Category Archives: Brain Drain

'Smartest' US Cities Have a Rusty Tint


According to a June 6, 2012 piece by Richard Florida published by The Atlantic Cities, a recent analysis by Lumosity shows that more than half of the 25 smartest cities in the United States are situated in the Rust Belt. In order to calculate the smartest metropolitan areas, the article indicates that the following research methodology was utilized:

“…scientists at Lumosity tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them across U.S. metros using IP geolocation software. Individual scores were recorded in five key cognitive areas: memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving.The data was normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. Only metros with more than 500 observations were included. The data cover 169 metros.”

Based on the research, below is the list of America’s 25 brainiest metros, according to Lumosity’s metrics, with the city’s ranking in parentheses:

  • Lafayette, Indiana (2)
  • Madison, Wisconsin (4)
  • Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa (6)
  • Johnstown-Altoona, Pennsylvania (8)
  • Champaign & Springfield-Decatur, Illinois (9)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota/Wisconsin (10)
  • Rochester, New York (13)
  • Lansing, Michigan (16)
  • Burlington-Plattsburgh, Vermont/New York (18)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (19)
  • Syracuse, New York (20)
  • La Crosse-Eau Claire, Wisconsin (23)
  • Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York Pennsylvania (24)
  • Springfield-Holyoke, Massachusetts (25)

According to Daniel Sternberg, who developed the brain performance measure,

“The result is not driven principally by college students. “Since our analysis controlled for age, the reason they score well is not simply that they have a lot of young people,” said Sternberg. “Instead, our analysis seems to show that users living in university communities tend to perform better than users of the same age in other locations.”

An informative map (see below) prepared by the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute depicts the results of the Lumosity study graphically. It clear shows concentrated strength throughout much of the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Midwest, with other areas scoring well along the Pacific Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, the I-35 corridor of Texas, and those larger metropolitan areas of the Rocky Mountain region.


The good news that could be derived from this report is that the “brain drain” may not be quite as bad as first thought. However, this represents a snapshot over one period of time. A more reliable long-term measure will be when this data is spread out further so trends can be observed.

The results also present an excellent marketing and public relations tool for many economic development agencies in the Rust Belt. Here’s is a weblink to one such press release from Greater Lansing’s LEAP (Lansing Economic Area Partnership).

Congratulations to all those cities who scored well in this report. As a graduate of Purdue University in Greater Lafayette, Indiana and a resident of Greater Lansing, Michigan, I was very pleased to see the data show what I already knew about these two terrific cities of the Rust Belt.

More details about the report and the story itself are available at Atlantic Cities.

Rick Brown

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Young Northeast Ohioans Report Negative Feelings About Region

The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, you know, the organization that’s supposed to fix all our problems (I actually mean that literally), recently conducted a study about Northeast Ohioans’ attitudes about the place where they live.

The group is emphasizing the fact that 90+ percent of respondents said they thought it was important for the region to be sustainable. Duh! I bet 90+ percent want the region to be prosperous, too!

Not to give these guys too hard a time, but there were other aspects of the study I found more interesting.

First, check this out:

Northeast Ohioans are generally satisfied with where they live. Except this: “The percent very satisfied increases with buy levitra oral jelly age. Only 22% of those 18-24 are very satisfied with Northeast Ohio.”

My only qualm about this buy lotensin online is I think it is a biased sample (though not in the scientific sense). These guys surveyed a statistically significant, random sample of the population. The problem motrin cost is, it’s all folks who live in Northeast Ohio and theirs aren’t the only opinions that matter. I just wonder how 24 hour pharmacy people who aren’t from Northeast Ohio — potential residents, ostensibly moduretic — would rate it. More interesting even would be how people who used to live here but left would rate it.

Moving on. This seems a little less rosy.

Even worse: “Those least likely to continue living in their current area are 18 to 24 year olds (41% not very or not at all likely) and those who have lived in their current area for 10 years or less (30%).”

And this: “None of the 18 to 24 year olds likely to move said they would stay in Northeast Ohio.”

Those surveyed were about evenly split on whether the region offered opportunities and advantages to keep young people here.

