No matter whose policy suggestions you accept or reject, this shrinking pool is a demographic fact of life in the US, just as it is also becoming true in western Europe.
What’s more, the educational interests of this shrinking workforce may not offer the best match for the US economy’s needs: a mere 5% of the US’ recent undergraduate degrees are in engineering or natural sciences, compared to more than 10% in Korea, Taiwan and even in Finland and France. One way to overcome this emerging talent deficit is through selective international immigration, but neither the US or western Europe seem to be comfortable with an aggressive brain drain from the rest of the world.
Consequently, when exploring where in the US to place business facilities, especially those that require a sustainable technological talent pool, company strategists are well advised to include a review of internal migration data and the conditions that impact them. There are places with a demonstrated and substantial attraction for college graduates in the critical 25-40 age group, and a few of these even end up with net positive in-migration. The details can be ferreted from the US Census reports, but in addition to the predictable bright lights cities, companies might want to pay special attention to at least two other magnets: one young, Denver; and one a bit older that has been revitalising itself, Chicago.
Cities, states and countries would do well to understand what motivates the young and talented to move. The census data (and our own client-driven research) confirm that the college graduates in Generation X and Generation Y move primarily for work. The first and overwhelming “quality of life” factor is an economy large enough and diverse enough to create career opportunities, especially for two-person households where different occupations are pursued.
So, while focused “cluster” development strategies have been quite popular, sustaining economic diversity may prove to be a wiser course. And, while attracting the “creative class” is an interesting hypothesis, the data suggest that we might be misled if, in our definition of creativity, we confused the demographics of San Francisco with the economics of Silicon Valley.
Daniel Malachuk is senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis Consulting, New York. During his career, he has advised many of the US’s leading companies and has worked in the White House.