One of the issues we feel strongly about at GrafiQa is the livability of Upstate New York. I recently wrote this op-ed, a version of which was published Oct. 21 in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. Versions also ran in the Central New York Business Journal, as well as the Schenectady Gazette.
Enjoy. Discuss. Connect.
Brains Drain from Upstate New York
Sounds like a zombie movie I would like to see.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the Upstate New York Brain Drain. The Drain, for those of you who don’t know, is the exodus of our brilliant youth to greener pastures around the country. Or, perhaps more accurately, they’re moving to more grey, concrete-covered pastures, where Starbucks grow wild on every corner.
As a result, the economy (and the economic horizon) of Upstate New York is suffering. According to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s office, the population of 52 Upstate counties decreased by 22 percent among 20- to 34-year-olds and by 29 percent among 25- to 29-year-olds between 1990 and 2000.
There have been a lot of musings on how we can combat this phenomenon. The state’s First Lady, Silda Wall Spitzer, has spearheaded a campaign called “I Live New York” that includes a task force of 400 people from across the Empire State who have come up with the following priorities:
- Expanding internship opportunities that provide young people with essential skills and give employers access to potential workers;
- Marketing Upstate communities as attractive and exciting places to live;
- Developing employee recruitment strategies to connect talented workers with New York employers;
- Providing workers with continuing education services to enhance career mobility and advancement;
- Creating coordinated programs to achieve these goals, and then implement them statewide.
Those ideas sound good, and it will be interesting to see how they come to fruition.
As a transplant to Upstate myself, and the leader of a marketing agency operated entirely by well-educated, creative transplants who are all between 28 and 40, I have a unique perspective on what draws young people here. And I have ideas about what keeps them here.
And I’ll be particularly interested to see how the task force achieves the second goal: Marketing Upstate communities as attractive and exciting places to live.
The fact is, we don’t have the large companies, shopping, attractions and 24-hour-a-day access to Starbucks that attract young people to other areas.
But we do have a quality of life that is extremely interesting to entrepreneurs. We also have an economy that makes it possible for competent individuals to become very successful by instituting basic business practices.
But we can do better. We can attract young entrepreneurs by making it easy to bring creativity, innovation and enthusiasm to Upstate New York.
Why not do something revolutionary, such as offering free or low-cost health insurance to employees of small qualifying business? Crazy, right? But think of how alluring that would be to young entrepreneurs and their employees. And, maybe more importantly, their investors.
Some other ideas:
- Grants for businesses that have reached certain milestones or will use those grants to expand their staffs.
- Tax breaks for qualifying businesses – eg. city and town tax relief for businesses that meet certain hiring criteria.
- Low-interest loans for solid business ideas from young professionals either returning to or relocating in Upstate New York.
- Tax incentives for young, educated people to return to or relocate in Upstate New York.
- State-wide, coordinated efforts to publicize the benefits of living in Upstate, and to market all the wonderful resources Upstate communities offer small business.
Creative economic strategies supported by a focused marketing plan will help keep a certain percentage of college graduates in Upstate New York. Others will leave no matter what.
The challenge is giving them overwhelming reasons to return.