I also really liked this one:

To me, this study is a mandate to address the issues that are concerning young people. I think the way to do that is to adapt to change.


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Is the Rust Belt Starting to "Get It" on Bicycling?

Photo: Flickr user DewCon, LaCrosse, Wisconsin

At the conclusion of this post is a list of Rust Belt metropolitan areas where clusters of bicycle-friendly organizations (communities, colleges, and businesses) have agglomerated. The numbers are based on those organizations which have been recognized as “bicycle-friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists. These clusters are important for several reasons:

  • The data shows that more places are “getting it,” not just “progressive” enclaves.
  • They show that coordinated efforts are taking place in a variety of metropolitan areas, and broadly within each metropolitan area, not just in lone islands of bike friendliness.
  • They show healthy participation by the public sector, private sector, and by non-profits.
  • The data shows that one smaller Rust Belt metropolitan area deserves extra special recognition for the extent of bicycle-friendly organizations in their community compared to much larger urban areas – La Crosse, Wisconsin. On a per capita basis, La Crosse is definitely the most bicycle-friendly metropolitan area in the Rust Belt and may be in the entire country.


If your Rust Belt metropolitan area is not included in the list, consider contacting your local public officials, area business leaders, and local educational institutions or non-profits and ask them if they have considered becoming a bicycle friendly organization. If not, then ask them why not?

There is a good possibility that those metropolitan areas that fail to act soon will be left in the proverbial wake of the active/non-motorized transportation revolution. We are at an important crossroads in the Rust Belt, working to remain competitive in the 21st century. Being left behind from a dynamic trend of active transportation could spell the difference between future economic growth or gradual economic decline. Fortunately, those cities listed below, such as La Crosse, Wisconsin have taken the important steps necessary to define their future in a positive (and healthy) manner.

Here is the list:

  • (29) Twin Cities, MN – two communities, one university, and 26 businesses
  • (18) Pittsburgh, PA – one community, one university, and 16 businesses
  • (15) Indianapolis, IN – three communities and 12 businesses
  • (15) Madison, WI
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    two communities, one university, and 12 businesses

  • (14) La Crosse, WI/MN – one community and 13 businesses
  • (11) Chicago, IL/IN/WI – three communities and eight businesses
  • (10) Philadelphia, PA/NJ/DE – two communities and eight businesses
  • (6) Bloomington, IN – one community, one university, and four businesses
  • (6) Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA – two communities and three businesses
  • (6) Columbus, OH – one community, one university, and four businesses
  • (5) Champaign-Urbana, IL – one community and four businesses
  • (5) Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint, MI – one community, one university, and three businesses
  • (5) Grand Rapids, MI – one community and four businesses
  • (5) South Bend-Elkhart, IN/MI – two communities and three businesses
  • (4) Burlington, VT – one community, one university, and two businesses
  • (4) Greater Lansing, MI – one community, one university, and two businesses

Rick Brown

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The Rust Belt's Brain Drain Expressed in Music

Greater Lansing has an amazing music scene, but it’s seldom heard about outside a 100 mile or so radius from the state capital. Probably the best known band to hail from this area is The Verve Pipe, with its memorable #1 hit single “The Freshman.” Frontier Ruckus, The Hard Lessons, and Autumn Lull (among others) have also made a decent amount of buzz outside of their Greater Lansing roots.


The Greater Lansing area alternative rock band Elliot Street Lunatic recently released their album Ghost Town Lullabies, and it’s simply superb! I cannot give it a high enough rating–it is literally off the charts for those of us who like alternative rock or indie music.

If there is any downside to the album, it is the sense the listener gets that the band feels it will eventually have to leave Mid-Michigan for the limelight and better opportunities elsewhere. This melancholy feeling is most clearly evident from some of the lyrics contained in the last two tracks, “Shine” and “Lullaby.”


