa, but went to college in Minnesota. After college I lived in Florida and New York and then moved to Minneapolis. I now live in Des Moines.

I am currently networking and collaborating with Iowa’s colleges and universities and showing students what is available. My message to them is simple – “I’m not going to try and convince you to stay here; my job is to show you what is available.”

This message seems to aggrevate several people, but my theory is, I left and came back with a ton of relationships and experience. I’ve grown from it and have in the last two years added value to the Iowa landscape. If these kids don’t know what’s available in the real world, they’ll seek out the cool places. Most, in my opinion, will come back because they will realize that it really isn’t so bad around here.

I’m currently developing mentoring programs, teaching programs and speed networking events that get people connected and I’d be glad to share with anyone interested. If I can prove this up in Iowa then anywhere else in the world should be a piece of cake! I’m also up for any suggestions too!

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