When the brain drain hits home - Inside Tucson Business: David Hatfield

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BIZ BUZZ When the brain drain hits home

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Posted: Friday, May 24, 2013 12:00 am

The brain drain of University of Arizona graduates leaving Tucson to start and grow their careers elsewhere continues to be a frustration here. It’s a problem brought to life locally in 2007 by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) when it brought economist and author Richard Florida to speak about seeking and keeping the “creative class,” a term he invented to describe young, creative professionals and the important role they play in a region’s economy.

All issues take on entirely even more alarm when they hit home. Such is the case with the brain drain.

As most of you are reading this, my wife and I will have just returned from a bittersweet trip. We took our two young grandsons, ages 2 and 6 (as of Saturday), to their new home in Kansas City.

Both boys were born in Tucson. Their dad, our son-in-law, spent nine years — some tougher than others — keeping his business going. Our daughter, a UA graduate with a degree nutrition, worked way too hard doing her part to help keep the family going. The light at the end of the tunnel for them came when our son-in-law was offered a corporate-level position in Kansas City.

The good news for them is that their financial situation will improve. The bad news for grandma and grandpa is that our only two grandchildren are now 1,200 miles away and we won’t see them so much.

Out of three children, our daughter is now the second to have moved away from Tucson. Our youngest, a son, works in the financial industry San Francisco.

Our middle child, also a son, and his wife live in Tucson. For that we’re thankful, but the fact is he is a computer engineer and could have a job anywhere. If the opportunity presents itself they too may be gone.

I know companies in the Tucson region that hire engineers and others in the creative class say they have to advertise constantly to find employees.

I took it as a positive at this month’s Up & Comers event when honoree Patrick Marcus noted his firm, Marcus Engineering, successfully lured an applicant away from Google and the Bay Area. It was a person who had roots in Tucson and wanted to come back.

That’s good but employers here still have to overcome the fact that Tucson doesn’t have the critical mass of companies that can make this region appealing to a person who wants options for career growth.

In the more than 40 years I’ve lived in Tucson, there were opportunities for me to go elsewhere. A few I pursued, others I didn’t. The latest happened just before I came here to Inside Tucson Business in 2004. At that time, our daughter had just returned to Tucson from San Diego and started a business and our younger son was returning from working overseas. Family was important so we made the choice to stay.

But Tucson couldn’t keep either our daughter or son.

And now as I look back on the decisions I made affecting my life, I’m wondering if I would have been better off if I had left.

Contact David Hatfield at dhatfield@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4237.

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