It’s been called the ‘brain drain” in upstate New York in the class of 2009 alone, almost three-quarters of UR graduates have left the greater Rochester area.

Last weekend, college students from UR, Cornell University and Syracuse University came together in Syracuse to discuss potential ways to curb this trend.

‘Brain drain,” if left unattended, can result in severe consequences for the economy, including less tax revenue, innovation and fewer skilled workers.

The idea for this discussion, known as a charrette, came from Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship Neil Tarallo, at Syracuse’s Whitman School of Management.
From each university, 12 students of various academic interests and backgrounds and a faculty member were in attendance. During the first two days of the three-day event, students from the three colleges worked together to come up with creative new solutions to the ‘brain drain” problem, which they presented on Sunday.

Several major factors contributing to this issue were addressed at the charrette. Among these, one of the most strongly emphasized was the perception people have about the upstate New York area.

‘I feel like the main cause is a lack of positive image associated with New York,” junior April Hu, one of the students from UR to attend the charrette, said. ‘Like “there’s nothing to do, it’s cold and dreary.'”

The poor economic climate was brought up as well, in addition to the effect it is having on the availability of funding for entrepreneurship. Poor communication was also frequently addressed, as universities often encourage looking to major cities for work, while simultaneously coming up short when it comes to communicating the benefits of working in a more local environment.

‘[University Career Centers] are kind of pushing Fortune 500 companies, but with the recession and everything, that landscape is changing,” Natalie Yager Antal, who attended the presentations on Sunday, said. ‘You don’t get a job and stay there 60 years anymore. You’re at small companies and startups. You move around a lot more.”

At the charrette, the teams were charged with the difficult task of developing ways to limit the ‘brain drain,” and they did not disappoint. Unique reform measures were suggested in such areas asgovernment incentives.

According to Tobin, one of the most frequent reform suggestions was the creation of government incentives for graduates who find work locally. Some ideas for such incentives were tax breaks, student loan forgiveness and help with buying a house.

Another popular suggestion was the idea of having a more community-based education system, so that students of all ages have stronger ties to their local environments.

According to junior Andrew Agnello, another UR student who attended the charrette, one specific way to accomplish this goal would be through something called an

‘entrepreneurship incubator program.” This system would encourage local students to set up businesses in the Rochester area in exchange for funding from a combination of the University and the city.

However, some believed that the ‘brain drain” problem isn’t actually a problem at all.

Director of the UR Career Center Burt Nadler argued that there are statistics showing that a substantial number of Rochester students do in fact stay in the area after graduation.

‘Politically some might believe this number is not high enough, yet strategically, logically and based upon the “supply and demand’ of positions within specific career fields, I think these numbers are, in most cases, appropriate,” he said.

Nadler’s thoughts on the ‘brain drain” also differed from the conclusion drawn at the charrette he felt that amibitous UR graduates simply may not be satisfied with the job market in Rochester.

‘Sincerely, without appearing sardonic, “causes’ of graduates wanting to leave the area are ambition, qualifications and goals that cannot be achieved in Rochester,” Nadler said.

Bob Tobin, the UR faculty member who attended the charrette, disagreed.

‘The issue of bright flight has been present in the community for many, many years, and it’s a concern,” he said. ‘It’s not localized to upstate New York either. A lot of different areas are suffering through the same thing.”

Agnello also commented on the importance of improving transportation if the ‘brain drain” is to be reduced.

‘I’m from New Jersey, and yes, it’s not too far of a distance, but the hassle of going from Rochester to JFK to Jersey… My family’s back there,” Angello said. ‘If I knew it was easier to get back home, I’d probably be more likely to continue a career here.”

Despite the progress made at the charrette, what will happen to the brain drain trend from here remains uncertain.

‘At this stage, we were really just throwing ideas out there.” Agnello said. ‘We pitched the ideas, they listened and hopefully they’ll do something.”

‘I think the upstate area is poised for a turnaround,” Tobin added. ‘I think there are some interesting things happening here… But on the other hand sometimes you wonder if you’ve got to really hit bottom before many people are willing to change the way things are done. What I would really hope for now is that the information gleaned from the students over the weekend is acted on.”

Fleming is a member of
the class of 2013.

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