Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Something to celebrate after Labor Day

While the AP article doesn't make a connection with the Labor Day weekend just past, it is really something to celebrate that 2/3rds of MSU-Bozeman's graduates have accepted their first jobs in Montana rather than leaving the state to find work.

People in states like Montana traditionally have, with a sort of black humor (might as well laugh -- no point in crying,) that their children are their most valuable export. There is a certain amount of truth in that, particularly for graduates of Montana's universities, who have, more often than not, been lured away by higher paying positions and who often don't return for a long time -- if ever.

Little by little, that has been changing over the last decade or so. Some of this comes from the fact that Montana's cities are crossing critical thresholds of population that begin to support the kinds of industries that have higher-paying jobs and that require more education.

Some of it comes from people who simply want to live in Montana (some are returning to the region after having been gone to the big city for some years, others are true newcomers to the region,) and who are determined to make a place for themselves here -- even if they have to start up their own businesses and companies. In the process, they create jobs for others as well, not to mention examples of what is possible.

It is a remarkable number -- 2/3rds. The number may not be as high for U of M, given the higher number of graduates from MSU in technical fields, but it is probably steadily increasing at all of our universities.

Most of us who work in Montana make less than we could make somewhere else -- often significantly less. This is isn't all bad -- those who chase the highest paying jobs often keep on chasing on to the next job market when the first starts to cool a bit.

It is also hardly a bad thing to leave one's home region for a time to see how things are on the left coast, in the South, or wherever. Some of those who bring the greatest richness to Montana are those who were born or raised here, left for a time, and return again with an increased appreciation for their homes, bringing also a leavening of the best of the places where they sojourned during their years of wandering.

Probably the critical cut-off in getting fresh graduates to stay in Montana is whether the jobs available pay enough to allow graduating students to get to work on retiring their educational loans while getting started on the other tedious necessities of life -- keeping cars running, purchasing a starter home, saving for retirement and childrens' educational needs, etc...

No matter how much graduates may want to stay in Montana, if they can't make enough to pay off their educational loans, they are going to leave. Some will leave anyway, at least for a time, for any number of reasons, including those mentioned above.

Those of us who live here have a bit of a duty to do what we can, not only to make an economic climate that creates jobs, not only to do our part to support and develop a hospitable cultural and artistic life, but perhaps most of all, to keep Montana a place that is worth coming back to, in every way.

And most of the things that make Montana a place that is worth coming back to involve things that can't be bought with money, measured by economists, or studied by sociologists -- but that can be screwed up by well-intentioned politicians.

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