“He said

That we are all out of time

As we head to the sky

So pack your bags tonight


And I know

That the world is slowing down

And I can tell

That everyone is lost, lost, lost, lost

And I can tell

That we will be on our own

So long

To everything you know

To everything you know.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic


“And I know some day we will leave

To find a better place to call our home

And now we’re all alone…

And what if we could change it all

Would we be here watching the sun rise and fall

I thought we knew it all.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As it turns out, two members of the band are already moving on. At the CD release party, it was announced that one is leaving for Denver and the other for graduate school. One can perceive the conflicted emotions that come with a move away from one’s friends and hometown roots. This contradiction is most clearly evident in the lyrics in the track “Hollow Tree.”

Hollow Tree

“You left it all behind

To start a brand new life

We could have had it all

But that’s not who we are


We live in a hollow tree

That doesn’t bother me

To sleep out in the cold

Is where I want to be


But when I hear them say

You could have been someone

I’ll never understand

Cause I know where I am.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As a parent of three grown sons, all of whom may move away some day (the oldest will be moving out east this summer), these songs and this record really hit home. In Michigan and throughout much of the Rust Belt, the “brain drain” is a very real problem that continues to be difficult to overcome no matter how many cool cities, music venues, placemaking features, and great third places we create or highlight.

Despite efforts to beef up the cultural and economic vibrancy of the region, in the opening song “Ghost Town,” the band’s lyrics reflect a concern that at least some communities remain stuck in neutral.

Ghost Town

“When no one’s around to ever make a sound

When no one’s around to ever make a sound

Cause this old Ghost Town’s going nowhere.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

Whether the band is referring to Greater Lansing or another community doesn’t really matter. The perception among young people growing up in many parts of the Rust Belt is there are brighter lights and greater opportunities elsewhere. It may be as close by as Chicago, or as far away as the east and west coasts. Either way, it is bad news for many communities dotting the Rust Belt.


Elliot Street Lunatic - Source:

Personally, I hope the two remaining original members of Elliot Street Lunatic will maintain their roots and thrive with their new bandmates here in Greater Lansing. In our digital world, geography has become virtually irrelevant when is comes to finding outstanding music like Ghost Town Lullabies.


Rick Brown

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Rust Belt Expat #5: We Were Never Going to Fit


Let me tell you up front: I was not a popular kid. I know, everyone says that, but I was really unpopular. Like roach at a dinner party unpopular. Like food poisoning unpopular.

There are a lot of reasons why a kid can be hated. Some kids smell bad, some kids wipe their boogers on other kids. Some are tattletales or make comments on the fatness of other kids’ asses. And some are quiet and good spellers.

That last one was me. I was, as Roald Dahl says of the title character Matilda, a reader of books. That made me a little out of step with social norms. It wasn’t always like that, though. Up until third grade, I attended a Montessori school in Erie, PA. Montessori was great: you showed up in the morning and then did what you wanted until you left in the afternoon. What I wanted was usually to learn about Greek mythology, play Number Munchers on the washing machine-sized Apples, write stories, and do column after column of long division on graph paper, each sharply-penciled digit secure in its own little square. At recess, my friends and I made bows and arrows out of sticks and grasses and yelled “Cowabunga” and “Eat my shorts” when we jumped off the swings, and I killed at Red Rover.

But Montessori doesn’t, alas, last forever. When I was 9 and done with the available curriculum, my parents switched me to a Catholic elementary school run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, skipping me to fifth grade at the same time. I was a little bit excited: I had read about regular schools in books. Whereas a Montessori education meant sitting on the floor minding your own business, calling your teachers by their first names, and deciding what you were going to learn and how, I knew that regular schools meant I would have a desk! Grades! Tests! Homework! Maybe I would even start coming home and having cookies and an apple and a glass of milk after school, the way kids in books did.

I did not know, however, that Catholic school would also mean uniforms, boys’ lines and girls’ lines, practicing walking quietly in the halls, and a whole lot of keeping my mouth shut. The first day of class, my science teacher spelled “chlorine” without the H. I knew what to do: I raised my hand and, when called on, explained that the H was missing. All heads in the room turned to me. It was like being surrounded by 20 Linda Blairs at discount pine-smelling desks. “Dude,” the boy next to me whispered. “You’re not supposed to correct the teacher.”


