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State hopes group will draw, keep young professionals

June 3, 2009
By JESSICA COLLIER, Enterprise Staff Writer

Efforts are under way to attract young professionals to upstate New York and to keep them here, but not everyone believes that such efforts will be enough to make the area livable for many young people.

The Young Leaders Congress, an organization formed in fall 2007 under the wing of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, is teaming up with Empire State Development to launch three initiatives aimed at making upstate more attractive to young people.

According to a press release from ESD, the rate of population decline in some parts of upstate reaches as high as 29 percent among 25- to 29-year-olds. This youth outflow is commonly called "brain drain."

One of the initiatives is a grant program that would financially support efforts to revitalize downtown areas and make them more livable. A recent survey of young professionals (young people between 20 and 44 who are following a career path) in Franklin, Essex, Clinton and Hamilton counties, commissioned by the local Workforce Investment Board, found that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed saw social gathering spots and arts and cultural opportunities as fair or poor.

"I think there's a spectrum of things that young professionals are in need of - affordable housing, a job market that is supportive - but young people seek to live in places that are livable, or cool, communities," said Michael Cashman, a member of the Young Leaders Congress.

Cashman is originally from Massachusetts but went to school in the North Country and decided to stay. He is now coordinator of student activities at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Another initiative would create a job and internship Web portal that would list career opportunities in each area.

"We may not have the job level that we like to see, but there may certainly be jobs that people might not be aware of as well," said Cashman.

A third initiative would help create young professional organizations. Cashman heads up Adirondack Young Professionals, based in Plattsburgh.

The YLC initiatives, however, do not have a plan to create jobs or affordable housing.

"Without a good job, you can't live anywhere, and I think that's where the emphasis has to be," said Dan Mac Entree, spokesman for state Sen. Betty Little.

Mac Entee said that while former Gov. Spitzer focused on upstate revitalization, although he didn't last long enough to implement many plans, the upstate economy is no longer a priority under Gov. David Paterson.

"It seems that every week there's a new issue that sort of takes center stage, and not that any of those issues are not important, but what people are really looking for is ... a much greater emphasis on the economy and property tax relief," Mac Entee said.

Even the Young Leaders Congress itself was sidelined after its inception.

"It kind of went by the wayside for a little bit," said YLC Program Coordinator Jeanine Davis.

Davis said the initiatives are an attempt to jump-start YLC activity, and ESD is working with them to get started.

Michael Frame, chairman of the YLC, said that the organization wanted to be sure it had goals it could accomplish in its first year of activity. He said that in future, he hoped the YLC would be able to work with the ESD, Gov. Paterson and the Legislature to be more active in future economic development.

"We also want to be helpful in the solution to revitalize New York," Frame said.


Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or



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