Is Florida an attractive destination for Silicon Valley tech “refugees”, as a James Madison Institute researcher said in the Orlando Sentinel? Apparently not. Florida’s education system might be the problem.

In her Orlando Sentinel op-ed, James Madison Institute researcher Andrea O’Sullivan argued that Florida is an attractive destination for Silicon Valley tech “refugees” who are being driven away by California’s taxes and regulations.

O’Sullivan’s argument would be a great advertisement for the minimization of money spent on government services like education and regulations intended to protect the sub-billionaire class – if only the data verified her prediction that those leaving Silicon Valley often end up in Florida.

Alas, the data say otherwise.

According to the 2020 Silicon Valley Index report, which was published by the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies, two-thirds (66.8%) of people leaving the Silicon Valley counties moved to other parts of California. The top ten out-of-state destinations for those leaving Silicon Valley were Seattle/Tacoma, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, New York City, Austin, Portland, Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC. Only 0.4% of Silicon Valley “refugees” migrated to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, and another 0.4% to Tampa/St. Petersburg. (A thank you to Niu Gao of the Public Policy Institute of California for pointing out this report.)

O’Sullivan provided a list of virtues that Florida presumably possesses that should attract Silicon Valley refugees. One of them was “a highly-skilled labor force”. Once again, the data disprove O’Sullivan’s assertion. When tech folks talk about “highly-skilled labor force”, they are talking about bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering fields. As of 2018, Florida ranked 38th among the fifty states and DC (fifty-one jurisdictions total) in the number of bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering conferred per 1,000 individuals 18-24 years old, according to the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators. Of course, Florida’s young people are more socioeconomically challenged than the nation at large. But as the plot of the bachelor’s degree data vs. K-12 free and reduced price eligibility rate (from NCES) below shows, even states as challenged as Florida do better in educating scientists and engineers than Florida does. One of those states is California (as can be seen in the plot).

Tech refugees want their children to have the opportunity to be as successful as they are, so K-12 schools where students can achieve at the highest levels are important to them. While Florida has pockets of such schools (notably Seminole and Brevard Counties), statewide public high school students take physics at a rate less than half the national rate, and calculus at a rate one-third below the national rate (shown below). Last fall, there were 45 public high schools with more than 1,000 students that didn’t teach physics at all.

If Florida wants to attract tech refugees from Silicon Valley or anywhere else, the state will have to reengineer its educational system to match the ambitions that such refugees would bring with them. Otherwise, all the talk about how our state’s “economic freedom” should be attracting the tech industry’s best and brightest will be just that – talk.

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