Good Friday Morning!
Today’s note follows on to last week’s note (Strong Under Currents). I noted last week that West Virginia has a talent retention problem, and I spoke a bit about what the broader national trends in that are – migration from rural to urban, the people that are mobile are younger and better educated, generally.
Today I want to expand a bit on the things that are working in our favor – but may not solve the problem.
A notable thing that I’ve found in my research is evidence that folks from Appalachia in general, and West Virginia in particular are “sticky”. What does that mean? It means that people move less than you might expect, and move back when economic winds change. People hang on here longer than “the data” would suggest, and many come back later in life. Why? Some of these things are measureable – cost of living is lower, for example. Others are harder to quantify – maybe folks want to live closer to family and social support networks. Maybe their overall “quality of life” is higher, in terms of not dealing with traffic or long commutes, or being able to have their preferred recreational opportunities (tough to hunt, fish, or hike in DC). Sometimes, this “stickiness” isn’t a good thing – maybe property values in your town are so depressed, or the market so poor, that you can’t sell your house, even if you do want to move. I’ve also seen evidence for this – that some of our retention is because we have high rates of property transfer from generation to generation. If you own a house that has been in your family for generations, don’t owe a mortgage on it, and can’t sell it, your personal economics may not see a lot of upside in moving for a job, just to have to pay rent.
Taken as a whole, my theory is that we should focus on retention of people that are here, versus recruitment of people from outside. My logic here is that we have a great deal of talent that we lose, and we are working against headwinds the whole time there – meanwhile, we know that a great many people will stay here “longer than it makes sense”. For those people, what is the “last straw” that finally convinces them to move? In many cases, once they move, they don’t come back until retirement age – when they are outside the most productive part of the workforce.
This is the focus of my research – what are the things that are pushing people out?
I’ll dial into those ideas next time.
We Stand Together, Rooted To This Place - West Virginia