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Friday, November 18th, 2011

Brain Drain?

Data show migration of youth from area not prevalent

By Amy Kronenberger

Fort Recovery High School senior Olivia Schwieterman, left, discusses the new me. . .

Some local officials and recent political candidates cited brain drain as an issue for the Grand Lake area; however the 2010 Ohio Census tells another story.
Data show only a small percent of graduates are leaving the area for better jobs, and Mercer County's population dropped minimally - only 0.3 percent since 2000. Census officials project an increase in Mercer County's population for 2020 and 2030.
The population of 18- to 24-year-olds in Mercer County in the 2000 census was 7.9 percent. In the 2010 census, that same group, now in the 28- to 34-year-old age bracket, was approximately 6.8 percent of the population, indicating a 1.1 percent brain drain.
The percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the 2010 census grew to 8.9.
One county official agreed brain drain is real but said he wouldn't call it a problem. He said it is an issue that lies with perception, not a lack of jobs.
Jared Ebbing, economic development director in Mercer County, said brain drain is something officials need to keep an eye on so it doesn't become a problem.
"It's all just one big misconception," he said. "There are good-paying jobs here, but people don't know it, so they leave."
Ebbing said communities and the county as a whole have a large disconnect. He believes high school students should have more opportunities to tour local companies to see job opportunities.
"If everyone had a chance to walk through companies like I do, they'd be surprised to see everything the companies offer," he said. "We need to make parents and students aware of what we have here. There are a plethora of high-paying jobs, and if students know about them when they leave for college, they'll be more likely to come back."
Mercer and Auglaize counties are in the heart of advanced manufacturing, not just standard manufacturing, he said. The companies need engineers and people who know how to program computers, robotics and machines.
"We specialize in agriculture and manufacturing, but there's a lot more than meets the eye," he said. "One company is looking for mechanical engineers, while another is looking for graphic designers."
Julie Miller, director of the Business Enterprise Center at Wright State University-Lake Campus, said the university works with students through local internships and co-ops to help them find local jobs after graduation.
The university also is working to offer more programs specific to area businesses. New programs include a four-year mechanical engineering degree and an agri-science and business degree.
Within her own department, Miller teaches entrepreneurial classes that focus on creating a business plan and accessing money and new business loans.
"The key is to get more entrepreneurs in the area," she said.
Miller's son, Justin, is a 2004 St. Henry graduate and a 2009 University of Dayton graduate who left the area to experience life outside Ohio. He is a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin in Fairfax, Va.
"My long-term goal is to eventually move back and raise a family," he said. "Recently, I've been talking to local business owners on possible future positions. Coming from an engineering background, it would also be more exciting ... to see more businesses back in Ohio working with cutting edge technologies and focusing more on the future."
Kelli Noykos, a 2005 graduate of Minster who now lives in Westlake, echoed Miller's statements. She hasn't returned home because she's not yet ready to settle down.
"I think the area around Minster is a great place to raise a family, but I'm not in that stage of life," said Noykos, who has a degree in middle childhood education.
The census shows brain drain in Auglaize County is about 0.7 percent.
Ebbing said brain drain has been an issue for more than 30 years and will likely remain.
"It's not just a Mercer County issue, it's a state and national phenomenon," he said. "High school graduates want to leave their hometowns for greener pastures, to live in new, seemingly more exciting places."
Ohio's population grew by 1.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, much less than the national growth of 9.7 percent.
Ebbing said the Grand Lake area needs to change the perception that there are no jobs.
"If a company is considering the area and they see a lot of jobs not getting filled at a company like Crown, they'll be less likely to settle here," he said.
Emily (Bergman) DeRan, also a 2005 Minster graduate, said she's staying in Cincinnati because she prefers the city life.
"I knew in high school I wasn't moving back," she said. "I made a life here with friends and a job. I am attracted to the city life and can't see myself going back to a small town, but I am truly grateful I grew up in one."
DeRan graduated in 2010 from Antonelli College, Cincinnati, where she studied photography. She owns Tangerine Butterfly Photos.
Ebbing said 50 years ago or more, most kids were staying home to work on the family farm or in the local factory. But that changed about 30 years ago as more high school graduates went to college.
"After a while, though, those who think they'll never come back begin to realize that other places aren't any better, so they want to come back home," he said.
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