Monday, February 18, 2008

Let's Stop New England from Going Gray

If we wanted to focus on one thing that would ensure New England's long-term competitiveness, I think it ought to be retaining young people. They're impatient ... creative ... and they challenge the status quo in ways that can be really revolutionary in start-ups and big companies alike.

Yesterday's column in the Globe focused on a disturbing trend, illustrated by this graphic:

Every company thinks about young people when they have an entry-level, low-paying job or internship position to fill. And that's OK. But entrepreneurs, executives, and investors need to come up with more creative ways to get onto campuses and explain what they do ... and bring students into their offices, even if they're not currently hiring or filling internships.

I've been nudging the New England Venture Capital Association to create an event that would connect students and recent grads with the VC community...and suggesting to our biggest companies that they should host "open houses" where students and others could come to their offices to learn about an issue that's important to the host company. (Like Google hosting MySQL camp and many other informal gatherings on its Mountain View campus.) What about a Boston Scientific open house focused on next-gen implantable devices, or an EMC open house on cloud computing?

I know there are a million even better ideas for integrating young people into our region's innovation economy -- making New England act more like Velcro, and less like a revolving door for the hundreds of thousands of students who come here to get educated.

(Note: the original article that inspired this column, "Demographic Demise" by University of New Hampshire economist Ross Gittell, is here in PDF form.)

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Blogger Michael said...


I read your article "Youth Movement" with great interest this morning and think it chronicles what most regional planners have been getting wrong about regional economic development for at least a couple of decades. Namely, young professionals/college grads aren't attracted to an area because "the area wants them" and tries hard to attract them. Young people (or immigrants of any type) are drawn to an area because they believe that area has the greatest likelihood of allowing them to be successful in reaching their dreams -- and those dreams involve creating something new.

I'm a native Californian. Twenty years ago, in my early 30's, I relocated from San Francisco to Pittsburgh to attend a graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University. After getting my degree I remained in the 'Burgh and worked at the University for an additional 3 years. I eventually returned to San Francisco (1988), which has been my home since.

I had no question about my decision to leave Pittsburgh - and it was as much a decision to leave Pittsburgh as it was to return to San Francisco - but I couldn't adequately articulate the reasons why until a few years ago when I read Richard Florida's two books on the "Creative Class". His research is fairly compelling about what motivates the migration patterns of young entrepreneurs -- it's tolerance!

Bringing students into local businesses before they graduate will only help if those students learn that their local business community will provide them with the opportunities to attain their dreams -- and making $ alone isn't the point. It's being able to create something, or to be a part of an initiative that creates something.

I travel some now for business, coast to coast and internationally a bit, so I've lost a close connection to the East Coast and greater Boston Area. What drove me from the East 20 years ago was the fact that "change was suspect" in the East and "celebrated" in the West. Yes, there is as much silliness at the extreme edge of celebrating change as there is at the other end -- but I think it's fairly clear that "creative types" simply won't be able to resist a local culture that simultaneously tolerates wide variation in ideas and personal expression AND celebrates change!

Richard Florida made a quantifiable discovery about what attracts the creative class to one region over another that many of us in San Francisco knew for years (indeed, took for granted) and that is, there's something reassuring about walking down the street and seeing two men or two women walking hand-in-hand. Simply - "if this community can 'tolerate' (and maybe even celebrate) such unconventional behavior as same-sex relationships, then it will certainly tolerate any of my ideas or actions." It's about something more than money!

Personally, I am about as conventional as anyone -- married (to a woman), two children, own a business (IIIP is a client of my management firm) and I wouldn't consider raising our children in a community any less tolerant than San Francisco's, despite the extremely high cost of living.

Boston's biggest challenge in my opinion is positioning itself on its revolutionary history -- "that Boston has always been for change!" Unfortunately, that's a hard sell, but that's what the young folks who comprise "engines of innovation" are looking for tolerance -- a comfortable environment to experiment and to make mistakes on the path to new things!

Thanks again for your article.

Michael LoBue
Executive Director
Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity

February 18, 2008 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The statistics of young people leaving New England are pretty startling.
many people that the "high cost of living and taxes” don't have a negative affect because “if you get a really good job those things don’t matter”. Well, sure, but in reality how many “really good jobs” are there? – not that many. Thus, the argument doesn’t hold water. Politicians in New England and especially Mass. believe their citizens are here to pay taxes to redistribute income for someone elses folly.

