Putting a Plug in the Brain Drain

It’s encouraging to see the state and this region taking such a keen interest in young people these days. Among the many other pressing matters at hand, elected officials and economic-development leaders have made the younger populations — and the challenge of keeping them within the confines of the Bay State — a top priority.

Which is good, because as we’ve said many times, they are one of the keys to the relative health and well-being of both Western Mass. and the state as a whole.

The focus on young people has manifested itself in a numbers of ways — from a video produced earlier this year to promote this region (it touts everything from the low cost of living to a high quality of life), to a new Web site— www.massitsallhere — that trumpets the Commonwealth and all it offers, to a series of forums designed to pick the brains of young people to find out what they like and don’t like about this state.

The first of these forums was staged in Springfield last week, and a small group of area young people turned out to listen and offer some feedback.

All this, as we said, is well and good, but the efforts to date seem to be focusing almost exclusively on marketing — putting a good face on both this region and state and reminding everyone of all the good things we have in Massachusetts, from fine colleges and culture to mountains and the seashore, separated by only a few hours.

Marketing is important, but from our perspective, the way to plug or at least control the brain drain in this state comes down to one simple thing: jobs.

It’s a fact that people don’t stay where they grew up like they did a generation or two ago, but the reason for this isn’t necessarily the cost of living or the quality of life (although those certainly play a role), Rather, it comes down mostly to job opportunities.

People don’t flock to North Carolina for the weather or the school systems or the golf courses or the beaches or the health care facilities. They go there because that’s currently where the jobs are. People aren’t leaving places like Boston or Buffalo, or many other older industrial cities (yes, like Springfield and Holyoke) because they don’t like it there. They’re leaving because there are fewer opportunities.

This is the message that people in government and economic development need to hear, and they’re not going to hear it from people who have decided to stay. That’s why they need to talk to the people who are leaving, as well.

And they need to borrow a page or two from the script followed by North Carolina and other states that are seeing their populations increase, not decrease. They need to find ways to make this state and this region more business-friendly and create more opportunities.

There are some opportunities in several fields, from health care to the biosciences, from education to sustainable energy, but simply not enough of them, and not across the broad spectrum of education and training levels.

The proposed high-performance computer center, a decision on which is due from state and Holyoke officials in a few weeks, is an example of the type of job-creation work that the state needs to see more of in the years to come if it is keep more of its vital resource — young talent — within the Commonwealth.

In the final analysis, marketing is good, and it’s no doubt a necessary part of this equation, but marketing won’t keep young people here or attract them to the Bay State from other regions.

Only good, solid job opportunities can do that.

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