I’m going to tell you that it went downhill from there. As I emerged into prepubescence, I discovered that barely anyone around me valued the things I or my family did. Transplants from New England, my parents wore monogrammed cardigans and actually read the leather-bound annotated copies of Oscar Wilde that were on the living room bookshelves. They were confused by the existence of something called “Rice-a-Roni” yet well-versed on the pronunciation of chowdah, and our dinnertable conversations were equal parts about the “damn Provost” and the kind of parasites that you have to suffocate by painting your pores with Vaseline (my mother was especially fond of bringing these up if we were eating spaghetti). So maybe we were a little weird…in Erie. Not in Rhode Island, not in New England, where there’s a brick and ivy college within spitting distance no matter where you are.

I want to explain that I was not a NERD; yeah, I liked Star Wars, but I didn’t look like this or attempt to engage my classmates in conversation about my Micro Machines collection. It was my value system, my way of interacting with the world, that was different. My surroundings did not support my world view’s development. I told you that story about fifth grade because it was then, at nine years old, that I first began to realize I would never belong in Erie. I was a vegetarian; the rest of my class was absent on the first day of hunting season. I had begun to wonder why there were so few women in the Bible while my class lined up for confession. I wanted people to like me, I did….but this was the beginning of my leaving. It was the beginning of my own participation in Rust Belt brain drain. The message I was receiving was simple: we don’t like your kind here.

And this is where the essay is going to go off track. I want to tell you all about why I left Erie. I want to tell you about the thrill of freedom I felt going where no one had ever seen me before…it’s a familiar story, a college story, a get-off-the-train-in-the-big-city story. But something stops me. When I tell you about loving the used bookstores in Ithaca, NY, what will you think? I’m petrified I’m going to say things that will make me come off as an intellectual elitist here with my arugula and my non-real-world bookcase and my ivory tower. You’ll read this, and all over again, you won’t like me. I’m just some jerk with no life smarts, removed from reality. Someone who doesn’t understand no-nonsense Rust Belt values.

But that’s not true – I have life smarts, I have street smarts. I’ve struggled financially, I struggle with job security. I work hard and always have: even when I was in college, I had four jobs and no shame: I’ve cleaned toilets, washed diapers, painted houses scraped pudding off institutional carpets. I’ve paid off all of my student loan debt by living below my means. I encourage my students to look at trade schools. I do work with my body. But I’ve so internalized the negative response that I’m carrying it with me 12 years after leaving. I’m afraid of getting defensive – which I’m sure I already have. I’m afraid that my being a professor living in a college town is still just something a jerk does. I carry this fear around with myself at the same time I feel the fierce joy of analyzing the world around me. I worry: someone will find out that I really care about intelligence, about higher education, about academia.

I could have continued living in Erie, maybe; I quickly became used to assuming I’d be among the minority. But I couldn’t live there with a different brain. I don’t mean to imply that Erie is full of stupid people; quite the contrary. It’s home to smart business people and attorneys and nurses. I am awake to the difficulties of making a life in the Rust Belt, and awake to the wonderful lives smart, funny people do make there. But while the businesspeople may stay, the poets, by and large, leave. I eat differently, love differently, worship differently…most most importantly, I tend to value differently. I left twelve years ago not because I didn’t think I could get a job; I left because I didn’t feel welcome. That still saddens me: Gertrude Stein said famously that America was her country and Paris her hometown, which is the way it is for me with Erie and Ithaca.

After living in Yonkers and working in Manhattan, I’ve settled in Ithaca, where more than five times as many people as inErie have a graduate or professional degree, as I do. In Ithaca, we take it for granted that you might have a share in Community Supported Agriculture; we meet at the Farmers’ Market; the independent films always screen here. Your bookstore clerk has a PhD — its own problem in our supersaturated economy, but a sign that we’re all flocking here. I’m a poet (yes, I’ve been many times reminded that poetry is “useless) and a professor, and I fill in around the edges by dancing and teaching ballet, singing in a choral group, and playing music. The arts make me miss Erie, too, though – the Philharmonic, the Erie Art Museum, Lake Erie Ballet, the D’Angelo Conservatory, the Playhouse and the Warner.

