Their unique social connectedness makes recent college grads more important than ever
COLUMBIA, 9/1/11 (Beat Byte) -- So-called "Silicon Prairie" college towns need to retain their college graduates for quality growth in jobs and prosperity, says an Omaha-based entrepreneurship expert.
Omaha Chamber of Commerce development officer Tom Chapman worries that midwest college towns making up the "Silicon Prairie" -- Iowa City, Champaign-Urbana, Manhattan, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., for instance -- "simply do not have enough jobs to support the number of graduates from their respective schools," he told the Silicon Prairie News.
To reverse that trend, Silicon Prairie cities need to encourage recent grads to settle nearby rather than moving away to larger, more innovative or prestigious communities such as the Silicon Valley or that other Manhattan in New York.
With a measure of student-into-job retention in Big 10 and Big 12 college towns called "the Absorption Percentage," Chapman discovered that "very few cities manage to grow at even one percent per year, and no city in this list has sustainably grown at 2 precent per year or above except Austin, Texas."
The end result -- recent college grads move away, taking their education, timely skills, and unique social structures with them. Persuaded to stay, however, today's young people are so well-connected they can improve a community's reputation almost overnight.
"There is no other social network nexus point as powerful as a college campus," Chapman explains. If students make a city "cool" in one place, "the impact is felt internationally. College students represent a unique social network, as their networks include people from all over the country in one digital step."
Chapman has several suggestions for midwest college towns who want to tap into the awesome social force digital youth represent.
Be both traditional -- e.g. with career fairs and brochures -- and non-traditional, with digital platforms such as foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, Turntable.fm, etc. Provide strong incentives for young people to get engaged, but without having to be part of a good ol' boy network or small-town insiders' club. Identify and recruit people that have a disproportionate impact: connectors, mavens and entrepreneurs. Partner with really cool companies.
And finally: "Be authentic – tell the real story," Chapman advises.