As the US labor market continues its record-setting streak of jobs growth, torpedoes (or hurricanes) be damned, skilled workers are enjoying more opportunities than ever before.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people living in areas blighted by drought or drug abuse – or that are simply struggling with a shortage of well-paying jobs – are opting to leave for greener pastures. According to Bloomberg’s Brain Drain index, California’s Central Valley and opioid-ridden West Virginia are seeing some of the largest outflows of skilled workers.
Even as the rest of the state booms, California’s struggling Central Valley is home to the metropolitan area seeing the highest degree of brain drain in the US: Hanford-Corcoran. Situated about 175 miles southeast of the Silicon Valley, losses of white collar jobs and reductions in pay in the STEM fields are driving skilled workers away. The index measures the outflow of advanced degree holders, as well as any drops in business formation.
Hanford’s economy is also dependent on agriculture. And the state’s stubborn drought has taken its toll.
“The small group of educated workers in the region are drawn to economies that offer more opportunity,” said Matthew Horton, associate director of the Milken Institute’s California Center. Only 12% of Hanford’s population over age 25 holds a bachelor’s degree.
Still, the region holds some promise. Faraday Future, a manufacturer of electric vehicles, is preparing to move into a warehouse abandoned nearly two decades ago by Italian manufacturer Pirelli & C. SpA, according to the chief executive of the Kings County Economic Development Corporation Lance Lippincott.
“Historically, the Central Valley has had a usually higher unemployment, lower attainment rate for four-year degrees overall compared to California,” Lippincott said. “But it kind of seems like there’s a shift in what’s going on in Hanford.”
The runner-up for largest brain drain is post-industrial Kankakee, Illinois. The city started losing manufacturers back in the 1980s. As one long-time resident pointed out, the city is trying to rebuild. But when it comes to rectifying the collapse of America’s industrial base, there’s no easy solution. “We’re a nose-to-the-grindstone type community. We rebuilt over time. There is no silver bullet,” said Lisa Wogan, director of marketing and business attraction at the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County.
In recent years, Kankakee has lost 300 jobs at agribusiness Bunge SA and 50 positions at chemical maker BASF. Fortunately, some of those cuts have been offset by an expansion of CSL Behring’s local pharmaceutical operation, which acquired Bungee’s old 74-acre site in 2017.
Coming in at No. 3 is Charleston, West Virginia – the capital of one of the states hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic. Adding to its problems, the state has been wracked by coal industry bankruptcies and poverty as well. In September, a poll by MetroNews Dominion Post revealed that 50% of West Virginians “say they have a friend or family member who has been addicted to prescription pain medications.” Four other cities in West Virginia made it on the brain drain list as well. They are Bluefield (No. 9), Huntington (No. 14), Weirton (No. 45) and Clarksburg (No. 46).
Thanks in no small part to the burgeoning US marijuana industry, the Colorado metropolitan areas of Boulder and Fort Collins have ranked as No. 1 and No. 2 on the index, while San Jose, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, ranks No. 3 in brain concentration.