Monday, June 13, 2005

On Plugging the Brain Drain

We’ve been hearing a lot about Brain Drain in the Hoosier state. Students come here to get their degrees, then leave. Or, students who’ve grown up here stay here to go to school, get their degrees and THEN leave. Why are they leaving and what can be done about it?

So far, I’ve stayed. I grew up here and was educated here, but I’ve certainly thought about leaving. This comes up just about every time I visit a big city. It came up when I visited Toronto. I’d never been there before, yet I’d never felt so at home. I certainly felt safer, more hopeful and happy. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, yet people approached me and were friendly. Contrast that with Fort Wayne, where I do the same things year after year, and it’s rare that I get approached by anyone. Yet visitors to Fort Wayne remark on how friendly people are here. Personally, I just don’t see it.

As for Brain Drain, I think it’s obvious that if you have a college degree, you really don’t want to work at Wal-mart, McDonalds, or at a grocery store. Neither do you want to work as a waiter or waitress. I can’t speak for other parts of Indiana, but while talking to a fellow factory worker some months ago, she made the remark that Fort Wayne was nothing but factories and restaurants. “And retail,” I added. I think decent jobs are the number one factor in retaining people. I’m very lucky to have found a job that I absolutely love. However, for a long time before that, I felt Fort Wayne had nothing to offer me in terms of anything resembling a “career.” I didn’t have family to worry about in terms of supporting them or yanking them out of school should a great job surface elsewhere, so why not leave?

Truth is, I have a good deal in terms of housing. A very good deal, as a matter of fact. On top of that, Fort Wayne is extremely cheap in terms of cost of living. The city basically has everything that matters when it comes to quality of life. Lots of parks, decent tap water, cultural events and classes, sports teams, more than one daily newspaper, a superb library and proximity to Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis, should you have a hankering to visit a bigger town.

But...if your job background is in an area that Fort Wayne comes up short in terms of job availability, you face a choice: stay and work a job you really aren’t crazy about or try and follow your dream somewhere else. Obviously, if you want to be an actor and really take a shot at it, you have to leave Fort Wayne. You have no choice.

Even if you are lucky to find a job you love and excel at, if your personal values and mindset don’t jibe with Fort Wayne, you also have to make a choice: stay here and grin and bear it, or leave. I’ve decided I’m a big-city girl. Unlike a lot of people, I have no qualms about visiting Chicago by myself or exploring New York or Toronto late at night. Maybe I rely too much on that saying, “God protects fools, drunks and children,” but no one has threatened me or made me feel uncomfortable.

I’d like Fort Wayne more if it were a little more progressive; a little more aggressive in blowing its horn in terms of low cost-of-living and cheap real estate. The town needs to be a little less uptight about things. People need to be a little less apathetic when it comes to things that affect our city.

Fort Wayne can do something to slow the Brain Drain -- if it wants to. If nothing is done, we’re going to have a lot of college-educated people working jobs that require no education at all. If graduating college in Indiana means working retail, or in a factory, or in a restaurant, is it any wonder people are leaving?

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