Brain drain? Data says it’s a myth

Emily (Conover) Bowe and Jake Bowe are co-owners of Culver’s of Onalaska

Emily (Conover) Bowe and Jake Bowe are co-owners of Culver’s of Onalaska

Success is a measure of how far you go. But it’s not calculated in miles — at least not for Jake and Emily Bowe.

The married couple didn’t move far after their spring 2006 graduation from UW-La Crosse. Today they are co-owners of Culver’s in Onalaska. For them, the definition of success is being close to family while doing what they love.

“I think there is this big stereotype when you’re a student that in order to be successful, you have to move away. You have to go to a big city like Chicago to have some kind of success,” says Emily (Conover) Bowe. “ I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

The idea that a majority of graduates flee the state after earning their Wisconsin state university diploma is a myth. Four out of five, or 81 percent, of UW alumni who were Wisconsin residents when enrolled remained in Wisconsin after graduation, according to a UW System report compiled from alumni who received a bachelor’s degree in 2003-04 or 2004-05. Among UW-L alumni, 83 percent who were Wisconsin residents stayed in the state.

“It shows that in a great majority of cases our Wisconsin residents are getting a good education, finding jobs here and wanting to stay,” notes UW Regent Brent Smith.

Emily tried working in “the big city” out of state the summer before she graduated from college. She lived in her hometown of Hudson, Wis., and made a 45-minute commute to work in Bloomington, Minn., a southern suburb of the Twin Cities. The drive home with construction and rush hour traffic sometimes took two hours.

“It’s not easy sitting there thinking your summer is wasting away,” she said.

La Crosse, on the other hand, is a great size, her and Jake agree.

“It does feel like a small town, but we still have a mall, industry and shops. You can go to the park or down by the water — any kind of outdoor activity we can find here,” she explains. “There is just a lot this area has to offer.”

Plus a smaller community gives the young entrepreneurs the opportunity to prove themselves. Emily says as business owners they have to fight the stereotype that they are removed from their business — out golfing while others do the actual work.

“People who come in know who we are and see us every day,” said Emily. “ They know we work hard in the store and within the community. I think most people who come in know that Jake and I care.”

Jake, 27, says before he started college, he didn’t think he would take over the family business, owned by his parents Galen and Jeanne Bowe. He started out taking physics and engineering courses at UW-L, figuring he would have to move far away to find work. But looking back at the business route he chose instead, he is happy with his choice to stay local.

“I enjoy being my own boss, working with people, employing people and teaching people how to advance to their next position,” he explains. “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

The Stats

  • 81 percent of alumni who were Wisconsin residents when enrolled remained in Wisconsin after graduation
  • Overall, 67 percent of alumni remained in Wisconsin
  • 13 percent of non-resident students remained in Wisconsin after graduation

Source – UW System data. Presented to the Board of Regents Nov. 4, 2010. This analysis was based on address information from UW institutions in 2007 for alumni who received a UW bachelor’s degree during 2003-04 or 2004-05; A U.S. address was available for 93% of alumni.