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Project hopes Fresno's brightest will boomerang back
When I was young, a boomerang was a curved wooden stick you bought for $2.99 at Arthur's Toys and threw around for 10 minutes or so before you'd invariably toss it toward the street where it would crash down and shatter into a bunch of pieces. Out of context, Creative Fresno's Boomerang Project sounds like a good-time afternoon in the park. Picture hundreds of boomerangs swooping through the sky at the same moment Guinness-World-Records style.
Obviously, the project, which launched this week, is not that. To find out exactly what it is (Full disclosure: I already know) I emailed Jake Soberal, who is heading up the project.
Let's start with context. When you say "boomerang" you mean what?
A Boomerang is a person who returns to the place where they are from. It’s a very simple definition, but the implications are pretty profound. We’ve found that when someone leaves their hometown it’s often in pursuit of education or experience. That means that if and when they return home they bring these things back with them. More importantly, someone who chooses to return home after having left is more likely to stay and work to better the community.
OK, now give us the quick low down on the Boomerang Project.
The goal of the Boomerang Project is to reverse brain drain in Fresno. With that said, we understand that neither the Boomerang Project nor any other one thing is going to accomplish this goal. So, we set out to achieve measurable success: We want to bring back 10 of the most spectacular Boomerangs that we can find in 2012. To do so we’ve collected dozens of high-level, career-advancing jobs, stretching across all industry boundaries, that we can offer to qualified Boomerang candidates. Key here is that we have dozens of jobs to offer, but are only after 10 Boomerangs; this means that we’re able to really focus on going after the right person instead of filling a position. Then, the process for recruiting potential Boomerangs really is very simple. We’re calling on the community to connect us with the potential Boomerang in their life. We want folks to send us that crazy-smart, super-talented person in their life who has moved away, but who is thinking about settling down, wishes they lived closer to mom and dad, yearns for a higher overall quality of life, or misses Fresno. We suspect that many of these people want to move back to Fresno, but believe that there isn’t a job big enough for them in this town. We also think that we can prove them wrong. People can send us Boomerangs at email@example.com or www.fresnopolis.org. Once we receive information about a potential Boomerang we review the candidate to see if they’re the right fit for the project (i.e., the best and the brightest). We then work with the person who referred them to leverage that relationship to begin the recruitment process. Thereafter we connect directly with the potential Boomerang and begin the formal recruitment process, which includes the prospective employer, local celebrities, and our Boomerang Project Team. Best of all, we aren’t finished with the Boomerangs once we land them a dream job. After that we throw them a welcome party, provide them with memberships to local community organizations, and show them around town. We want our Boomerangs to fall in love with Fresno all over again.
The project has been in the works for a couple years now, but given economic and logistical factors it's changed focus some from the original idea. Tell us about that.
The project was initiated in 2005 by many of the same organizations that are involved today. At that time the economy in Fresno was booming and the boom gave rise to a very different strategy for the project. The plans were to post high-level jobs available in Fresno on www.fresnopolis.org (our current web home) and then direct traffic to that site through a variety of advertising and publicity campaigns. However, the project wound up being tabled because the economy began to spiral and funding for the project never materialized. Since that time this project has been on the backburner at Creative Fresno. Near the end of 2011, we decided that it was the right time to re-launch, but with a significantly narrower focus. This time around, instead of waiting for potential Boomerangs to find us, we’re going after them. And, instead of trying to fill thousands of jobs, we’re only trying to bring back 10 talented Boomerangs. The idea behind narrowing our focus is to demonstrate success and then see what the outflows of that success might be.
Talk a bit about the project's timeline and where you are in terms of long-term goals?
We are ready and able to offer qualified Boomerangs amazing jobs right now. We’re talking really top notch jobs, including but certainly not limited to: CFO, attorney, lead buyer, executive director of a non-profit, IT Director, and cost accountant. In the immediate term, we are fully up and running, with the belief that we will be able to bring back 10 Boomerangs in 2012. The question of long-term goals is less clear. Earlier versions of this project fell victim, in part, to lofty ideas. To be clear, these were not bad ideas, just big ideas. As a result, we’ve been hyper-focused on achieving small but measurable success. Our hope is that demonstrated success will inspire similar efforts and really have a ripple effect among other potential Boomerangs. That is not to say that we’re not considering and analyzing long-term strategies, it’s just to say that it’s not our main focus right now.
What's the two-fer effect? Because everyone loves to get something extra.
The two-fer is one of the best parts of this project. When smart people leave Fresno we all know that they often wind up with an education and some wonderful experience, but what we sometimes forget is that they often find their spouse or significant other along the way. So, when we bring back a top-notch Boomerang, they bring back an equally talented and intelligent addition to our community. Importantly, a key component of the Boomerang Project is that we have processes in place to connect the spouse or significant other of a Boomerang to great job opportunities as well.
OK. A hypothetical: I left Fresno after high school because it sucked. Then I went to college and stayed away. Now you want me back? What's the sales pitch?
You’re not the same and neither are we. You went away and bettered yourself and, fact is, you’re not the same person that you were at 18. Heck, at 18 cost of living, quality of life, starting a family, and buying a house didn’t really matter to you. It does now. And Fresno, well, we’re not the same either. We’ve got urban lofts and penthouse apartments downtown. We have internationally recognized art, music, and film festivals that started in Fresno had world class dining that you can afford. Nothing to do to do in Fresno, you say? Fresno has more to do today than your calendar could ever hold. There is some great content on www.fresnopolis.org addressing exactly this point. I will say that when I was 18, I was right there with you. I thought that there wasn’t a job big enough for me in this town. I was wrong.
I am convinced. We've heard about the brain drain for years now. It even garnered a front page story in the LA Times. Why does it remain such a critical issue?
The term “brain drain” gets tossed around a lot. It’s important, though, to remember what it means: We’ve losing way too many smart people. And, over time, Fresno has become the epicenter of brain drain in America. When a national publication writes about brain drain, they come to Fresno; in 2005 it was the LA Times, and in 2011 it was the Washington Post. It’s a huge problem and we’re at the eye of the hurricane. It’s time to fix it. It’s not difficult to see why this is a bad thing. Smart people start new business, grow existing business, launch amazing non-profits and projects, run for elected office and fix things, and make wherever they are better. At an emotional level, brain drain is a problem because we’re losing our sons and daughters. They grow up believing that there is not an opportunity for them to have a fulfilling career in Fresno. At an economic level, we’re failing to recover on our collective investment. A massive amount of our dollars are invested in our children, and rightfully so. However, as it stands now, those children that are most positively impacted by this investment are most likely to leave Fresno and never return. As a result, our investment winds up benefitting some other place.
Anything I missed?
This is not all doom and gloom. Fresno is a terrific place to live and getting better every day. We just want to share that with some old friends.