Lebanon tops Bloomberg “Brain Drain” list, but study may not be what it seems

3 min read1,301 views and 58 shares Posted December 2, 2019

Late last month, a Bloomberg article about America’s new top tech hubs also included a list of the top metro areas suffering from “brain drain.” Although Lebanon ranked #1, the story here might not be what it seems.

The Nov. 18 article ranked metro areas by “brain concentration” and “brain drain.” Boulder ranked #1 for brain concentration and Lebanon ranked #1 in brain drain.

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The Bloomberg authors—who did not respond to a request for comment on this article—said in the article that the brain drain index “tracks the hemorrhage of white-collar jobs and advanced-degree holders and the decline of STEM pay.”

The brain drain index was said to be based on three factors:

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  • Three-year average of outflow of advanced-degree holders
  • One-year change in “white-collar” job holders
  • One-year change in STEM job pay

A “white-collar job” was defined as full-time, year-round positions in management, business, science and arts, which includes sub-categories such as finance, education, legal, healthcare, computer, and engineering.

The STEM compensation figure was based on the median earnings of those with jobs in the categories of computer, engineering, and science, including the sub-categories of mathematical and architecture occupations.

All data was obtained through the U.S. Census American Community Survey, the in-between survey used to track changes between full censuses.

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The full data set is available here to Bloomberg Terminal customers, which sadly LebTown is not. (If you are, feel free to send us a copy to news@lebtown.com. We won’t tell El Bloombito.)

Although there is clearly work to do in Lebanon, and across Lebanon County, the Bloomberg study deserves further scrutiny.

For example, consider the percentage outflow of advance-degree holders cited for Lebanon in the study: 5.5%.

We don’t know exactly how the “Lebanon metro area” was defined. Does it refer to the City of Lebanon or something else?

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At 5.5% outflow, it’s conceivable this stat could refer to a population as small as 11 advanced-degree holders moving out of the city (assuming a total number of advanced-degree holders of 200). While those estimates may seem low, the point is that we don’t know exactly what geographic region or population size was taken into account.

Update 5:00 p.m.: Reader Paul Baker points out on Facebook that the “metro area” is very likely the Lebanon Metropolitan Statistical Area, which encompasses all of Lebanon County. Thanks to Paul for keeping us accountable! However, the remainder of the points made below still stand.

Furthermore, the study doesn’t differentiate between “brain drain” that might occur through natural attrition—retirement to Florida, downsizing to Alden Place, and relocating to Boulder for a fancy new tech job would all register the same using the Bloomberg methodology.

Unfortunately, the Bloomberg study’s greatest impact seems to have been triggering confirmation bias in those who have come to roll their eyes at Lebanon. Missing is the conversation about what it would take to bring more new STEM or “white-collar” jobs to the area.

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Not to mention, even the concept of “white-collar” is outdated and not aligned with millennial career expectations. According to Gallup data, 58% of millennial workers say the type of work they do is extremely important to them, compared to 43% of Gen Xers and even less for the Baby Boomer generation.

The Bloomberg study couldn’t account for the millennial who stays in Lebanon to open a coffee shop or creperie, it would not register the Gen Xers who return to Lebanon to pursue their brewing dreams, it cares not for the creatives, the mechanics, the crafters, the farmers.

There is a path for Lebanon, and although it might not get us on top of a tech hub list, even that remains a possibility – see the success of Jeff Usner’s companies, the growth of Candoris, the emergence of Lebanon’s first coworking space.

There is still much progress to be made in Lebanon, but take the Bloomberg study with a grain of salt and remain proud of where we’re from.

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