Do we have brain drain?

August is all about school days. You don’t have to have children to feel the difference in the air. Something about how the wind blows a little softer and the nights cool a little deeper that makes me think of high school days gone by. 

This month I celebrated my 20-year class reunion. Ironically this month our daughter, Kimber, began kindergarten. Both events left this mama with the thought of, How did we get here?

 There are days when I feel 16 and days when I feel every minute of the 38 I am. Having Kimber going to school and a class reunion to attend has made me walk down memory lane more than once this month.

 What a privilege I had to grow up in the rural community and in the decades that I did. Where businesses supported youth events without question. Where most everyone came out to the Friday night football game whether they had a player on the field or not. What an honor I had to have my own grandmother as my third and fourth-grade teacher. What a testament to the importance of good teachers is it that I still call my old Ag Ed instructor a friend.

 I wish all of this for my girl and more.

 The school scene looks different compared to then, I know. But the excitement in the children’s eyes and the love spread on those special teachers’ faces can still be found. The ability to impact a youth’s present and future lives is at the ready. The capacity to show our young people that a school, a town, a state is behind them is without limits.

 However, this train of thought can’t die off once we get those students to graduation day. South Dakota News Watch just did an in-depth article on South Dakota’s brain drain.

 The state is losing some of its highest educated, highest skilled people because the state is lacking in several areas the article cites. Comparable wages, lack of cultural diversity and limitations in career advancement are listed among them.

 Published in April 2019 by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, the new study found that highly educated South Dakotans who leave the state tend to end up in Minnesota, California or Colorado by the time they reach 40. These people not only take their smarts with them they also lure a greater share of the nation’s venture capital and wealth found in entrepreneurs to them.

 The SD News Watch article says state officials and universities are trying to find ways to keep educated people in the state. Start-up incubators at SDSU, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the University of South Dakota are helping highly educated South Dakota residents get their research or business ideas off the ground.

Dakota State University in Madison is planning to open a new computer technology research and development laboratory in October to lure top technology talent. The state Legislature passed a .5% sales tax increase in 2016 to generate new revenues to boost teacher pay to keep top educators from leaving after graduation.

I have to ask myself and our state’s ag industry, What are we doing to prevent a brain drain in our ag sector? What about your state? Are you losing some of your brightest ag producers and business people? Are we recruiting not only our homegrown but those who are looking for a home?

 Often gifted at high school graduations is Dr. Seuss’ book ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go.’ One of the quotes in the books is, ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself any direction you choose!’

 Let’s make an effort to steer people to our ag states and industries. Oh, the places we’ll go if we do…

Codi Vallery-Mills is editor of The Cattle Business Weekly and can be reached at