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Efforts seek to keep more young professionals in the Mohawk Valley

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM

'They're our future' Efforts seek to keep more young professionals in the Mohawk Valley


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Elizabeth Reardon wasn't planning on coming back to the Mohawk Valley.

The Clinton native went to Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania and was debating staying there.

"I had job offers there," said Reardon, 32. "My parents kept saying, 'No, you need to move back to the area.'"

Then her mother told her about Oneida County College Corps, a program that connects college juniors and seniors with internships.

Reardon was hired right out of college as the North Utica Senior Citizens Community Center's program director, thanks to her 2002 College Corps internship.

More than 10 years later, Reardon is still in the community, working as executive director of the Masonic Care Community Child Care Center and living in Waterville with her husband and their two children.

Reardon is somewhat of an anomaly as the number of young professionals in the Mohawk Valley and across the state continues to decline, which is damaging for communities.

"If people between the ages of 21 and 25 or 35 are leaving the market for better jobs or better weather or more opportunities, it obviously hurts dramatically," said David Kiner, executive director of the business and economics department at Utica College. "It relates to everything from real-estate to the local retailer."

But, the brain drain, as it has come to be known, might be coming to a stop as the number of residents with higher education is on the rise and organizations from all spectrums of the community - schools to nonprofits, economic development agencies to government - are banding together to retain young professionals.

Those programs are like the very one that kept Reardon here.

"I have grown within this community… and now I'm in a position where I can let other people participate in the program," Reardon said "I've actually hired some of the teachers that were in that program."

Fewer people, more education

Though there's no exact data to quantify whether or not young professionals are staying, U.S. Census data does show that the number of residents between the ages of 25 and 39 has decreased, according to data provided by Dale Miller, Oneida County principal planner.

The group, which would have been 15 to 29 years old in 2000, decreased by 10 percent in Herkimer County in 2010, from 12,104 to 10,843, Miller said.

In Oneida County, it decreased by 13 percent from 47,470 in 2000, to 41,485 in 2010.

They leave for a variety of reasons such as a desire to travel, moving away for college and a perceived lack of opportunity, Kiner said.

Young professionals are crucial to ensure a vital community and vibrant economy, experts said.

"We need young professionals in this area because they're our future," said Ray Durso Jr., executive director of The Genesis Group. "This is an aging society here in Upstate New York, and we need more of our young professionals to be rooted in this area."

Education attainment in the area, however, is continuing to rise.

Oneida County residents with an associate's degree or higher increased 2 percent from 14,935 in 2000 to 15,212 in 2011, Miller said. The number of Herkimer County residents with an associate's degree showed a slight increase from 4,061 to 4,066 in the same time period.

Residents with a bachelor's degree or higher increased even more so with an 11.5 percent increase in Oneida County from 2000 to 2011, from 8,905 to 9,925. Herkimer County saw a 9 percent increase from 2,044 to 2,227.

Clogging the drain

One of the possible reasons for the education rise may be the increased work of business and community leaders to boost the young professional population.

Efforts have included:

* Reaching out to students from elementary school through to college level, educating them about career paths they can pursue locally and what the area has to offer them.

* Colleges, high schools and local BOCES are working more closely with business leaders to offer courses aligned with job opportunities, having the employers themselves help to shape a skilled labor force that they can then hire. Colleges are also working with employers to better connect students with local jobs and internships.

* Economic development agencies such as Mohawk Valley EDGE and The Genesis Group, along with government officials and educational institutions, such as SUNYIT, are working to bring more jobs to the area, such as the nanotechnology complex and a possible chip fabrication plant in Marcy.

* Groups such as the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce, Genesis and Leadership Mohawk Valley, also work to help provide networking opportunities for professionals and leadership-building skills.

"Things like that really make a difference in the long-run in keeping people here and attracting them to the area," said Alice Savino, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board of Oneida, Herkimer and Madison Counties. "But there's still a lot to be done."

Angie Blair, 29, originally from Verona, also didn't expect to move back to the Mohawk Valley, especially after going away to college and then living in Washington, D.C., for a year.

Six years later, Blair now owns a home in Utica, works for AmeriCU Credit Union in Rome as the executive assistant to the chief operating officer, and organizes Mohawk Valley Young Professionals, a networking group.

"I didn't decide to stay. I didn't really have a plan and then I realized as an adult how much I really liked the area," Blair said. "I really love living here."


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