Paul W. Barada
A recent article in this newspaper highlighted the fact that more of our young people are attending college today than 40 years ago. In 1970, only 4.8 percent of people over the age of 25 in Rush County had earned college degrees. In 2010, that number had increased to 13.2 percent. Nationwide, however, 27.9 percent of adults over 25 had earned college degrees by 2010, leaving Rush County at less than half the national rate.
I have harped about the importance of and the need for post-high school training for a long time. The other side of the coin, however, is that, as more and more of our young people go on to college or some other form of post-high school training, very few of them come back home because of the absence of local job opportunities for college educated or highly skilled young people.
So, what we're left with, in the long run, is paying to educate our children for somebody else's community. Quoting from the article that appeared in the Republican, "ÉThe problem of keeping college graduates in rural America is a national issue and one that is also enduring. [University of] Missouri economist, [Judith] Stallmann, said this is a reflection of the kinds of jobs that are generally available in rural areas. If there are fewer jobs demanding college degrees in a community, there are likely to be fewer college graduates. ÔIt's a big deal in a lot of rural communities because you don't see a lot of jobs that require a college education,' Stallmann said. Young people graduating from high school don't see many jobs that demand a college diploma, so they don't think about coming home once they leave for the university."
The data collected by Stallman and Mark Partridge, a rural economist at Ohio State, suggest to both economists that "rural communities should consider the kind of jobs being created locally." Continuing, Stallmann said, "Rural communities may need to think about types of jobs being created. It really suggests that rural communities that aren't thinking about making themselves attractive to educated people are really going to suffer."
Finally, both economists have confirmed a notion I've been harboring for some time. It hearkens back to a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the grant for putting the infrastructure in the north industrial park. If you'll recall, I suggested that a factory that hires people from outside Rush County won't help the community grow because those workers will commute, rather than move here. And if local people are hired, the local population is likely to stay about the same because local folks are already part of the declining population of this county.
If you buy the notion that this county has to grow, then thinking about attracting businesses and industries that will bring educated young people back home makes a lot of sense Ð and by educated I don't necessarily mean kids with a 4-year degree, but young people with post-high school training via vocational schools, trade schools and kids with two-year associate degrees.
The foregoing information strongly suggests that our economic development efforts should be directed at recruiting businesses here that require higher levels of education generally.
Unless Rush County can create jobs for its own young people who have gone off to college or some other post-high school training, the chances of attracting more people here aren't very bright. Of course, a new high-tech or life science industry will create a demand for more highly educated people, and those more highly educated people could come from other places and, just like factory workers, they could live in some surrounding county and commute back and forth.
I have a friend who lives in Carmel who commutes back and forth to Hillenbrand Industries in Batesville every day. The same thing will happen here unless a coordinated effort is made not only to attract business and industry to Rush County that need a more highly educated workforce, but also to reach out to local graduates who might like to live here if jobs were available.
Does all this mean that Rush County needs to be a little selective in trying to recruit new industry? You bet it does! The last thing this community needs is a factory that can get along with unskilled labor. Targeted marketing to specific industry groupings will be critical. Employers that need a skilled workforce are essential. But the other half of the equation is reaching out to young people who are from here who have recently graduated from college or vocational school and letting them know that there are jobs here at home they can fill. That is the best way for this community to grow Ð by bringing back our trained young people to industries that need a skilled workforce. The only other option is encouraging recent graduates to come home and start new businesses themselves.
Without a growing population, everything else pales to insignificance. Two weeks ago I wrote that an attractive community and an outstanding school system will bring new families here Ð and they will. If those two pieces were in place, it wouldn't matter if more people were living here and working someplace else Ð they would bring their paychecks here. It's the reverse we don't want: people working here and living elsewhere. And if we're going to make the effort, then attracting homegrown talent back here makes a world of sense.
That's Ñ30Ñ for this week.