In Brain Gain in America’s Shrinking Cities, Aaron M. Renn, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, analyzes 28 "shrinking cities" - Buffalo among them - and finds that only Detroit, Bridgeport, and Toledo actually have a potential brain-drain concern. "The conventional wisdom on brain drain and declining human capital in shrinking U.S. metropolitan areas is largely a myth: brain gain, not drain, is the reality."
Renn pegs Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls's brain gain at 29.4%, with a total brain gain of 53,476 individuals between 2000 and 2013. ". It is a misguided mind-set that views a city’s talent pool as though it were a bathtub—with a leaky plug in the bottom of the tub allowing brains to escape down the drain, causing a decline in the water level. What this mind-set misses is the running tap at the top of the tub: though there may be some leakage, the water level (the number of residents with college degrees) is rising."
Are the policies designed to stop or reverse brain drain attacking the wrong problem? "The time and money being spent to fight brain drain in these cities should instead be redirected to more real and pressing problems, such as fiscal distress, infrastructure challenges, public safety, and excessive regulation," argues Renn.
The full 20-page report examines education levels as associated with migration, and separates out young adult migration.
With 21 colleges and universities, Buffalo has a great deal to gain by preventing brain drain, which has been reported as massive in the past. However, as recently as 2008, the Federal Reserve published a widely circulated study which asserted that Buffalo was not losing young people any more quickly than cities of similar size, but was instead failing to attract bright young Millennials in sufficient numbers.
I predict a report will come out within the next 12 months that demonstrates population growth in WNY due to improved attraction AND retention. The times they are a'changing!