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To keep young talent, Tampa Bay needs to get 'cool' before economy rebounds

What Tampa Bay needs are more ways to be "cool" to young, talented adults, says Nielsen Co. executive vice president Bob McCann, who runs the 3,000-plus employee media rating/consumer research business in Oldsmar.

Sound familiar? It's the mantra muttered in every aspiring metro area in the United States. And despite some positive strides, Tampa Bay — like most metro areas across the eastern U.S. (exception: Washington, D.C.) — remains a follower, not a leader, when it comes to conjuring ways to attract and keep young adult talent.

McCann should know. While Nielsen recruited 20 graduates from the University of South Florida in the past year, the company still has 150 job openings that McCann says are hard to fill locally. He rattles off jobs requiring engineering, software and data processing skills.

Young people blessed with such skills apparently are not sticking around in sufficient numbers. New U.S. census data show that between 2008 and 2010, amid this prolonged recession, many adults 25 to 34 did not move. But those who did headed west, not east and not southeast.

The top three cities with the greatest net gains in young adults were Denver, Houston and Dallas. Cities losing the most young adults during that period are Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Miami ranked 5th with the greatest outflow (5,724) of young adults in that period.

To be fair, the Florida economy has been hit harder than many other parts of the country. That offers a partial explanation of why young Floridians are heading west. Not only is the jobless rate in Florida higher (at 10.6 percent) than the national rate (9 percent), but vast portions of younger adults here, made more vulnerable by coming of house-buying age during the Florida housing bubble, find they hold mortgages now larger than the value of their homes.

At the Brookings think tank, demographics expert Bill Frey blogs that while young people are moving less than before, "It is interesting to see where those who did move went." He rattles off Denver; Houston; Dallas; Seattle; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Portland, Ore. Says Frey: "All seven are places where young people can feel connected and have attachments to colleges or universities among highly educated residents."

When the U.S. economy improves, Frey predicts, the modest flow of young adults to these cities may soar. If so, we better get cooler quickly.

The trick is that young adults are looking for more than camaraderie and fun stuff to do. Most want decent-paying jobs to help cover student loans, and real career tracks. They want housing markets that won't drop them into mortgage quicksand.

A recent poll of 872 18- to 24-year-olds conducted for the Demos public policy group and the nonprofit Young Invincibles found that almost half believe they will be worse off than their parents. Over half report annual pretax incomes below $30,000 while 32 percent have income above $30,000 (12 percent did not answer).

More than half are worried about affording college or training. And 24 percent are very worried, ranking it a "10" on a scale of one to 10.

That's just one reason that Occupy Wall Street is a movement of frustration that will not go away any time soon.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

To keep young talent, Tampa Bay needs to get 'cool' before economy rebounds 11/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 10:38pm]
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