Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Stopping the Brain Drain (?)

Economist Morton Marcus, retired director of the Indiana Business Research Center which, among other things, creates population estimates and projections for Indiana, made an interesting speech recently at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

I don’t agree with everything Marcus says in his speech, but this blurb from the media coverage of it really caught my eye:

Marcus further noted that he is not concerned about a so-called “brain drain” from the Hoosier state, calling attempts to keep Indiana’s kids in the state a mistake. It is better to encourage young people to leave the state and attract new people from other areas to move here, he said. “We have an inadequacy of brain-inflow,” not a brain drain, Marcus said. “Too many people in Indiana have not seen the rest of the world.”

This is right on I think. It’s not that I think that cities should try to get rid of their young college grads, but having cities full of people who’ve never lived anywhere else breeds an insular attitude. It also makes it extremely difficult to change and break out of existing molds. When you don’t know what other people are doing, it’s hard to judge if you are doing well or not. And of course people as well as cities benefit from new and different experiences. Now I’ll be the first to admit that’s really a value statement, but it’s a value I’m glad to promote.

The other side of this around brain-inflow is also key. Places like San Francisco didn’t become hotbeds of skilled technical people by retaining their kids. They did it by hoovering up educated people from elsewhere. As I argue elsewhere, all too many of the smaller, aspirational cities I cover here are selling a commodity product that is not likely to appeal to young, ambitious, educated people. This makes attracting those brains from elsewhere difficult.

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Topics: Talent Attraction
Cities: Indianapolis

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