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Skilled workers: A bright spot for the Golden State

October 12, 2011 |  1:24 pm

It's a common refrain: California is driving its best and brightest out of state. That's supposed to be a dire reflection of our uncompetitive business environment and poor economy compared with other states, such as Texas.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Milken Institute, however, there's a big problem with the notion: It's not true.

"Skilled workers are not fleeing California," concludes the study, which is titled "What Brain Drain?" and will be hashed over during the institute's annual State of the State conference Thursday at the Beverly Hilton.

The Milken researchers found that from 2001 to 2009 California retained about 65% of its skilled natives, defined chiefly as those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM degrees. That's well above the national average of 50% and slightly below the rate in Texas, which was 70%.

In 2008 and 2009, only 2% of residents with those degrees left California for other states, well below the national rate; the outflow rate of foreign-born STEM degree holders was about one-third of the national average and the lowest rate of any state.

There is a cloud behind the silver lining, however. The report found that California's share of all high-tech employment has been falling for two decades, and outflows tend to pick up as the economy expands. And it warns that the decline in the state's higher education system is undermining competitiveness.

"California’s budget woes have led to tuition hikes and enrollment cuts," the report observes. "An economic turnaround will eventually recover lost jobs, but it is harder to recover a generation of lost human capital. As other regions intensify their recruiting efforts, it is more urgent than ever to continuously produce a home-grown talent pool."

-- Michael Hiltzik