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Symposium addresses W.Va. 'drain brain' problem

By Charles Young

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia has a "brain drain" problem. 

Paul Daugherty, chairman and founder of Generation West Virginia, said the phrase, which refers to young people leaving the state seeking career, social, economic and other opportunities elsewhere, describes one of the Mountain State's biggest challenges. 

In an effort to find solutions and pass them on to the state's youth, Daugherty's nonprofit research organization brought together leaders in business, government, education and other fields to speak at the 2013 Solutions Symposium Thursday afternoon in Charleston. The speakers, who hailed from all across the state, addressed an audience of more than 50 attendees at the Summit Conference Center on Summers Street.     

"We want to make our state a destination that can attract and retain new young people, existing young people and where people can call home," Daughtery said. "We're not going to complain about it -- we're going to create solutions."

The Symposium began with a speech from Nikki Bowman, founder of New South Media, the multimedia company responsible for regional-themed publications like West Virginia Living, Morgantown and West Virginia Weddings.

"If we don't come up with solutions, our state will rot from the inside out," she said. "That's not a pretty picture. We'll implode."

Bowman, a Kanawha County native, said she knows a thing or two about the "brain drain" problem. After graduating from West Virginia University, she made a beeline out of the state for Chicago, where she spent 10 years working as a political journalist. 

After becoming disillusioned with the Windy City's corrupt political scene, Bowman said she realized the place she could make the most difference was back at home. In 2008 she founded her company, one that she said has grown and become more successful than she could have ever imagined.

Bowman's business has allowed her to have experiences and opportunities she said she couldn't have found anywhere else. She now strives to use her own story to demonstrate to others, especially young people who are on the fence, about the advantages of staying.

"In order to keep our young talent here, in order to attract new talent, we have to scream about the state's positive aspects at the top of our lungs," she said. "We need to celebrate our success stories."  

Following Bowman's speech, Daughtery demonstrated the hard numbers behind the group's concerns.

He said there are currently more than 600,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 45 living in W.Va., but according to census data, those numbers are shrinking. From 2000 to 2008, the population of this age group in the state decreased by 6.5 percent. Those who leave often cite the state's lack of jobs.

For this change, the state's youth must be given the tools to create their own opportunities, Daughtery said.

The symposium's attendees where given the opportunity to split into small workshop groups where they heard talks from the remaining speakers, before coming back together to share and what they had learned.

Participants who stayed until the end of the event became eligible for a "Creating Solutions" mini-grant.  

Contact writer Charles Young at charles.young@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.

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