Georgia Chamber of Commerce: Rural Brain Drain

Georgia Chamber of Commerce

Monday, September 19th, 2022

Why it Matters 

Rural communities across Georgia have become accustomed to the phenomenon known as, “brain drain”. Younger educated individuals are leaving their communities in record numbers, many never to return. For the past five years, for every highly educated person that remains in Georgia, nearly 15 leave5. This trend has increased significantly from the previous five years where only 6 individuals left per year. Rural communities suffer most from this loss since they are already managing population decreases. In order for these communities to be competitive in the future economy, retaining their younger educated and highly skilled workforce is essential.  

The Research

Pre-pandemic, Georgia ranked 21st in the country for states which suffer the most from brain drain, which ranks better than other southeastern states such as Alabama, South Carolina and Florida, but worse than our neighbors to the northeast. Much of the brain drain that occurs in Georgia, however, is not interstate loss, but rather intrastate loss. Specifically, educated individuals leaving rural regions in favor of the promise of big city jobs in Atlanta or other Hub communities. In 2020, approximately 170,000 people moved to Metro Atlanta from across the state2 and over 100,000 people commute into the city2, some from as far as 80 miles away.

Although the pandemic has shifted how business can be conducted, a strong perception of where ‘good’ jobs are located still plays a large role in young professionals’ decisions. Additionally, increasing rates of student debt also contribute to the migration of young professionals to big cities. Recent graduates are looking to urban areas for higher salaries that can help them quickly pay off their college debt3. A study released by the Federal Reserve confirmed that young professionals are less likely to remain in rural areas if they graduate with debt than if they graduate without it4. At the root of this issue is lack of, or perceived lack of rural opportunity.  

Why it Matters to your Business 
Attracting talent is vital to the short and long-term success of your business. Creative solutions, including benefits, work-flexibility, and community amenities will all impact your ability to attract and retain talent. 

What Georgia Can Do

  • Encourage implementation of local talent pipeline strategies by fostering partnerships among education institutions, economic developers, and employers to assess talent shortages and develop programming to align skill gaps

  • Support financial incentives that allow communities to continue to develop small businesses and community amenities which establish a sense of place and make communities unique.

What You Can Do  

  • Promote experiential learning between your business and local educational institutions to expose young people to professional opportunities in your community.

  • Create opportunities for your local youth and young adults to engage in community decisions, development, and investment. 

The Big Picture 
Ensuring we develop and maintain a top tier workforce in every community is important to spur innovation and growth across Georgia.  Retaining the best and brightest will allow rural Georgia to remain competitive in the future global economy and preserve what makes us best for business.