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Published: Sunday, 6/3/2007

City's 'brain drain' plan found lacking

<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO17150419.GIF> READ:  <a href=" /assets/pdf/TO2028064.PDF" target="_blank "><b>Patrick McGuire's brain drain study</b></a> <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO17150419.GIF> READ: <a href=" /assets/pdf/TO2028064.PDF" target="_blank "><b>Patrick McGuire's brain drain study</b></a>

Surgeries and treatments whittled Patrick McGuire to a rail. Doctors removed his tongue to stop the throat cancer. So the University of Toledo professor spoke, instead, through his research about a city's fate.

"Today is my 29th consecutive workday in radiation on my face and throat," Mr. McGuire wrote in an e-mail. "My energy is a bit sapped and I only work on academic work when I am comfortable and my mind is sharp."

A month before his March 18 death, Mr. McGuire completed a final project for the UT Urban Affairs Center, an organization he led from 1999 to 2005.

Titled "High School Graduation and Brain Drain; Survey Results and Insights from the Toledo Metropolitan Area," the paper attacks the current strategies to keep college graduates in the community and provides an outline for what should be done.

It overturns the logic of Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's quest to hold on to "the best and brightest."

It raises questions about the value of government initiatives to make Toledo "cool." And it scolds local corporations for their hiring practices.

"Patrick McGuire took a mirror and put it up to every political leader in the city of Toledo," Toledo Councilman Ellen Grachek said. "He diagnosed the problem and he left a prescription."

Part of the problem, Mr. McGuire wrote, is that politicians misuse the term "brain drain." They assume it is about retaining young college graduates and then announce policies around that mistaken definition.

Toledo Councilman Ellen Grachek says sociologist Patrick McGuire helped diagnose the city s problems. Toledo Councilman Ellen Grachek says sociologist Patrick McGuire helped diagnose the city s problems.
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Two days before Christmas, Mr. Finkbeiner hosted a lunch at the Toledo Club to lure college students back home after graduation.

White-collar jobs hung like stockings from the mantle.

"I want you to send me your resumes," the mayor told the audience of 120, many of them respondents to a 2006 city government-sponsored survey on brain drain that Mr. McGuire, a sociologist, considered to be of "minimal usefulness."

Mr. Finkbeiner declined to comment for this article.

The British Royal Society first coined brain drain to describe the exodus of scientists to the United States and Canada during the 1950s and 1960s. It applies to the migration of elite talent from their birthplaces to hubs of economic activity and innovation, not the retention of local workers.

Commissioner Ben Konop says his focus is on bringing recent college graduates back to Toledo to work and live. Commissioner Ben Konop says his focus is on bringing recent college graduates back to Toledo to work and live.

The confusion among Toledo politicians about brain drain's actual definition is a "reflection and perpetuation of a debilitating condition," Mr. McGuire wrote.

By primarily focusing on a local job pool, companies in the region offer lower starting salaries than firms in other cities. The low salaries ensure that the most talented minds nationwide bypass Toledo for higher incomes elsewhere.

In 2005, per capita income was $30,915 in metropolitan Toledo, about $3,500 below the national average, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The obvious solution to brain drain would be for companies to increase starting salaries and recruit across the country, a potential setback for the mayor's Christmas-season promise.

"This also would result in fewer jobs available for existing regional grads - the antithesis of the goal local politicians want to combat brain drain," Mr. McGuire wrote.

Much of the paper revolves around a survey prepared by an undergraduate class of Mr. McGuire's about the college choices of 157 honor students from Toledo-area high schools. It classified students based on whether they expected to attend college outside of Ohio, in-state, or within the region.

The survey found that the respondents hoping to leave Ohio for a University of Chicago or a Boston College are more affluent and disproportionately male. They care more about institutional prestige and academic rigor than their peers.

Those wanting to stay in-state are disproportionately female and wish to remain near their family and friends. Their test scores and grades are not as strong as their out-of-state counterparts. Cost is more of a factor to them than a college's reputation.

The third group, which wants to attend a regional college, is the least academically distinguished. They take the most pride in Toledo and are more middle class than the other two groups.

"Culture urbanity, diversity, and climate attributes influence a small number of respondents, but seem to have little sway on the decision-making of most of our respondents," Mr. McGuire wrote.

That finding questions, without disputing, the value of making Toledo more attractive to the "creative class," college-educated professionals that economist Richard Florida says are the key ingredient to energizing a city's economy.

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop regularly touts Mr. Florida's research. The commissioner also embarked on a recent tour of area high schools to discuss brain drain. As a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Michigan law school, the Ottawa Hills High School alumnus said his focus is on bringing those who left the area for college back to Toledo once they graduate.

"It is daunting, but it happens," he said. "It happened for me."

The paper concludes with a list of 12 recommendations for northwest Ohio, among them: Area universities must do more to attract the best students and bring in out-of-state students; UT and Bowling Green State University should consider a combined graduate college, and corporations in the community should recruit nationwide.

The unacquainted might think Mr. McGuire was an elitist ivory tower critic. This would be inaccurate. His research at the Urban Affairs Center encompassed electric utilities, municipal taxes, and public education.

"He empathized with the downtrodden, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless," UT politics professor Carter Wilson told the faculty senate in March. "Patrick believed in empowering people and he was committed to principles of social justice."

In a testament to his influence, The Blarney Irish Pub in downtown Toledo hosted a memorial service in April for Mr. McGuire, an upstate New Yorker of Irish heritage. Gaelic ballads played. Guinness beer was served. Professors mixed with politicos.

Robert Torres, a member of the Toledo Board of Education, said research by Mr. McGuire into education achievement of Hispanic students helped unite the Latino community. Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken raised a glass: "I never had Patrick as a teacher in class, I had him as a teacher in life."

Contact Joshua Boak at:


or 419-724-6728.

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