Monday, June 22, 2009

The Greater Youngstown Attraction

Like every city in Ohio, Canton is fighting brain drain. And like every city around the United States, Canton is losing. The problem is that all the resources are aimed at retaining college graduates (from the article hyperlinked above):

A few years ago, the city put a lot of effort into keeping its young people here.

It hired Next Generation Consulting, a market research group out of Wisconsin, in 2006 with the hope it could stave off “brain drain.”

But three years later, a survey by the Washington-based Fordham Institute shows more than half the students in Ohio colleges plan to leave the state after they graduate. ...

... The Fordham study mentions some suggestions to entice graduates to stay in Ohio. These include: Increasing students’ community involvement; a state income tax credit for those who remain in Ohio for 10 years; money for a down payment on a home; graduate school scholarships and fellowships; and more co-op programs and internships.

Hiring Next Generation Consulting is a waste of money. Enacting the study's recommendations would be foolish. I track anti-brain drain initiatives around the country and throughout the world. After three years of research, I'm still looking for an actionable success story. Trying to keep talent from leaving the region is irrational. Anyone who claims he or she can do it is a charlatan.

The economic development game, in terms of people, is all about attraction. But the Rust Belt seems loathe to accept this. The wound of industrial collapse and subsequent exodus is still fresh. Greater Youngstown should take a page from the book of post-Katrina New Orleans:

Tim Williamson, president and co-founder of the Idea Village, a nonprofit that identifies and supports promising local entrepreneurs, agrees.

"New Orleans is attractive because there are lots of opportunities here and less layoffs than in other places like Boston or San Francisco," Williamson said.

In addition to digital media, Williamson said other hot sectors include green business, those ventures that pursue environmental sustainability, and urban redevelopment.

"Katrina reversed the brain drain, so you've seen an influx of new talent and capital coming in," he said. "If you're an individual looking to take on the most pressing economic and social challenges, there's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here with entrepreneurship."

Young adults, particularly this generation, are nomads. There are legions "looking to take on the most pressing economic and social challenges." But shrinking cities do little to tap into this energy. Instead, they obsess out-migration, even when the numbers are relatively low.

Like New Orleans, Youngstown is offering the opportunity of a lifetime. Right now. If you are considering moving back. Do it. I'm doing everything in my power to return to the region. I want to be part of the Rust Belt revival. One reason is native pride. But my main motivation is the love of a great challenge and chance to make my mark.


  1. Jim - Great, compelling post. What's holding you back?

  2. Typical relocation logistics are holding me back. But I think I'm on track for the big move within the next year. I dedicated 2009 to achieving that goal.