HARRISBURGBrain drain has officials racking theirs
By Robert B. Swift
Ottaway News Service
Young? Got a degree? You're outta here!
Pennsylvania's best and brightest have gone job hunting out-of-state at a clip of 20,000 a year for the last forty years.
These graduates of Pennsylvania's universities and colleges are landing Internet jobs in the Silicon Valley, relocating to booming Atlanta and commanding high wages in Raleigh's Research Triangle.
Another example of the impact is the graying of Pennsylvania, with a population of 12 million. Second only to Florida in the percentage of residents over 65, the distinction becomes even more so with the exodus of young Pennsylvanians. State lottery revenues, for instance, are dedicated for senior citizens, while Pennsylvania holds a near-bottom ranking in public financial assistance for higher education institutions.
The number of Pennsylvanians in the pivotal 18-to-24 age group declined 20 percent in the 1990s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Census figures show a similar trend in Mercer County and the Pittsburgh region.
During the past several years, Pennsylvania has implemented new economic development, tax and education policies designed to put a plug in the brain drain that has gone on decades.
"I think we've made significant changes to effect a turnaround long term," said Gov. Tom Ridge late last year. "People will go where they can find attractive, decent family-sustaining employment. With the state's emphasis on technology-related jobs, there will be a lot more attractive jobs in Pennsylvania."
Pennsylvania was a leader in the political, industrial and transportation revolutions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries because of its brainpower, Education Secretary Gene Hickok says. Pennsylvania's ability to play a role in the technological revolutions of the 21st century is jeopardized if the high achievers continue to depart, he adds.
Pennsylvania's brain drain, which started following World War II, is now reaching its third generation. The grandparents of today's twenty-year olds were the first generation to think that greener economic pastures lay outside Pennsylvania.
The out-migration has continued as the state's coal, rail and steel industries fell from prominence, as Pennsylvania became an "aging" state with large number of senior citizens, as the first efforts to promote "high-tech" growth began in the 1980s and as the move to catch the e-commerce wave started in the late 1990s.
It has persisted in times when the state's jobless rate has been above the national rate and even when the state's jobless rate, currently hovering around 4 percent, is below the national rate.
Pennsylvania is not alone in dealing with a brain drain. Other northern industrial states face similar problems. The state of Connecticut recently put the brakes on a population exodus with new education and economic development policies.
The out-migration has consequences for those who stay behind in Pennsylvania:
Ridge drew a connection between taxes and out-migration in his state budget address last February when he proposed a round of new tax cuts.
"What do high taxes mean in Pennsylvania?" he asked. "They mean watching your job or your neighbor's job leave for a more job friendly state. And they mean watching our sons and daughters pack their bags to find opportunity in those states."
The state budget that went into effect July 1 provides $775 million in tax cuts to businesses and individuals. The budget cuts the state capital stock and franchise tax -- a levy on a company's stock value -- by two mills, bringing a savings of $300 million for businesses next year. Ridge says this tax is particularly onerous to high-tech startup firms.
Tax cuts are one tool available to the state. Financial aid is another.
The Ridge administration has launched a number of initiatives aimed at spurring job growth in the high-tech and biotechnology/
pharmaceutical sectors. One recent initiative, dubbed the "Lightning Manufacturing Project", encourages manufacturers to use Internet technology in the engineering, design and production of products.
Not to be outdone, House Democratic lawmakers have offered their own "emerging industries" package. One of their proposals would establish a Pennsylvania Medical Research Authority to float $300 million in state bonds to finance research and development of new products.
Pennsylvania ranks in the top tier of states in terms of growth in the biotechnology industry, but it falls in the bottom tier in overall net creation of new jobs.
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