Monday, October 12, 2009

Brain Drain Columbus

The brain drain story is almost always overstated. Reactions to various statistics verge on hysteria. But every so often a more measured assessment bubbles up in our local newspaper. Goodbye Columbus:

The Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization based out of Dayton, Columbus and Washington, D.C., that lobbies for education reform at the state and national level. It became interested in brain drain issues—where college students leave after graduation and take their Ohio educations with them to help bolster someone else’s economy—as part of its effort to improve the public education system.

The report, released June 15 and titled “Losing Ohio’s future: Why college students flee the Buckeye State and what might be done about it,” was touted in the media as applying to all fields in the state, when in fact, it was developed out of a study meant for the education sector.

“We were looking at the deficit in the education field and how difficult it was to find dynamic new school leaders and teachers. So we ended up doing a study to get at why education students are leaving Ohio,” said Emmy Partin, director of Ohio policy and research for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “More specifically, we know there is a talent deficit (in education). It’s incredibly difficult to find bright people to run these schools. In the education sector, specifically, there is a brain drain.”

But it seems the report has sparked a sky-is-falling reaction in every sector.

Columbus had its share of brain drain hysteria in the wake of the report. But the actual migration numbers tell a different story:

Central Ohio, like the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas, reflected a move to the suburbs by residents of Franklin County, which experienced a net loss of 4,161 people to seven nearby counties. Nearly half of that loss came from Franklin County residents heading north to Delaware County, which in recent years has been ranked as one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

What sets 1.1 million-resident Franklin County apart from Cincinnati’s Hamilton County and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County is the fact that migration gains from elsewhere in Ohio are more than offsetting residents’ flight elsewhere in the region. Franklin County booked a net gain of 4,260 residents from areas outside Central Ohio.

“Even within Ohio, Franklin County attracts people from across the state, providing evidence of Central Ohio’s relative economic health,” the report said.

Community Research Partners published a useful look at "Ohio Population Migration Patterns". I think the maps would surprise most people. Probably the biggest relocation problem in Columbus is the move to the suburbs, hollowing out the city core and undermining municipal fiscal health. A more sober look at migration issues would help the state to avoid wasteful policies such as the Grads for Grants program.


  1. Jim, what I find interesting is the maps of intra-Ohio migration. Other than moving to Columbus, there appears to little movement around the state. I might run those charts in my blog.

  2. Hmmm ... I can't say the lack of churn within the state jumped out at me. I assume you are referencing the migration patterns of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. I'd want to see the net-migration numbers broken down by in-migration and out-migration before drawing any conclusions.