Dayton – The Brain Drain

And what UpDayton is doing about it

By Zach Rogers

Photo: Dayton’s young creatives at the 2012 UpDayton Summit.

The brain drain. Sounds awful, right? Well, it is and it’s a crisis that’s been affecting the Dayton region for far too long. It’s time to put a stop this menace, and with the creation of UpDayton – an organization whose main focus is plugging the brain drain – Dayton is finally one step closer at curing this widespread sickness, and it’s about damn time.

But what is this brain drain thing? What does it do? How does it affect a local community like Dayton? In essence, the brain drain can occur within any city, state or country that has the resources available to educate highly skilled individuals. Usually, it’s in an area that hosts a large number of college campuses, universities and technical schools where thousands of young adults are receiving an education. Sound familiar? The downside happens when those same people leave the area after graduation instead of staying and funneling their knowledge back into the local economy. Sound familiar? In other words, Dayton has a plethora of colleges for people to choose from. Students get an education, receive a diploma and then leave, using their newly attained brainpower elsewhere, chasing that one dream job in that one dream city.

So now we have UpDayton, but what is UpDayton? According to the organization’s Executive Director Laura Estandia, “UpDayton is a non-profit organization that’s all about attracting and retaining the young talent we have here in the Dayton region.” In regard to the whole brain drain ordeal, Estandia said: “We educate a ton of students here at our local universities, but when they graduate the majority of them leave and don’t engage in the local economy. UpDayton was founded to put a stop to the brain drain for good.” Their way of plugging the drain is through community projects that engage and improve the region as a whole, with the idea being that if Dayton was a more attractive city, then the “young talent” would want to live here. Attracting and retaining this young talent is the essence of what this organization is all about. Besides a handful of staff and board members, UpDayton largely consists of community volunteers who share the same passion for the city and want to lend a hand in the improvement of this area.

UpDayton started back in 2007 when the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) brought in Richard Florida and a group called the Creative Class to help diminish the brain drain in the community. Out of this came a community empowerment project called DaytonCREATE, whose main purpose was to revitalize the area for economic competitiveness. From there, UpDayton was born, and from the beginning they had one goal in mind: to make Dayton a better place for young professionals to thrive.

“The young talent is our future workforce,” said Estandia, “and if you can’t attract those people to your city then there won’t be anybody left to fill the vacancies when jobs become available. Companies won’t want to locate to a region that doesn’t have the right people with the right skills for the right jobs,  nor will they want to do business in a city that sees a large departure of people post-graduation. That’s why there’s such an emphasis on retaining the young creative talent in Dayton.”

Though they are a fairly new organization, UpDayton has figured out how to learn what people want to see done in their community. “We’ve come up with these surveys that serve as direct communication between us and people in the region, and it lets us know exactly what they want to see done in their city,” said Estandia. “It’s from that data that we can start to compile specific community projects we feel are necessary, and that’s how we know what’s a top priority and what’s not.” By engaging the community this way, UpDayton has created a strong link between the people running the organization and the people living in the city and this kind of dialogue has already seen some results.

A plan to start beautifying the different neighborhoods throughout Dayton included a project completed last June, as UpDayton chose to paint a mural on the U.S. Route 35 pedestrian bridge connecting the South Park neighborhood and the Oregon District. “I actually started out as a volunteer for UpDayton,” said Estandia, “and the team I led worked on painting that mural, which is in a kind of underutilized part of Dayton.” They’ve also painted murals and helped clean up the area along Wayne Avenue and Garden Station as part of the “Wayne Avenue Corridor” initiative. It may not seem like much, adding some color to some bridge or picking up some candy wrappers, but it’s these kinds of plans that help improve the city’s liveliness and help keep creative people in the city.

Another project UpDayton helped with was with the creation of Dayton Most Metro, an online magazine that provides people with information on things to do all over in the Dayton region – from where to eat and drink to where to see you favorite local band on a Friday night. “We had a lot of volunteers driving content for the website during the first year or so and now it’s evolved into its own strong business entity,” said Estandia. UpDayton was also involved in creating, a website that allows companies to post internship positions which get sent out to all the local colleges in the area. It also offers a step-by-step guide on how to set up an internship program for a company in need. From neighborhood makeovers to jumpstarting a website, it’s initiatives like these that combine to help advance Dayton, but it doesn’t stop there.

