Report: Michigan Could Be Hot Spot for Global Tech Talent

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

In Michigan, we hear a lot of discussion about the challenge of keeping talented, young workers in the state after they graduate from college. According to a new report out last week from the Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan (GTRI), one area where Michigan might have a leg up on other places is international talent retention.

The report by GTRI—the nation’s first international student retention effort of its kind— says Michigan’s international students are choosing to stay in Michigan after graduation at three times the rate of out-of-state students.

They are also three times as likely as domestic students to major in critical science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and 82 percent of them have obtained an advanced degree, making these graduates what the report calls “the most talented and in-demand workers of the world economy.”

Steve Tobocman, a former state legislator with a lifelong passion for community development, heads up Global Detroit, GTRI’s partner organization. He says the data for the report was collected over 2 1/2 years from seven university partners in the state of Michigan. About 2,000 students in all responded to e-mail surveys sent out every six months.

Rules for international students permit them to work in the United States on their student visas for 12 months after graduation, or 29 months if they’re working in a STEM field and their employers use the government’s e-Verify Program.

“For most international students, coming here to study can be the first American experience they have,” Tobocman notes. “They’re comparing Michigan to their home country. Michigan has a high standard of living, natural beauty, and a good quality of life, and they’re eager to participate in the American Dream.”

The American Dream, it turns out, might need international students just as eagerly. According to the GTRI report, Michigan will need to fill 274,000 STEM field jobs by 2018. The data tracked by GTRI in its recent study showed that 52 percent of students using their student visas to work after graduation were in STEM fields, which is more than four times the average of native-born students.

“We want to see more domestic students in STEM fields, but in the short term, we’ll need to attract STEM workers,” Tobocman says. “This is a talent pool already in Michigan.” And while some may be wary of Detroit’s bankruptcy and crime woes, international students seem open to opportunities in the automotive and tech sectors, he adds.

The new findings augment observations in the original Global Detroit study that report that Michigan’s international students contribute $750 million annually to the Michigan economy, with immigrants founding 32.8 percent of the state’s high-tech firms that were created between 1995 and 2005. Governor Rick Snyder has also, on numerous occasions, expressed the importance of retaining international talent as an economic force.

Because GTRI and Global Detroit are the first organizations of their kind in the U.S., Tobocman says they get calls from international students across the country who want to stay in the U.S. and work. Tobocman points out there are bills pending in Congress that would make it easier for international students to stay, and if those eventually pass, Michigan could be known as an early adopter just by being vocal in saying Michigan is open to filling jobs with international talent.

“With the Governor’s and the [Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s] support, Michigan will be a real leader in the region in attracting international students to strengthen our economy and entrepreneurial workforce,” Tobocman says.