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PHIL HARDWICK — Congressional report the place to start with Mississippi brain drain


Brain Drain, as it is now called, is not a recent phenomenon. It was mentioned by candidate Bill Waller in his successful campaign for Governor in June 1971. He referred to it as “talent drain.” What is new is how some states and communities are addressing it.

The first place to get up-to-speed is a Congressional report, “Losing Our Minds: Brain Drain across the United States,” United States Joint Economic Committee Report dated April 24, 2019.

Some highlights – The report measured brain drain in each state. It examined those who left states and those who stayed. It defined a highly educated “leaver” as someone in the top third of the national education distribution who resides in a state other than their birth state between the ages of 31 and 40.

The report presented the data in terms of gross brain drain and net brain drain. Gross brain drain is defined as the share of leavers who are highly educated minus the share of adults who remain in their birth state (“stayers”) who are highly educated. For example, if there were 1,000 leavers and 400 stayers, then the gross brain drain would be 600. That figure is important, but it doesn’t take into account that there may be some highly educated workers who move into the state. Thus, we have net brain drain, which is defined as the share of leavers who are highly educated minus the share of entrants to a state who are highly educated. So if there were 1,000 leavers, but 200 new highly educated workers, the net brain drain would be 800. A bit complicated, but useful as a measure. Readers are encouraged to go to the fully interactive version of the online report to make their own evaluations. It’s at

The report showed that in Mississippi in 1970 the excess of highly educated movers over highly educated stayers was 1.24. In 1980, that number increased to 1.87. In 1990, the number had increased to 4.63, and by 2017 had skyrocketed to 16.69. Add to that fact that there was net-outmigration in the state during the past 10 years.

And it’s not just Mississippi. In 2017, Alabama’s rate was 16.96, Louisiana’s was 13.71, Arkansas’s was 8.46, and Tennessee’s was 14.03. Again, those are the gross numbers. How do the net numbers, i.e. the addition of highly educated adults into the workforce, affect those states?

Alabama’s net excess of highly educated share of movers over highly educated share of entrants in 2017 was 13.3, Louisiana’s was 2.4, Arkansas’s was 5.52, Tennessee’s was 2.1, and Mississippi’s was 13.53.

So what are Mississippi and its communities to do?

Although the state should customize its own strategy, it is useful to consider what some other places are doing to keep residents and attract new ones.

Michigan is using a marketing strategy, Choose Michigan, to extol the benefits of working and living – and staying – in Michigan.

Baltimore offers a $5,000 payment to put towards buying a home anywhere in Baltimore City. The Baltimore City Employee Homeownership Incentive gives city employees up to $5,000 for buying a home.

Marquette, Kansas offers free plots of land in a certain area. To qualify for the free land, new owners must agree to build a home on the land within one year, and commit to living there for at least a year after the home is completed.

Lincoln, Nebraska also offered free land, “…to the first 21 qualified applicants who agree to build homes which comply with city requirements.”

Harmony, Minnesota is offering a cash rebate ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 for building a new home in Harmony.

Vermont is offering $10,000 to people who move there to work remotely.

Tulsa, Oklahoma is also attracting remote workers with a $10,000 bonus to first 100 people to move there.

Maine is offering a tax credit to help college graduates who relocate there repay their college loans.

And it’s not just in Mississippi or even the United States for that matter. Montreal and Quebec, which lose graduates to large Canadian cities, are making college financial aid contingent on graduates’ staying put and offering start-up funding to entrepreneurs, among other things.

Are any of these right for Mississippi or any of its communities?

We will see. One that seems to be on everyone’s mind is high-speed internet. Mississippi has the second lowest internet speeds in the country. That problem is being addressed by authorizing rural cooperatives to offer broadband. In Kentucky, economic developers and other community leaders are betting that broadband is the key to addressing the loss of so many coal-related jobs in the region.

Finally, Brain Drain is not just a Mississippi phenomenon. It is nationwide. Many observers frame it as a rural vs urban issue. But it is more than that. There are rural places that are not losing highly educated people. And there is a small, but growing movement of people who want to get away from urban areas. The first step in dealing with the issue is learning about it. And right now, the Congressional report is the best place to begin.


» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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