Currently, UpDayton has a number of projects at work within the community. One such project has been dubbed “The Waggle.” It involves implementing alternative transportation in the area. Basically, it’s about trying to find ways of getting around town without using a car, and the Waggle project has teamed up with the Bike Walk Dayton Committee to accomplish this goal. There’s also the Streetvival team, a group that ties in with the idea of beautifying the city’s neighborhoods. The team is in the process of turning an old vacant lot in the Twin Towers neighborhood into something more. “The Streetvival team is working with the East End Community Services to turn that lot into a ‘pocket park’ that will include an outdoor stage and a reading center,” said Estandia. “They’ve already began planting trees and applying the first coat of paint, so that’s really exciting.” Another project is called “I Did Dayton,” which revolves around a bucket list which will target local college kids and encourage them to get off campus and explore the best of what Dayton has to offer. Lastly, there’s the “Diversity in Action” campaign, where UpDayton has partnered with the Dayton Metro Library to create bilingual reading stations throughout the city that will help serve the many immigrant communities throughout Dayton.

All of these projects, both past and present, have stemmed from the annual Summit UpDayton hosts. In short, the Summit is where all the next big ideas are generated. Unlike the surveys, which are usually done via email and sent out to people on UpDayton’s mailing list, the Summit is face-to-face negotiations where all of Dayton’s brightest young minds come to hash out what needs to be done next for the region. It’s a gathering of the tribes and it’s where some of UpDayton’s most important projects have come to life. “It encompasses everything from the brainstorming process to think-tank exercises, just to see what kinds of things are on people’s minds,” said Estandia. “At the end, there’s a voting process and usually one idea is chosen collectively as something we’d liked to see completed over the next year.” The lucky winner is placed on what UpDayton calls the Action Plan, a list that outlines every detail for every project the organization plans on tackling within the next year, all of which have been chosen based on results from both the Summit and survey feedback from the community.

As a way to prepare for this year’s big event, UpDayton decided to bring back an old tradition: Perspectives and Pints. “Perspectives and Pints is something we did in the very first years of the Summit,” said Estandia. “Since we really didn’t know what to expect at first, these were kind of like pre-brainstorming sessions.” UpDayton brought back this favored tradition as a way to both jumpstart the brainstorming process and have a few drinks while doing it. “We brought them back so we could get a general idea of topics that’ll be discussed this year and from there hopefully we can have something a lot more concrete coming out of the Summit.”

With so many projects and goals to reach, it can be tough for any organization – big or small – to keep track of things. Fortunately, UpDayton has an answer to all that, too. It’s called the Annual Report and its purpose is to detail everything UpDayton has done within the past year, from progress on all projects, to where the organization stands at large. It also includes important recommendations from hundreds of young people within the region targeted at local leaders to address topics they feel are important for Dayton. In other words, it’s a bare-knuckle account of how UpDayton is doing at stopping that whole brain drain situation.

One major factor working in their favor is the fact that UpDayton makes so much information available on their website. Not only do they provide information on how to help out and join the cause, but they also make all of their Annual Reports and Action Plans easily obtainable for anyone curious enough to take a look. By doing this, you can actually see year by year what UpDayton wanted to do and how they ended up doing it, a sort of timeline of their efforts within the Dayton area. “We want to be transparent about what we’re doing in the best possible way,” said Estandia. “We’re very open, and this openness is exactly why we’re not a membership-based place.” No members, just some kind-hearted volunteers who work with UpDayton to improve the city they love.

With everything they do, one thing is certain: UpDayton is an organization with very high hopes for a city and region that many have given up on long ago. “The good news is that Dayton has the most potential out of any city with this same problem,” said Estandia, “and we have so many colleges we can tap into to get the talent to stay here after graduating.” The focus of changing the somewhat negative perception people might have of Dayton is something UpDayton does best. “I think Dayton has a lot of good assets that just need some highlighting and some TLC. It’s a wonderful place to live and there’s a lot of fun and exciting things going on here that we want people to know about and become a part of, too.”

Summit Agenda

2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Arrival & Check In

Mix, mingle and network with other attendees.

2:30 p.m. Welcome & Introduction

Get a brief overview about the Summit and how you can step up to the challenge.

2:45  – 3:45 p.m. Breakouts

Gather with other attendees into one of three groups to generate ideas and action plans on specific topics.

3:45 – 4 p.m. Break

Tour the museum or relax in the outdoor garden.

4:00  – 5:15 p.m. Keynote Speaker

Braddock, Penn. Mayor John Fetterman

5:30 – 6:00 p.m. Summit   Town   Hall

Actions plans from the breakouts are presented and voted on. The top three will become a part of the 2013 action plan and launched within three weeks after the Summit. 

6:00 – 11:00 p.m. Up  All   Night Summit After

We’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to play hard! Networking, entertainment and hanging out with friends will be the only requirements at this event. Join us at Therapy Cafe, 452 E. Third St.

The Fifth Annual UpDayton Summit will take place on Friday, April 19 from 2-6 p.m. at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park. Registration can be completed on their website. General admission is $15, $5 for students. For more information on UpDayton, visit their website at

Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at

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