Tired of a lack of vibrancy in downtown Akron and few cultural activities for single professionals, Diettra Engram, 39, packed up and moved to Atlanta last year.
Engram, who had worked for Akron schools, loves the faster pace there and doesn’t envision returning to her hometown.
Meanwhile, Jon Miller, 37, did the opposite, leaving Seattle last year so his partner, Bryan Nichols, could take a job teaching music education at the University of Akron.
They have embraced their new community and have been impressed with the food, culture and how far the dollar stretches.
The problem for Summit County is that there are more people like Engram — educated professionals with good-paying jobs — moving out of the community and not enough like Miller and Nichols moving in.
Census data released this year for the first time break down county-by-county movement by educational attainment and income for those over age 25. It shows that Summit County has a net loss when it comes to smarter and wealthier households.
More people with graduate and bachelor’s degrees are moving out than moving in. And more households with incomes over $75,000 are leaving than coming here.
In plain, unflattering terms, Summit is getting dumber and poorer.
The so-called “brain drain” phenomenon — when young, talented professionals flee a community — has been a perceived problem for years in Akron.
But the census data show that it’s not anecdotal. It’s real. And it’s not only young professionals leaving. It’s also all ages.
The data cover a five-year period from 2007 to 2011.
During that time, 4,661 people with graduate or bachelor’s degrees moved out, while 4,328 moved in. When it comes to households with incomes over $75,000 a year, 7,044 moved out and 5,687 moved in.
Those figures are just a blip when it comes to the county’s overall population of 541,788. But which is preferable: an overall loss or gain of smart and wealthy individuals?
Coming and going
A pattern is clear in Ohio. Smart and wealthy households are moving out of urban counties and headed for suburban ones.
Delaware County, north of Columbus, boasts the biggest brain gain by far in the state, with 2,216 more people with graduate or bachelor’s degrees moving in than moving out.
Warren County, between Dayton and Cincinnati, is second, followed by Fairfield (suburban Cincinnati), Lorain (suburban Cleveland) and Medina (suburban Cleveland and Akron).
Those same counties — in addition to Clermont (suburban Cincinnati) and Licking (suburban Columbus) — are gaining households with incomes of $75,000 and more.
The good news, experts say, is that most people aren’t leaving their regional economies.
Engram and Miller are a bit unusual for people moving in and out of Summit County.
Engram moved far away; Miller came from far away.
Most people who move — no matter what their educational or financial status — stick close by.
In fact, in Summit’s case, many people are just moving among the same counties.
“We’re a region of different places and one economy,” said Mark Scheffler, president of Leadership Akron. “And people within one economy, they’re not going to respect jurisdictional boundaries, because commerce flows readily across those and residential patterns flow readily across as well.”
The most popular destination for those with bachelor’s degrees and up has been Cuyahoga (729), Stark (321), Portage (305), Medina (271) and Franklin (202).
Meanwhile, most people relocated here from Cuyahoga (737), Portage (438), the continent of Asia (339), Stark (274) and Franklin (140) counties.
Wealthy households follow a similar pattern, although the fifth most popular destination was Los Angeles (154).
Dig deeper into the numbers, though, and you’ll find many educated and wealthier folks are moving here from Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
Just not in great numbers.
“We do a very good job of retaining our residents, so our out-migration rates are pretty good,” said Richey Piiparinen, who heads the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University. “But the reason we are shrinking is because our in-migration rates aren’t very good.
“We all say, ‘Do we retain these people? Do we recapture them?’ Well, they’re not even going far, so that’s not the problem.”
He recommends that the region focus on two groups of people.
“Can we grow the boomeranging population and the international population?” he asked. “Those are the two big migration changes that will help the Clevelands and the Akrons of the world. Boomerangers and foreign-born.”
Boomerangers are people who grew up in a community, moved away and then moved back.
Most people (48 percent) move for housing reasons, according to a report the U.S. Census Bureau released this month.
That includes a desire for less expensive housing or being foreclosed upon or wanting to live in a nicer neighborhood.
Other top reasons for relocating involve family (30 percent) and work (19 percent).
Moves within the same county were likely due to housing reasons, while relocating to another county or abroad were more job-related.
And people who are better educated are more likely to move for job reasons than those with lower levels of education, the report says.
For Engram, Summit is a terrific place to raise a family, and the cost of living is low. But she craved more diversity and events for single professionals.
“I really like being in a larger city where there’s a little more hustle and bustle,” said Engram, who’s doing consulting work with a nonprofit and looking for a permanent job. “I like the faster pace. I don’t see myself coming back.”
For Miller, Summit has advantages over Seattle.
He and his partner were able to buy a brick colonial in West Akron for about $113,000. He estimates the home would cost $1.5 million on the West Coast.
Miller, talent manager at BCG & Co. in Akron, also has been able to jump in immediately with community groups such as Leadership Akron, Young Professionals, Bridges Out of Poverty and Mobile Meals. He’s also pursuing an inspirational speaking career here.
“Everyone that I’ve met really embraces their life in Akron,” he said. “I’ve yet to meet anyone who says this a terrible city. Everyone has been positive.
“It depends on what you want in life. This is exactly what I want. This is exactly where I can achieve it. I can do that here. In a bigger city, I didn’t have an opportunity.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.