Michigan's 'brain drain' has been reversed, what's next?

Posted at 7:18 AM, Jan 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-10 07:18:30-05

It was a term tossed around for years in Michigan: “brain drain.”

These days the numbers have flipped. Sandy Baruah, the president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, noted that we’ve seen a drastic shift in number. The next step will be to train workers for high-tech jobs, and to continuing to create those jobs.

“As recently as 2011 we were losing students,” said Baruah, noting numbers from business leaders for Michigan that showed a net loss of 10,000 workers six years ago has shifted to a positive gain of 7,000 per year — a shift of 17,000 workers.

“Now we’re on the plus side of that, but as far as ‘best in class states,’ we’re still not there yet,” he said. “We’re ranked 17th nationally in terms of our ability to attract young professional educated people into the state. We need to do better because we’re not a top-10 state yet.”

Right now there’s an estimated 90,000 jobs available in Michigan — many of those jobs are STEM jobs.

In order to take that next step, preparing young Michigan residents for those jobs will be key.

When Detroit and Grand Rapids announced bids to draw the new Amazon headquarters to Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder touted a proposed investment into new STEM programs to eliminate a gap in talent among Michigan workers.

“Gov. Snyder is focused on bridging the skills gap in order to increase our talent pipeline,” read a statement from the governor’s office in response to questions from 7 Action News. “The demand for a skilled workforce is high thanks to investors choosing Michigan as the place to start or grow their business, particularly in the convergence of auto manufacturing and the IT sector.”

The governor’s office also noted that new numbers show that Michigan is the top Great Lakes state for inbound bachelor degrees, and that the growth in that regard is outpacing the national average.

“I’m definitely going to stay around Michigan,” said Paige Hufnagel, a graduate student at Wayne State.

Hufnagel, along with five other students who stopped to discuss their career plans, all noted that they planned to stay in Michigan. The anecdotal reaction may seem “pie in the sky” thinking to some, but students like Hufnagel noted that the job industry looks strong to them.

“My program is directly connected with jobs, so I plan on staying local,” said Hufnagel.

A big part of whether Michigan continues to move up the national rankings when it comes to drawing skilled workers, and retaining their own, will hinge on large cities like Detroit.

Baruah said that Detroit’s growth still looks strong.

“If you have talent and want to work for mobility company, a technology company, a professional services company then Detroit or Michigan is the place to be," Baruah said.