...not that South Dakota Republicans will mind....

Nathan Johnson has a read-worthy article in Saturday's Yankton paper on brain drain, college grads in rural America, and rural economic development. Looking at data from the Center for Rural Strategies, Johnson finds that his Yankton neighbors include fewer college grads than the national average but more than the South Dakota average.

When Johnson asks Yankton economic development chief Mike Dellinger about strategies for retaining and attracting college grads, Dellinger kisses local grads goodbye and puts all of Yankton's eggs in the attraction basket:

I have always been of the perspective that we should expect our youth to fly the nest and gain life experience.... I am more interested in attracting talented, skilled workers and families to meet current need. Those who left, if willing, may return someday, but we need experience now. There is nothing better for attracting and retaining talent than creating an environment in which their prospective employers prosper and thrive.

...I believe that there are opportunities and that there is room for them to make opportunities for themselves.... Yankton has never shied away from an individual that strives to make something happen with their own talent and hard work, and our creative class continues to make gains in creating the environment in which the individual and entrepreneur can succeed [Mike Dellinger, quoted by Nathan Johnson, "Grad Rate Gradually Rising," Yankton Press & Dakotan, August 18, 2012].

Dellinger appears to tangle himself in a mild contradiction. He mentions the "creative class" and the importance of making things happen by one's own talent and effort. Yet he appears to prioritize creating a business environment for "prospective employers" to hire those people.

Maybe members of the "creative class" (my Yankton friend LK will likely go ape on this topic) aren't interested in moving to Yankton just because there are folks who will hire them. Maybe they are interested in moving to a community that clearly values education (Yankton is sending some bad signals on that count), that offers lots of opportunities for lively culture, recreation, and conversation. Send those signals to the creative class, and they'll perceive not just good quality of life for themselves in their off hours, but good market for the work they want to do working for themselves in their "on" hours.

But maybe the last thing South Dakota Republicans (hey, to what party does Mr. Dellinger belong?) want is to attract that creative class. Maybe Mr. Dellinger's focus on attracting employers first is a kissing cousin of the cultural bias against intellect that Dr. Newquist sees driving young Democrats away from South Dakota:

Students of talent and ambition found that the social and political climate in South Dakota discouraged intellectual work and lifestyles. Not until recent years did the regents acknowledge that fact and attempt to take measures for higher education that would be conducive to intellectual work. The conversion of the Homestake Goldmine into the Sanford Underground Laboratory was catalytic in the attempt to change the state's reputation for intellectual work and research.

Intellectual work thrives in a liberal climate, liberal in the sense that it is open to diversity, exploration, and innovation.

The state struggles to provide opportunities for the educated and ambitious. They generally trend toward Democratic political attitudes because of its support for equality in civil rights and educational opportunities which allow people to explore and choose lifestyles that the more staid citizenry is upset by. So, the outmigration of the young and talented continues [David Newquist, "Where Did All the Democrats Go?" Northern Valley Beacon, updated August 18, 2012].

Dr. Newquist suggests that even when South Dakota does lean toward investing in education and intellect, its business-über-alles mindset tangles things up. He cites the Homestake Lab, where he says the state's focus on the project as economic development has turned off "the National Science Foundation and all the scientists who had signed on in support of the original plans."

Maybe the Board of Regents is committing a similar error. Our Regents want to ask the Legislature to invest a million dollars in expanding research staff at South Dakota State University's Agriculture Experiment Station. It's not enough that the new researchers could do some really important science with practical benefits for farmers, ranchers, and society in general. The big sticking point the Regents see is the need to prove that the million-dollar investment will produce significantly more than a million-dollar return in grants and contracts. The Dean has to make that ROI point because the Regents have to ask for that money from the Legislature. The Legislature is controlled by Republicans. South Dakota Republicans have a hard time seeing science, education, and intellect as anything but a means to the end of business.

Life is short. The creative class doesn't have time to wrestle with such instrumentalist economic development attitudes. When you tell them, as both Mr. Dellinger and the state do, that immediate economic needs come first, you signal that their intellect and creativity may be tolerated but not really valued. In other words, you tell them, "Move elsewhere."