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Plugging the Brain Drain

Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
By Winthrop Quigley
Journal Staff Writer
          New Mexico spends millions of dollars a year educating its children only to see the best educated of them leave the state, a University of New Mexico demographic study shows.
        The study, based in part on 2000 Census data, found that 60 percent of native-born New Mexicans leave the state, and only 2 percent of them ever return. What's worse: the native-born New Mexicans most likely to leave hold advanced degrees.
        "You lose your best and brightest," said Adelamar "Dely" N. Alcantara, a University of New Mexico research professor and demographer.
        "The brain drain means there is a finite amount of good jobs that will come to our state because there simply isn't enough talent," said state Sen. Timothy M. Keller, D-Albuquerque, a business consultant whose résumé includes economic development work. Keller introduced legislation early this year to address the brain drain and plans to offer more next January.
        "We can't expect to build a rich, diverse, growing economy when 60 percent of our work force leaves the state," Keller said. "This is a big reason why we continue to (be) and may remain near the bottom of the nation when it comes to (gross domestic product) and productivity."
        Alcantara found that of New Mexico's 1.819 million residents in 2000, more than 890,000 migrated from out of state. Almost 1.6 million native New Mexicans were living in other states when the nation's population was counted in 2000, Alcantara said, and 928,000 native-born people were still living in New Mexico in 2000. About 80 percent of the New Mexicans who leave the state move to other Western states.
        Had the natives remained and the in-migrants hadn't come, New Mexico's population would have been larger by 600,000 people, she said.
        Four times as likely to leave
        Native New Mexicans with post-graduate degrees are four times as likely to leave the state as others, according to the study.
        More than half of the native-born Hispanics and Indians leave the state.
        Alcantara also found that native-born New Mexicans are more likely to live in poverty than are people who were born elsewhere and migrated to New Mexico, regardless of educational attainment. Even when controlling for ethnicity, migrants fared better than native-born residents, she said.
        By the same token, Alcantara said, native New Mexicans who leave the state tend to fare better economically than those who remain, regardless of age, ethnicity or education.
        Only about 2 percent of New Mexicans who leave ever return to live. Keller is one of them. He attended out-of-state schools, got his MBA at Harvard, worked as an investment banker out of state, and is now a senior manager in Albuquerque with Booz and Co.
        "I came back because I thought New Mexico was a growing adolescent market with a lot of opportunity, unlike a mature market like New York," he said.
        Keller said that the data show New Mexico brings in more people with advanced degrees than the advanced-degreed residents the state loses, indicating that there are plenty of jobs for well-educated, native-born New Mexicans. The high-paid migrants also get paid more money than similarly educated native New Mexicans. Neither Keller nor Alcantara can explain it.
        How to stop the drain
        The state can do several things to stem the brain drain, Keller said.
        Planners could anticipate the high-pay jobs the state's economy will need over time and then create the university programs to supply them. State industry tax incentives could provide preferences to companies that hire native and returning New Mexicans and that provide career paths and management jobs to New Mexicans.
        Keller would reinstate the State Planning Office, which was disbanded in the 1980s, to create strategic plans that allow state government to coordinate its services, education programs and economic development efforts.
        New Mexico companies could be given greater preference when state contracts are awarded. Streamlined business registration and licensing can help new companies get off the ground faster. Better financing for small local businesses would allow them to grow faster and create more jobs, Keller said.

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