Local employers have long said it’s difficult to recruit new employees to Minnesota and it’s a hard place to convince them to leave. That anecdotal report is due for an update.

The Minnesota State Demographic Center recently detected a reversal in that long-standing trend. Between 2007 and 2010 — the Great Recession — Minnesota experienced a drain of college-educated talent relative to other states. The numbers were small — a net loss of only 1,336 people with baccalaureate or graduate college degrees. But the last time migration trends within the United States among the state’s college educated people were measured, in 1995 to 2000, Minnesota registered a net gain of 2,327.

A similar loss was seen among people the report deemed “creative talent” — entrepreneurs and workers whose jobs require artistic ability or high-level scientific, engineering, mathematical or technical skill.

Evidently, there’s less foot-dragging among Minnesota’s most coveted workers — those who are well-educated, highly skilled, creative and young — when opportunity beckons elsewhere in the United States.

That’s important because the nation is moving into a period of relative talent scarcity, compared with the decades in which all of the large baby boom generation was of working age. States able to replace retiring boomers with educated, creative younger workers will soon have a distinct advantage, notes the Demographic Center’s report, titled “The Time For Talent.”

People between ages 25 and 39 are most prone to relocating, the report said. They’ve headed most often to two neighboring states, Wisconsin and North Dakota, as well as big states Illinois, California and Texas.

Fortunately, mobile Americans aren’t the whole story in Minnesota. Immigration from other nations has been a significant plus for this state’s workforce in recent years, offsetting domestic losses. Annually, between 2007 and 2010, an average of 4,300 college-degree holders from other countries moved to Minnesota. That’s about 1,000 per year more than the state gained from immigration a decade earlier. It’s been a gain that the report deemed “critical to enhancing our workforce profile.”

The report also notes that Minnesota outperforms other Midwestern states in keeping homegrown workers home and that over time Minnesota’s population has been seeing a growing share of college graduates.

But that’s reassuring only if the pipeline of Minnesota-born college graduates stays full and flows faster. The much-decried achievement gap is impeding the flow. Lagging educational attainment among people of color — the state’s fastest-growing population segment — is “squandering needed human capital,” the report warned.

“If current levels of economic disparity persist among our diverse and quickly growing groups of potential workers, the next generation’s talent will be underequipped to combat rising projected deficits, and to offset potential productivity losses due to slowing labor force growth.”

As the title “The Time For Talent” suggests, the time is now to address threats to the state’s most important competitive asset, its workforce. These three themes bear emphasis:

• The state’s best strategy for preserving its edge is to make the most of its homegrown talent. “Despite a global marketplace for talent, the children of Minnesotans are still more likely to work in Minnesota than any place else,” the report said. More than 1 million adult Minnesotans have no more than a high school diploma, and another 771,000 started but did not complete a college degree. They represent opportunity for workforce gains.

• The increasing mobility of young, college-educated workers warrants a strategic response, too. Minnesota will need to court and compete for those workers more aggressively in years to come. That will include seeing the cultural and natural amenities that appeal to 25- to 39-year-olds not as niceties, but as economic imperatives.

• Immigration is Minnesota’s economic ally. Among 106 major U.S. metropolitan areas, Minnesota ranked 16th-highest in the volume of H-1B visas (nonimmigrant visas for specialty workers) sought during 2010-11. That suggests that the state’s employers need talent that is not otherwise available locally. Without access to foreign workers, those employers might be at risk of relocating. New federal policies to increase the number and ease of obtaining H-1B visas, and more easily grant permanent residency and citizenship to well-educated applicants, would serve Minnesota well.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Google+