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Small-town brain drain

Marketplace Staff Nov 28, 2006

Small-town brain drain

Marketplace Staff Nov 28, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: There’s a saying that, you can never go home again. Well many young people don’t want to, if home is a small town. More and more across America there’s a kind of “brain drain” going on. Young well-educated college grads are choosing to settle in larger metro areas and not in small towns. A recent study by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce shows that city has increased its share of university grads. The city is drawing college-educated people between 25 and 34 years of age faster than any of the other 50 largest metro areas. Commentator Andrew Valencia is a Stanford undergrad. He says it’s not just the opportunity of an urban area that is triggering the exodus.

ANDREW VALENCIA: I can’t honestly say where I’ll be in 10 years, but this point it’s more likely I’ll be living in San Francisco, New York, or even Amsterdam than back in my hometown of Reedley, Calif.

It’s the same story across the country as bright young kids leave small towns for opportunities in big cities.

Like many small towns, my town in the San Joaquin Valley is simple, agrarian, and pretty conservative. It has just over 20,000 mostly old-fashioned, church-going folk.

Most of the businesses around here are either fast food places, coffee shops or video rental stores. I can’t imagine how someone with a PhD in astrophysics, or even women’s studies, would make a living here.

But it’s not just the lack of white-collar jobs that pushes young people out of Reedley. It’s also a lack of understanding.

A few years ago my school’s drama club put on a cabaret show to raise money for college scholarships.

It was just a collection of songs and skits, but people here confused our cabaret show with the scandalous Broadway musical “Cabaret.” Tickets sold so poorly we had to change the name.

At Stanford, where I just started, they actually performed the Broadway version of “Cabaret.” I saw it there last April. It included a dozen college girls dancing and singing in black lingerie and an entire song about a mA©nage a trois.

I just kept thinking back to my high school’s production of “Grease.” We had to change Rizzo’s famous “I won’t go to bed” line to “I won’t turn my head” just for the sake of the community.

But there may be a silver lining. Small town, conservative thinking can also be hugely motivating.

An aspiring actress in my graduating class said it best. She’s rechristened Reedley, “Fishbowl, USA.”

Since her idea of hell is getting stuck acting in Reedley, she’s now motivated to work harder than ever just to get out of town.

THOMAS: Andrew Valencia is a freshman at Stanford University.

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