Monday, June 22, 2009


The Repository has an excellent topic in today's edition: Combating 'brain drain' no easy task.

Notice I say topic and leave my description at that.


Because all the prescriptions for the Stark County phase of correcting the problem of Ohio's "brain drain" are the samo-samo, "in-the-box" thinking that is the equivalent of continuing to dig the hole deeper.

If one wants to get out of a hole, what is the first thing to do? You[ve got it: quit digging. If one wants to get something other than one as always gotten, then "change" is what the doctor orders.

For starters readers of this blog should CLICK HERE and read the Fordham Institute (Fordham) report on Ohio's brain drain, which, of course, includes Stark County.

Brain drain is a topic near and dear to yours truly. As the father of three daughters who graduated from Lake High School and Ohio colleges (Kent State University, The Ohio State University and the University of Akron (also NEOUCOM) and all young professions), yours truly knows firsthand that Ohio is not a lure for our university graduates. One daughter is in Colorado, another in Oklahoma and the third in Texas)

Fordham's analysis of the problem based on a thoroughgoing survey is right on, but the SCPR doesn't think much of Fordham's prescription especially for Stark County.

However, the focus of this blog is to parse the comments of Stark's college graduate retention leadership as published in The Rep's piece.

Let's start with Doctor Adrienne O'Neill. She is one of Stark County's most respected educational leaders and is president of the Stark Education Partnership.

Here's what she had to say:
Adrienne O’Neill, president of the Stark Education Partnership, said many of the county’s college graduates receiving associate’s degrees plan on staying in the area.

“We are trying really hard to make our area attractive to young people,”
Nothing against folks with associate degrees, but one of the key points of Fordham is that the higher up the degree scale one goes, the least likely the graduates are to stay in Ohio. So Ohio puts a lot of taxpayer money into educating our "best and brightest" and they are leaving in droves.

No personal disrespect intended, but O'Neill's comment is clearly of the educational leadership deadhead variety.

Another one of Stark educational leaders in the area of keeping Ohio college graduates in Ohio is Ann Motayer, director of Kent State's Career Service Center.

Here is what she had to say:
Ann Motayar ... said the university is working ... with area businesses to provide more internships and co-op opportunities for Kent students.

“We have been well aware of the trend and working, in many ways, to help connect students with local experiences to help retain them in the state, Many students would prefer to stay local. They are connected to their families and their communities.”

“We know that is No. 1 — that employers recruit our graduates, And it’s a way for students to get hands-on experience, moving them from the college experience into a full-time position. We hope to be the driver to help employers connect with graduates, who are key in helping rejuvenate our communities and our state.”
Director Motayar has to be kidding.

Internships and co-ops as a solution? No, these are absolute perequisities to even be in the game.

What Motayar and her fellows at Kent State have failed Ohio and Stark County in is a lack of visioning a comprehensive plan which would include area universities working collaboratively with local government, business and industry to create an "attractive community model" (a la Richard Florida's Creative Class model) that would likely be the compelling lure to keep the majority of Ohio graduates in Ohio.

Again, no personal disrespect intended, but Director Motayar with her prescription is indicative of more Stark deadhead educational leadership.

The one spark of life in The Rep's article comes from the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce's Aimee Belden who is director of the Chamber's "Brain Gain" initiative.

His is what Director Belden had to say:

... the chamber has focused its efforts on maintaining young people through initiatives, such as YStark!, [a network of about 900 professionals] a group which aims to engage young professionals in Stark County through social gatherings, a newly launched fellowship program and more.

“We certainly haven’t fixed all of the challenges we face, I would agree with the study in that, at some point, I think it is going to come down to the job, and I hope we can deliver on that.”

A more skillful reporter would have drawn Director Belden out on her description of the Chamber's effort. Belden should have been asked about the economic/cultural/lifelong learning aspects of the YStark! seemed to be implicit in the reporter's all too brief description of the specifics of the initiative.

Perhaps Director Belden might want to be in contact with the El Paso, Texas Creative Class Leadership Project (CCLP). Here is what the group has to say about itself:
“The El Paso CCLP raises the consciousness of our community's quest for a better business environment based on a creative approach to technological businesses. The interaction of our participants and their ideas is generating communication across cultural, professional and personal roles and allows our region to look at ourselves in a fresh manner.”
Could Director Belden and the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce the first in Stark County to break the "deadhead educational leadership" cycle in the county?

Let's hope so.

Stark County's future depends on keeping our "best and brightest" at home putting their thinking power to work for a better Stark County for future generations.


Will Brubaker said...

Enjoyed the post, Martin. As a former Hartville resident and MUC alum, Stark Co's issues are all too important to me even though I live in Columbus. My entire family is still in Hartville/Uniontown. I'm glad you called things what they are...tired and uninspired. My dad and I joked today that Stark Co. could have saved the money spent on Next Generation Consulting and just reprinted the report from the study Youngstown did. Same "solutions".

BD said...

Has Canton ever been supportive of it's local graduates? In the first interview I ever had when I graduated from college in 1969 I was told that a college degree was useless and I'd wasted my time. Employers want to hire people who work, not sit around in classrooms. I eventually ended up with secretarial work.

One of the real drawbacks in Canton back then, which I think has improved (it couldn't get any worse) was the cultural setting. Anyone interested in arts, culture, politics and intellectual debate and discussion was considered weird and "dangerous." That said, those activities are still downplayed and held suspicious--not important to the life of a city, when in fact, they are very important.

Canton has always had a very closed system. If you had a degree you got a job at Timken, or Hoover. Anybody else tried for the phone company or a steel mill. Jobs depended on who you knew, and I have the feeling that that is still the practice. On top of it, companies treated their employees terrible. If you don't like the way we do things, leave. We don't need you.

I never for one moment saw anyone or anything that encouraged people to stick around. From what I gather nothing has changed.

Lately, everybody seems to hate Canton. Any small improvement or achievement, is derided and degraded: Oh big deal, a small factory opens and hir4es 20 people. Well, that won't last long. People are waiting for big industry to return and it won't. They avoid technology. Cantonians are provincial. Just read the comments in the Rep. Who would want to bring a business to Canton with these know nothing idiots? I think they want the town to die.

Will Brubaker said...

Provincial is a good term for it, bd. After I graduated from Mount I never considered staying. This was mainly because all of my friends moved to Columbus because there are jobs and a lot more to do. But I did end up staying for 18 mos after graduation because of family issues. I worked for a CPA firm in Canton and the "take it or leave it" attitude was overwhelming. And as you said, the main reason I got that job was because a friend from college worked there. Management was not only unwilling to receive any feedback/ideas from younger professionals, but you were actually mocked for trying to bring anything to the table. Things like "Oh, well I guess Will has all the answers based on his extensive experience. Maybe we should make him partner this year." It was an awful environment to try to encourage even the most incremental change and I think that attitude is rampant throughout the area to some degree.

Stark Co. needs to face facts. Blue collar jobs are not coming back en mass. With the help of fantastic tax abatements and other tools they may be able to attract some smaller operations. Stark Co. is never going to be a cultural/social hub even relative to other cities in OH. As a result, you're never going to convince mid 20's professionals to want to move there. The smartest bet is to make the area appealing to people like me. People that grew up there and moved away. They need to convince me that when I get married and start a family I should raise my kids there. Low home prices and good schools are key, and they have that. But they don't have the jobs in ready demand and the lack of ideas on that front is concerning.