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Who's snagging the young professionals? These folks are

David Cofer, Internship Consultant for the Columbus Chamber. Photo | Ben French
David Cofer, Internship Consultant for the Columbus Chamber. Photo | Ben French

Thanks to work done by folks like Richard Florida and Rebecca Ryan, cities are more aware than ever that the key to economic prosperity lies in attracting and retaining young professionals. Not only that, by reading their books The Rise of the Creative Class and Live First, Work Second, respectively we can pinpoint the factors that go into a young person's choice of city. All across Ohio, highly motivated organizations are relying on that data in an attempt to meet the needs of those coveted YPs, or young professionals.

Why is the 20-to-40 faction so desirable? Because snagging these highly mobile professionals before they set down roots just might be the most important thing a city can do right now to cement its economic future.

"That phrase 'young professional' is very powerful right now," says Andrew Walleck, president of the Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club, a 10-year-old nonprofit with the goal of keeping young professionals in Northeast Ohio. "Most people define that group as young, not yet married with kids, and in a job that requires a college degree of some kind. There is a perception that having more people in this category indicates that a city is doing something right."

According to Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, a "Next City" is one that has the assets and amenities that are most attractive to young professionals. Jobs, of course, are essential, but so too are lively urban cores, attractive neighborhoods, affordable housing, accessible public transport, and vibrant arts, dining and nightlife scenes. That's good news to Karen Michelsen, VP of Marketing at the Cincinnati Chamber who also oversees the HYPE initiative. Launched in 2008, HYPE (Harnessing Young Professional Energy) aims to market Cincinnati as a premier destination for YPs to live, work and play.

"When compared to our peer cities, Cincinnati delivers well on most of the attributes that young talent is looking for," explains Michelsen. "Our strength is what the region can deliver as a whole. You really can have it all here."

Because an outsider's first impression of a city often is formed online, HYPE created a web portal that serves as a central resource for both employers and the young talent they hope to attract. Employers have access to all the tools they need to sell Cincinnati to their prospective employees, and those employees can learn more about the region thanks to the site's targeted visitor information.

When it comes to fighting "brain drain," the low-hanging fruit is retention. One of the easiest ways to increase a city's YP population is simply to prevent them from leaving in the first place. Boasting roughly 120,000 college students, the Greater Columbus area is not wanting for a wide, deep talent pool. Each and every year, schools like Ohio State University, Columbus State Community College, Capital University, Denison University and Otterbein University graduate a fresh crop of smart, upwardly mobile folks. Sadly, about two-thirds of them will leave after commencement.

"There is an opportunity for us to do a better job as it pertains to keeping graduates from Columbus colleges in the region," says David Cofer, a consultant with the Columbus Chamber. "By connecting students with employment opportunities while they are still in school, we can connect them with the Columbus community at a level that is different than their college experience."

To that end, the chamber launched a handful of initiatives aimed at reducing the number of college students who leave the region during summer break and upon graduation. Columbus Internships is a website that connects students with local employers offering internships. Easy Columbus, the "everything off-campus guide," makes it easy for students to learn about the region's non-work assets, such as dining, nightlife and live music.

"If we can just get college students off campus to experience the community," adds Cofer, "we can rewrite the story of so many students and hopefully get them to say, 'I had no idea that Columbus had so much to offer.'"

The notion of connectedness to the city and region in which they live is a major influence on whether students stay or go upon graduation. According to data uncovered by UpDayton, the young-talent initiative of DaytonCREATE, the less a person knows about a region, the less likely they were to say they were satisfied with living there. "When you combine that with the fact that young professionals are in the most mobile period of their entire lives, it is particularly troubling," says Scott Murphy, UpDayton's Chair.

In addition to goals like creating a vibrant, walkable downtown and better connecting area universities with local employers, UpDayton set about designing an "Easy" button. Dayton Most Metro is a new online publication aimed at keeping young residents happy by keeping them informed about all the great activities in the Dayton region.

"Each student that leaves the area is a missed economic opportunity," notes Murphy. "If we can reduce those numbers, we can plug the brain drain."

With close to 800 paying members, Cleveland's 20/30 Club is one of the largest YP organizations in the state of Ohio. Now more than ever, observes the club's president, there is an appetite for progressive change in America, in Ohio, and in Cleveland. And who is generating that momentum? Here's a hint: It isn't our parents.

"People are really interested in providing new energy to help push the region back above average economic, social and political stature," asserts Andrew Walleck. "That energy is not likely to come from a group of 62-year-old engineers in the suburbs. It is the young professionals with the long runway in front of them who are going to make investments to turn their city into the best place possible."

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