Only a few months ago, I admonished Michigan for its hysteria about brain drain. Given the recent news coverage concerning the exodus from the recession-plagued state, you might expect I’m ready to eat some crow. On the contrary, I’m here to report that Michigan has learned nothing from its past mistakes.
Richard Herman, an advocate for increasing rates of immigration to the Rust Belt, posts on his blog the same critique I have aired about how Michigan addresses its talent crisis:
However, the current focus on "brain drain" as the source of the problem misses the real issue.
While no doubt the Midwest economy is causing college grads who might otherwise want to stay home to leave, in an ever more mobile society, moving out is a natural part of people's lives. Indeed, if you read the typical account of how the elite global knowledge worker lives, you often hear about people flitting from place to place to place chasing opportunity.
The real problem is not that too many people are leaving, but rather that too few are coming. It isn't an outflow problem, it's an inflow problem.
The former urban industrial powerhouses of the United States all suffer from the same malaise. Every city is fixated on its local labor pool, asking institutions of education to staff the “factory.” The great irony is that economic growth doesn’t happen without immigration or domestic in-migration. There is no story of a great metropolis that successfully barred its people from leaving.
The tortured metaphor for brain drain stems from private enterprise. But even in the arena of human resources, the concept of churn isn’t an anathema:
The purpose of this article is to open your mind about the silliness of measuring only aggregate turnover. I can think of no better indication of a so-called expert’s lack of true understanding of employee turnover than when I read an article or a book on retention and the author invariably expounds on the need to keep everyone.
The burgeoning narrative is that churn benefits both employee and employer. The same is true for resident and state. Fear of the outsider prevents all parties from making a rational choice and improving human welfare.
Michigan should embrace its out-migration and aggressively seek new residents. I further recommend any reference to “retention” be abolished from official policy. Where, and how many, graduates go is largely immaterial. Instead of Cool Cities to keep Michigan talent instate; what would it take to get the next generation of engineers from Colorado schools or Asia to move to the Rust Belt?