Erie remembers the arts, but Ithaca is a college town, truly, in that the area is dominated by Cornell University and Ithaca College, respectively the numbers one and four employers; the top employer in Erie as of the fourth quarter of 2010 is still GE, closely followed by Erie Insurance, the two area hospitals, Wal-Mart, and the Barber Center. Although Wikipedia includes Erie on its list of college towns, I’d beg to differ: just hosting post-secondary institutions doesn’t do it. Although Erie may one day identify as a college town (and I hope it does), as Penn State Behrend Economics professor Jim Kurrereminded me, it’s still a post-industrial city, and attending college there tends to be more about, validly, getting a job – the “eds and meds” – than becoming an intellectual. After all, intellectualism, especially for its own sake, doesn’t mesh with the no-nonsense values of the Rust Belt.

But if these values are no-nonsense, we’ve got to figure out the definition of “nonsense” in order to understand them – in other words, determine the claim’s warrant. Welcome to the rabbit hole: depending on where you’re sitting, which common conversations you’re overhearing, who’s paying what for whom…well, nonsense is a different currency. To some, it’s nonsensical to eat a hamburger; to others, it’s nonsensical not to. Some want to work in an office long enough to enough beer and a good truck, and others want to make enough sculptures from home to feed the ravening wolf of creativity. It depends.

And the fact that I sit here looking for the warrant behind the term Rust Belt values…well, that, my friends, is why I had to leave.


Jaime Warburton grew up in Erie, PA; currently, she is a poet and assistant professor of writing at Ithaca College. She likes the Sisters of Mercy — the nuns, not the band — and riding trains. Keep up with her at or @JaimeSWarburton on Twitter.


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Caution to Cities: Don’t Overly Focus on Increasing Degree Share

Lots of people who care about cities have focused their energy on helping cities attract college graduates, as the college degree share of a region is highly correlated with how successful it is economically.

This report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland cautions that  “too narrow a focus on the graduates can lead to misguided policies”

It continues:

“It is a summary statistic that can change for many reasons. One metro area could have a fast-rising share because it has a lot of universities graduating local students or attracting high-skilled immigrants. Another area might achieve a rising share by losing unskilled workers when its low-skill industry declines. To understand the factors that have shaped the degree share, we need to dig behind the summary statistic and examine what is happening to both the graduate and nongraduate populations.”

What do you think?

The Fed report concludes:

“Some metro areas that appear to be highly successful at raising their college degree share are really just keeping pace with the national growth in college graduates while not offering an attractive standard of living to adults without college degrees. It may not be politically desirable, or even possible, for other metro areas to copy their ‘success.’ Likewise, there are metro areas that are gathering massive workforces of college graduates, but they receive less attention from regional development experts because strong in-migration of nongraduates keeps the college degree share at a modest level.

The point to take away from this analysis is that the growth in the nondegree population has to be taken into consideration when the divergence of education levels is discussed. Educating students, retaining graduates, and attracting migrant graduates all matter, but retaining or attracting nongraduates also matters. The populations of adults without college degrees are not static or immobile. Looking at growth relative to a historical baseline refocuses our attention on the majority of the workforce that does not hold an undergraduate degree. Understanding how they impact “smart places getting smarter” is an important step toward deriving useful policy recommendations from this phenomenon.”


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Brookings Report Says Rust Belt Succeeding at Attracting Skilled Immigrants

Look out, Silicon Valley.

Read the report from Brookings here, which notes the success Rust Belt cities have had in attracting skilled immigrants.

The report notes:

“Perhaps most notable is the very high concentration of high-skilled immigrants in older industrial metro areas in the Midwest and Northeast such as Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Syracuse. Detroit, for instance, has 144 high-skilled immigrants for every 100 low-skilled immigrants. Immigrants in these metropolitan areas tilt toward high-skill because they blend earlier arriving cohorts who have had time to complete higher education with newcomers entering who can fit into the labor market because of their high educational attainment. Several of the cities in these metropolitan areas also campaign to attract and retain immigrants, signaling appreciation for the small number of high-skilled immigrants they do have.”

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