A brightening economy and better job prospects may be helping Ohio stem the loss of young adults and the much-dreaded brain drain.
The state has finally seen the end of a decades-long trend of losing young adults, and for the first time, beginning in 2010, the area saw gains in its population of 20 to 34 year olds, according to a Springfield News-Sun analysis of new Census population estimates for 2012.
Between 1990 and 2010, Ohio lost more than 420,000 young adults between the ages of 20 and 34, a drop of more than 16 percent, the analysis found. But from July 1, 2010, to last July, the state gained 42,562 young people in that age range — a 2 percent increase.
Ohio, however, still faces challenges: The more educated its young residents, the more likely they are to leave. And those who do find work here face lower starting salaries and higher student loan debt on average than their peers from previous graduating classes.
“There has been a problem of out-migration of college graduates — people who are the trained and well-educated workforce of Ohio,” said Brett Visger, deputy chancellor of institutional collaboration for the Ohio Board of Regents.
“There were often a lot of people who believed there weren’t good jobs available here,” Visger said. “What is becoming clear is we really are moving to a place that has a lot of great opportunities, especially in the manufacturing sector and especially in jobs that aren’t going to go away and that need a great level of education. People are understanding that you don’t need to look elsewhere.”
And that message may be getting through.
Just in the decade from 2000 to 2010, Ohio lost more than 65,000 young adults, a 2.9 percent drop, according to Census data. That decrease was second-worst in the nation, behind only Michigan.
But in the following two years, the newspaper analysis found, Ohio regained almost two thirds of that loss of young adults from 20 to 34.
Jobs keep grads here
While young people might be interested in living near a beach or in the Big Apple, “first and foremost, they want a job,” said Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
His organization found in a 2009 survey that 58 percent of college students said they plan to leave Ohio in the first few years after earning their degrees.
In the end, 77 percent to 78 percent of Ohioans who earned a college degree stayed in the state for at least a year after they finished school for work or to continue their education, representing about 145,000 people between 2007 and 2011, according to the Board of Regents.
During that same time, more than 42,000 Ohio graduates left for opportunities elsewhere. Ohio needs more graduates with the skills employers say they require to fill jobs, experts say. While 35.5 percent of Ohioans have a college degree, 57 percent of jobs in the state will require that education by 2018, according to the Lumina Foundation and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
Public colleges and universities also brought nearly 62,000 students from other states to Ohio in 2011, according to the regents, but data is not available for how many of them stay after graduating.
Mason native Matt White and his fiancée, OSU grad Keleigh Mullins of Westerville, are two who left Ohio this year for work. The couple had hoped to stay in Columbus, where White earned his degree from Capital University in leadership and management, but moved to Atlanta in February for work.
“I’ve been in Ohio all my life, so it was a little scary looking to move somewhere else,” White said. “Surprisingly I found an opportunity fairly quickly (in Atlanta), much quicker than in Ohio. We have been here for about four months now. I still get a little homesick, but we live in a great area.”
Wittenberg University graduate Shelly Gregory, who earned her communication degree in May, said she focused her job search locally because she wanted to stay in the community that invested so much in her.
“I’m a local girl, and I love Ohio and I love the region,” she said.
Gregory was able to do just that because she quickly landed a job as social media specialist for the Robert Rothschild Farm in Urbana.
“I also recognized there was a brain drain problem, and I wanted to try to break that,” she said. “People around here in this community have invested in me, so I want to stay.”
‘We have to sell Ohio’
Ohio is losing ground on educational attainment: The state fell one spot to 36th in the nation for degree attainment in 2011, according to Lumina.
“Probably the most important thing is that we get more of our students to get a degree in the first place,” said Ohio Chancellor John Carey. “When we build a strong economy and create more opportunities, then I think we’ll increase the number of graduates who are wanting to stay in Ohio.”
Keeping highly talented people will attract more highly talented people, said Jeff Haymond, associate professor of economics at Cedarville University.
“In economics, we say: Incentives matter,” he said. “Why are people moving to North Dakota right now? It’s not because they’re looking for the sunshine. The real answer is … where are the opportunities?”
Gov. John Kasich said getting people to stay in Ohio or come here is about “creating jobs, being cool, being cutting-edge and selling our state.”
There are already plenty of reasons, he said, including new jobs being created as Honda constructs a multi-million plant to build its next-generation supercar in Central Ohio.
“We have to sell Ohio, and we have to convince people that if you come here, you’re going to want to stay here,” Kasich said. “Part of it has to do with making sure our state is looked at as innovative, 21st century, forwarding-looking.”
Ohio has programs aimed specially at luring its people back. The Forever Buckeye program promises in-state tuition, without the required 12-month period to establish residency, to anyone who graduated from an Ohio high school. The Ohio GI Promise does the same for veterans from any state.
Grants for Grads provides down-payment assistance to Ohio college graduate from the last two years to help them “get into a home and put down roots here,” said Cindy Flaherty, director of home-ownership for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. Last year, a record 568 people used the program, which was created in 2009. “We are trying to capture those who are making a decision about staying in Ohio or going somewhere else,” Flaherty said.
Ohio is also investing $11 million to create as many as 3,500 internships and co-ops for college students. And, local businesses and other organizations are facing a challenge from the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education to create 20,000 internships by 2020.
“Anything we can do put resources and thinking behind keeping our students here, the region benefits not only economically because we’re keeping our talented workforce, but I think the community as a whole benefits from having youthful energy and passion and thinking,” said Sean Creighton, executive director of SOCHE.
Staff writer Andrew Tobias contributed to this report.