Juneau Economic Development Council combats 'brain drain'

New program spurred by manager's frustration with finding work out of college

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

Pat Race is the kind of entrepreneur the Juneau Economic Development Council would like to see more often. That's because he's Juneau-raised and still here.

Race, 26, started his own business, Lucid Reverie, on South Franklin Street in 2002 with Aaron Suring, a college classmate. It's a multimedia company that offers Web site design, video production, computer graphics and other services.

The loss of Alaska's most talented young people to Outside has triggered growing concerns, but the Juneau Economic Development Council is trying to reverse what's commonly known as "brain drain."

"This is a problem," JEDC Business Development Manager Meagan Gleason said. "Students are leaving Juneau to go to college, technical or trade school and they're not coming back."

The council is planning to launch a new program, The Knowledge Industry Network, to try to prevent brain drain and hopes the program will eventually expand statewide. Gleason presented the plan Friday at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The project is at the conceptual stage. JEDC has no funding yet, Gleason said.

The project was spurred by Gleason's personal frustration of not being able to land a job immediately after returning from North Carolina about a year ago. Some main problems associated with brain drain are breaking into the Juneau community, job opportunities, the scope of the intellectual and social scene and networking.

Many young people live in the Mendenhall Valley, but more social events are happening downtown, Gleason said. The project calls for improving the communitys social scene.

There is this bizarre separation and lack of social outlets for the 20- and 30- somethings, Gleason said.

Some of the reasons for that lack may be the natural culture of Juneau, JEDC Executive Director Lance Miller said. Juneau has traditionally been a family environment, and the number of older Alaskans is growing.

The Knowledge Industry Networks mission is to rally young, progressive professionals in their 20s and 30s to organize in support of making Juneau a cauldron of innovation, interaction and entrepreneurship.

That can be accomplished through several methods, according to project organizers. One is for JEDC to partner with a local publishing company to create a free bimonthly publication focused on arts, entertainment, special events, films and new business startups.

The council also wants to hold 10 networking events per year. Five would focus on entrepreneurial education, with one featuring a well-known business leader. The other five would be networking and social events.

JEDC will kick off its first networking event at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Eaglecrest Ski Lodge. Alaska Brewing Co. owner Geoff Larson will tell his companys story.

The project also calls for creating a student-to-business network in which a Web site would hold information that students could access about employers and employers could learn about students and their courses of study.

JEDC proposes that students and business owners use the database to design customized internships for particular jobs. Students would identify their areas of interest and research potential businesses. They would then create their own job descriptions and goals for the internship.

Lastly, the project calls for creative competitions in which JEDC and the business community would keep students engaged in statewide happenings.

One of the most important aspects of the plan is the computer database connecting college students with business owners, said Wayne Leighty, an aide to state Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage. Leighty, a Juneau native who graduated from Brown University in 2001, spent a summer traveling and landed a job in Boston as an environmental economic consultant.

It was much easier to find a job close to where I went to school, Leighty, 26, said.

After only nine months on the new job, he came back to Juneau to work as general manager for Auk-Ta-Shaa Discovery, a tourism company that offers water-related excursions. A contact had called him about the opening.

About 85 percent of college graduates live within 100 miles of where they graduated, University of Alaska Southeast spokesman Kevin Myers said. About 80 percent of University of Alaska alumni stay in the state to work and raise families, he said.

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton started the Alaskan Scholars Program to combat the brain drain. The program grants the top 10 percent of academically-ranked students from each high school $1,375 per semester for four years to attend a university in the state system.

The fall of 2003 was the first time since the university had been keeping records that more graduating high school seniors stayed in Alaska than left to attend college, Myers said.

Leighty and Race said getting a good job was more important than location when they graduated from college. But the ideal situation for them is to have good jobs in Juneau.

I think being other places in the world was a valuable experience, but now I think Im ready to settle down (in Juneau), Leighty said. He may bid on the recycling contract with the city of Juneau that is due to expire this year.

As for Race, his company is so booked he wants to hire an office manager so the business can take on more clients.

Ive noticed that if you grab hold of it (an idea) and start doing it, people are pretty supportive, Race said.

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