An issue totally missed is one that the Globe and the NE Media specialize in – business bashing. If I’m a student looking to start up a company, why would anyone in their right mind stay around here after listening to the constant drum beat of anti-business bashing and union loving rhetoric for 4 or 6 years. I’d be on the first plane out of here (but, Logan would probably be shut down).

Here are some really grim statistics. Read the intro and then go to page 14 and read the next 4 pages and charts for their assessment of the Northeast.
This is really worrisome for young people trying to plan their careers and lives and old people – the middle is just screwed.

Andy Wood

February 18, 2008 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the Massachusetts Innovation Economy and Exodus limited to the young population? Perhaps it's not. Are new ideas not being accepted by people over the age of 35? If so, should those people consider leaving, too? Perhaps.

I was saddened to read that the "Hub Crawl" was limited to undergraduate students and is currently in a hiatus. We are currently in a recession. Wouldn't this be the best time to re-kindle the "Hub Crawl" and not limit it to undergraduate students? I would've went to obtain a job, since I have been looking for a job for over a year now.

February 22, 2008 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy it. And that's putting it mildly.
When we moved here in 1990, I was 35 and just outside
the demographic you cite. The biggest issue we faced
in deciding to take the attractive employment
opportunity that presented itself was "Can we afford a
I had been practicing as an engineer for over a decade
and earned my MS in 1988. My wife had completed her
AA at the same time, leaving nursing to pursue IT
operations. We had three children between the ages of
6 and 12.
We had purchased our first home 12 years earlier, a
small 2 bedroom rowhouse in a working class Baltimore
community. Kids were showing up at regular intervals,
and 7 years later we needed and were able to move up
to 4BR cape on 1/4 acre in Baltimore County . For most
of those years, my wife only worked outside the home
part time, if that.
We followed a tradition of home ownership. None of
our grandparents finished high school, but they owned
their own homes. My parents were HS grads, Marilyn's
were not, all owned their own homes.
The raise I was offered was small, but the
opportunities for growth, personal and professional,
were great. For us the bottom line was nothing
ventured, nothing gained. With our backgrounds, the
worst we could see happening was having to start over
from the bottom, and we knew how to do that. We made
the choice to take the risk and came to Mass. We sold
our house in Balto Country for $99,000 and bought a
year later in North Reading for $160,000. It was
tough making ends meet, but we've pulled it off.
The key was that we could get into the game for
$160,000. The house was smaller, older, 3 BR, in need
of money and work (I am not a handyman). But if the
cost had been any higher than that, we would not have
made the move. Contrary to what the Bentley professor
thinks, there is more to life than a "really good
job", and we needed money for those other things.
Our three children now range in age from 24 - 30. All
are college grads, all still in the area, but none are
married yet. The one who is closest to tying the knot
has talked of buying a condo but says he won't stay
there when he has kids. An engineer like his father,
he has been practicing professionally for almost three
years. But he doesn't know if he can afford to stay
in the area when it comes time to buy that first
house. The girls wonder the same thing.
Our first house cost about twice my salary at the time
I bought it. Ditto our second house. The one we're
in now cost about three times my salary 18 years ago.
It would go for about the same now, i.e., three times
my salary. I make two to three times what my kids do,
so you can do the math to figure what it will take my
kids to get into their first house. Think they're
going to wait until they're 35?
These are young adults with college degrees. What
about the blue collar workers like my and my wife's
parents and grandparents? What does the Bentley
professor have to say to them? Any "Hub Crawls" for
the people who work at lunch counters, sell newspapers
on street corners, clean office buildings, drive
trucks, or work retail? They're not going to be
crawling home to a house in this area, that's for
There is a fundamental consequence that has accrued as
a result the way the housing market has been
manipulated to permit continuous house value growth at a
rate far higher than wages, and that is the bottom
rung of the ladder has been moving out of reach. All
the games with mortgage rates have been played in
order to continue to be able to play the house value
game, but now the mortgage lever has been pushed to
its max. The only way for the market to go is down,
and no political hijinks can change that. The sign on
the pinball game is reading TILT - GAME OVER.
New England has been a wonderful place to raise a
family, but there are other wonderful places. I
suspect my kids will ultimately have to find some of
them in order to have a life with more than a job to
give it meaning. And when they leave, we probably
will as well. After all, we need to find a place
where we can afford to retire.

Rick Schrenker

February 23, 2008 3:05 PM  

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