Features March 2018

A Cure for the Brain Drain Headache

Written By: Todd Van Hoosear, Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce

In my short tenure here in Gainesville, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to speak with more than a dozen entrepreneurs about some of the biggest challenges they face. One theme that has emerged over and over again is talent retention.

The Gainesville area is blessed with a tremendous amount of talent at all different levels, and the region’s civic and business leaders are working hard to create and retain jobs for anyone from a GED to a PhD. But I’d like to focus on those industries affected by one particular talent problem: the college brain drain.

Despite the diversity of talent pool, it suffers tremendously each May when a significant percentage of that pool packs up and heads out of town. This “brain drain” doesn’t just make it difficult for companies to hire college grads. It hurts our overall economy. How much? Well, as one example, according to Brookings:

The average bachelor’s degree holder contributes $278,000 more to local economies than the average high school graduate through direct spending over the course of his or her lifetime; an associate degree holder contributes $81,000 more than a high school graduate.

Now this problem isn’t just a Gainesville problem. The city I moved here from, Boston, has the 10th largest tech talent pool according to CBRE, but continues to have the largest brain drain in the country, thanks to its impressive collection of higher education institutions.

Gainesville’s talent retention challenge seems more solvable when compared to Boston’s troubles. The rapid growth of our city’s startup culture is giving many students reasons to stick around. They might get pulled into SwampHacks, or other programs by the Gainesville Dev Academy, the Alachua County Emerging Leaders or GAIN. Then they find themselves hanging out at one of our many incubators or co-working spaces, like the one I used to work at.

Suddenly they’re putting in long workdays at their own startup or that of a newfound acquaintance thanks to Gainesville’s many networking opportunities. That process is already underway. In order for the momentum to continue, however, this young talent base needs to see a clear career path.

And that’s where things get a little fuzzy. I can tell you firsthand that the community is making strong efforts to provide more clarity to these smart, young entrepreneurs and tech stars. Here at the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, we formed the Gainesville Technology Council several years ago partly to address this very problem, specifically in the tech industry.

This year, the council is focusing at least in part on recruiting and retaining more experienced professionals who can help mentor our young entrepreneurs and grow the tech businesses in the area, so the career advancement opportunities are there, just in case that startup never makes it out of the garage, dorm room or coffee shop.

We have other councils and business groups as well that are eager to attract and retain professionals, including the growing advanced manufacturing sector and many others.

On top of efforts by the business community, the city is also rethinking how it recruits and retains its professionals. According to Quartz, “The city has adopted a citizen-centric culture to ensure people can understand and use information from government agencies. One of the plans involves a “Department of Doing” that empowers individuals to start new businesses. The city posted a job listing for its new Director of Citizen-Centered Gainesville in November. The Department of Doing will focus on the user experience of starting a business above all else.”

You might have noticed that “citizen-centered” theme in the city’s recent rollout of a new slogan and website. Gainesville’s new Department of Doing offers, among other things, a Grow-It-Yourself (GIY) Kit for new businesses, which is a start. And the Chamber continues to pursue economic and workforce development opportunities to recruit mid-sized and large enterprise businesses and talent to the area. We work closely with organizations like CareerSource North Central Florida and our own economic development council to make this happen.

But much more work needs to be done. The theme at the Chamber’s 94th Annual Meeting was “rethink,” and we’re encouraging every Gainesville citizen to help us rethink how Gainesville can become a place where graduates want to stay and where more people have a great reason to pack up and relocate to Gainesville, not leave it.

If you have ideas, please share them!



TODD VAN HOOSEAR was recently named Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. One of his many duties is to raise Gainesville’s visibility nationally and internationally as a global hub for talented, enterprising professionals, to keep young professionals in town long enough to start and run great businesses and to raise the city’s appeal for mid-size and large enterprises to come in. Prior to the Chamber, Todd worked at the Innovation Hub, where he got to meet many of the talented entrepreneurs and startup professionals he writes about. Todd hails from Boston, another city where brain drain has been a big issue, where he served in senior positions at several public relations agencies.


Leave a Comment