Allen County looks for ways to make seekers stay

Area turns to placemaking to boost brain gain

Eyes-Street-MAR17

We have all heard the phrase “brain drain” before. It gets tossed around as the summation of why our youth doesn’t return home after college and our local economies continue to stagnate. But the problem is more complicated than that.

In their book, “Hollowing out the Middle,” Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas looked at migration trends in the United States; specifically the stress out-migration has had on smaller communities. As they note, for many “leaving or staying is a gradual process that unfolds over a span of years,” a condition that they argue is the result of four different types of young people:

Achievers: Successful students who are encouraged to “move on to bigger and better things”

Stayers: Students, often from low-income families, who are encouraged to enter the workforce without specialized education or training

Seekers: Students who “possess a powerful, albeit unfocused, longing for something different”

Returners: Students who have sufficient ambition to leave their hometown to discover the world and then return (some more quickly than others)

The Midwest is experiencing a troubling trend: negative net domestic migration. Put simply, more people are relocating out of the region than into it. They are moving to places like Dallas, Denver, Nashville and Austin. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that since 2010, Illinois lost nearly half a million residents due to out-migration. And while Indiana fared much better, it still registered a net loss of 47,000 (3,000 of which moved out of state from Allen County). For Indiana, this translates into a loss of approximately $1.63 billion in adjusted gross income and $114 million in lost income and sales tax revenue since 2010.

As a community, we spend time and resources educating our children and adult workers, only to see a net loss in domestic migration. While Allen County’s educational attainment has made solid gains (up 4.3 percent in bachelor’s degree attainment since 2000, now totaling 27 percent for adults ages 25 and over), we still lag the nation (30 percent). Many argue educational attainment would have made greater advances if Indiana were more successful at attracting and retaining populations. Our educational attainment is directly tied to people’s eagerness to live in our communities. In order for our region to achieve a net positive in domestic migration, we will need to accept the connection between placemaking and “brain gain.”

Admittedly, some people will move away while others will stay no matter what their hometown may offer up in amenities and opportunities. So the challenge facing our region comes in identifying and influencing the factors that could be the tipping point for “seekers” to stay, “returners” to move back home and even entice “achievers” from other communities to consider locating here. Ultimately, the experiences our communities provide will shape how our youth envision their future. As quality of life initiatives influence local economic development policies, placemaking becomes a critical component in engaging each of these groups.

Good places don’t only value education; they help our dreams take root.

First appeared in the March 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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