Hoofing it through the Indianapolis airport last month on my way home from somewhere or another, I stopped completely in the corridor when a bright green magazine cover caught my eye. Deja vu all over again, it seemed, as I read the cover lines of the July issue of Indianapolis Monthly "Special Report: Why Our Best and Brightest Are Leaving at Record Rates and How to Stop Indiana's Brain Drain."
Seems that the good folks of Indianapolis have taken notice of what the good folks of St. Louis have bemoaned for a bit now: young people just out of college and in their early 20s don't want to stick around what they perceive as dead-end, non-cool Midwestern towns.
Take the example of Indiana U. student Ryan Pfenninger (the magazine's cover story does). He's about to graduate from business school, and at age 20, he's already started and sold a couple of profitable high-tech businesses. He's a homegrown boy and wants to stay in Indy, but fears this: "What I want is to work with smart people, wherever that is. I want to be able to do that in Indiana, but I'm not sure I can." Why? Because all the smart people are bailing out for the familiar stops in Austin, Seattle and Silicon Valley.
The article, which covers a lot of aspects of the brain-drain tale, details so many similarities between Indy's young exodus and our own: the young people leaving both places perceive a lack of jobs with a future for them, they express concern over lifestyle amenities (e.g. no mountains or beaches where they can act out the extreme sports commercials for which their generation seems hard-wired), and, well, the city is just not cool. Another wry similarity is the existence in Indy of a large, top-down, not-quite-right ad campaign to lure folks into sticking around the Hoosier version touts "Indiana: Be in a State of Progress," and features the decidedly unhip visual of a turtle slogging around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Worth a read, for certain, but the real clinchers are these two: first, a sidebar details "Five Reasons to Hope," from availability of tons of venture capital to an individual guy (Scott Jones) who is the poster child for sticking around and making good. Second, about a third of the magazine is devoted to a special, slickly produced section about Downtown Living, making sense of the myriad options for shopping, dining and taking up residence in downtown Indy. Seems that although we started wringing our hands earlier, these Hoosiers already have the seeds of their own success in place, with a downtown that's doing what a downtown should.
The next time I hear someone talking about luring our best and brightest back from San Francisco or New York or Chicago, I'm not going to be thinking, "We got it good." I'm going to be thinking, "Can we get it together before Indy steals our young people?"