Pennsylvania’s brain drain outpaces its brain gain

Can you feel it – the mingled excitement and dread in the air? That’s the vibe of thousands of college students looking forward to graduation and striving to find a job.

If you don’t feel it, try harder to tune in. If a significant portion of your livelihood depends on Pennsylvania’s economic strength, you should be feeling in your gut, too.

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being a top destination for students as well as being a top exporter of those same young people when it’s time for them to join the workforce. In other words, we do a great job of preparing them to be employees – who then want to take their skills and knowledge someplace else.

In 2012 (I couldn’t find more recent data), the Washington Post reported that almost twice as many out-of-state students came to Pennsylvania for higher education as residents who went out of state, ranking the commonwealth No. 1. Even when I was in college way back when, a noticeable number of my classmates were from New York, Ohio and New Jersey. (A lot from New Jersey, in fact – which this same article lists as the No. 1 net exporter of students.)

So it’s great we bring so much raw talent into the commonwealth. What an opportunity that represents for you when it’s time to recruit.

But wait a minute.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pennsylvania has been a net exporter of people ages 20-29 for more than two decades. Zoom in a little more and look at just people with a bachelor’s degree or above, and the picture is similar. This article from last week, “America’s Brainpower Cities,” ranks Pittsburgh 30th and Philadelphia 18th in net population change for this demographic.

Without drilling down into the numbers, both these pictures admittedly are a little fuzzy. Not all young people have college degrees; not all people with college degrees are young; and not all critical, good-paying jobs require college degrees, though you could argue they require new workers, i.e., young people.

But with the number of excellent schools we have in Pennsylvania that, clearly, are attracting students, why can’t we capture more of graduates?

What do New Orleans (1), San Antonio (2), Louisville (5), Salt Lake City (8) and Baltimore (14) have that Pennsylvania doesn’t? Or Rochester, N.Y. (15) or Minneapolis-St.Paul (21)? It can’t be just a question of climate or cosmopolitan lifestyle, or everyone would be flocking to Jacksonville (9) and Los Angeles (38).

Until Pennsylvania’s employers figure that out, we’re going to continue watching all those good ideas, state-of-the-art skills and fresh perspectives slip through our fingers.

The week ahead

With the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood challenge to provisions of Obamacare pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, a lot of people are thinking more about where the line is between personal freedom and constitutional safeguards when it comes to religion. Reporters Heather Stauffer and John Hilton team up to look at some critical legal and practical questions that come into play when business owners decide to make faith a key element of their operations.

The Inside Business focus is the business of retirement and eldercare, with lists on retirement care and on personal care and assisted living facilities.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

Not every college grad goes into the workforce, of course. Some stay in school and go after that next degree, some are lucky enough to kick back and travel the world for a while, and some switch gears to run their very own businesses. Here’s a cool chart on what it takes to start a successful business while you’re still in college.

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