Monday, October 26, 2009

Brain Drain Chicago

When people leave, where do they go? If you are a Rust Belt native, then you immediately think of the Sun Belt. Perceptions of migration rarely match the reality, even at the policymaker level (which spells trouble for economic development). I submit for your consideration, South Carolina:

Lured by South Carolina’s beaches, lush green mountains and mostly snow-free climate, Ohioans and other northerners are moving here by the van load, right?

Not quite.

New population data show that most people who moved to South Carolina between 1990 and 2008 were from three southern states – North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

North Carolina supplied by far the most newcomers during this period, with 393,935.

And Ohio? A mere 84,898 came from the Buckeye State.

Since 1990, more than 2.3 million people moved to South Carolina, while 1.9 million moved away, according to the state Office of Research and Statistics.

“We are a pretty mobile group of people,” said Jerry Mitchell, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina. But, he added, “most people don’t move far.”

Migration was one of my subfield specialties as graduate student in geography. That most moves are short was drilled into my head. The tendency is so typical as to not merit much study. Relocating over great distances is much more interesting. That's where global cities such as Chicago come into play.

Another popular myth is that the big cities somehow retain talent better than shrinking cities. You might be surprised to learn that most metros thought to be doing well are annual losers in the battle for domestic migration:

For years, Chicago lost its wealth and population as people with money moved out.

Some headed to the Sun Belt, and some to the collar counties for bargain homes.

Away they went, by the thousands each year, making it tougher for Cook County to pay its bills.

Nothing seemed to put a stopper in the drain, until now. Unlikely as it sounds, the recession has come to the rescue.

Brain drain Chicago. The picture is much more complicated than that, but the migration story is similar to that of Boston, New York City and even San Francisco. The idea that cooler cities are somehow doing better is a misrepresentation of the relocation data. However, big cities attract talent from further afield. The apple also falls further from the tree in places such as Chicago. Long distance moves away (or to) smaller cities are rare, as our map of Youngstown out-migration illustrates.

I'm amazed how many talent initiatives fail to grasp the above patterns. I think that is why so many efforts focus mainly on retention. We are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. And that's why I feel so fortunate to be working with the movers and shakers of Greater Youngstown. While other cities recycle the same lame brain drain initiatives, I get to help create an innovative talent attraction initiative. This is a policy frontier. Only in Youngstown ...


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Jane!

    Lovely website. Do you know Andrew Bailey? I read he has a "deep understanding of global talent migration". Is this true? What can you tell me about the "talent of migration"? Never heard of it.

  3. Hi! I found information about Talent migration on the website of a company called Ascentador

  4. Hey, a new and improved robo-Jane! Congrats on your upgrade. I see big things in the future for Ascendtador.