Brain Drain and Educated Millennials

There’s a tendency in certain Rust Belt states to blame brain drain on things like mountains and oceans.  Young people want to ski or go to the beach, so the thinking goes.  We don’t have that, so they leave us for places that do.  My native state of Indiana ran an ad campaign that said as much.


Turns out it’s not that simple.   I was looking at an analysis of America’s top one hundred metros prepared by the Brookings Institution in conjunction with Amazon’s HQ2 push.  It address where educated Millennials are choosing to live.  As it turns out, lots of mountain-less, ocean-less places are on the preferred short list.


Des Moines has one of the best networks of bicycle side paths anywhere in America.  Downtown is accessible on mixed use trails from the far reaches of suburbia.

Here in the Midwest, Madison (#2) and Minneapolis (#9)  both cracked the top ten. They beat out places like Denver (#10), Austin (#12), Seattle (#13).  Des Moines was ranked 14th and beat out Portland (#22).  Last time I checked, Madison, Minneapolis and Des Moines were as flat as pancakes.  None are on the seashore. They all have pretty severe winters, too.   And yet they thrive while cities like Indianapolis (#39) languish.    It’s obviously not geography.

One anomaly that stands out  is quality of life.    Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are consistently ranked in the top ten states when it comes to quality of life.   Indiana is consistently ranked at the very bottom.   In fact, all of the states that are home to top ten metros are high quality of life states.

So maybe this is the real reason that people are fleeing states like Indiana.  Maybe it’s not geography.  Maybe it’s quality of life.  If so, this is good because quality of life is something that any state can invest in if it chooses to.   This is the Midwest’s advantage.   Those who recognize it and choose to leverage it are holding their own with the best of the best.  Those who aren’t only have themselves to blame.



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