Christy Schmitz, 23, is a University of Florida grad student with a spry confidence and an electric resume to match. Obscene undergrad GPA. Manchester Business school in England. A marketing stint with Macy's in New York.
And now that she is just a few months from handing in her thesis, sealing the deal on years preparing for the big leap — her first professional job — the international business major faces a tough choice.
She wants to wholly immerse herself in that perfect career. But she also loves Tampa, her home. Combining the two, though, just isn't something she sees working out.
"There's not a lot of a job opportunities here that are really appealing," Schmitz said. "And people at this milestone in their lives want change. They want something exciting."
And excitement — along with a slew of other issues like affordable housing and cutting-edge employers — just aren't things many young professionals are seeing in abundance around Tampa. Neither are the folks who pass judgment on such things.
Forbes magazine this month named Tampa the worst major metro area for young professionals in America — for the second year in a row.
The magazine cited Tampa's older population, limited number of high-paying jobs and a lackluster educational system as turnoffs for the nation's best and brightest young workers.
While no studies exist to prove Tampa is headed for a derailment due to too few 20-somethings, critics say the drag is already apparent, and the groups charged with luring more young people to the area are making the situation worse.
At 39, James Raulerson, a public relations professional in Clearwater, is about to drop the "young" from his professional status. But half a decade ago, when many cities were adopting the mantra of regional economist Richard Florida and embracing the energy of youth, art and culture, Raulerson was on the movement's leading edge. The former president of the Dali museum's Zodiac cultural program and a founding member of other groups for young professionals, Raulerson saw a different kind of Tampa Bay emerging.
But now, he says, he sees it stagnating.
"You have a lot of young people who are eager, but they're getting pushed back," he said. "You go to a lot of these young professional groups' meetings, and all the young people have great ideas, but all these 'adults' are saying, 'No, let's wait on that — here's what we think we should do.' "
Raulerson and others have said that instead of tackling the issues relevant to burgeoning area professionals, the chamber of commerce groups meant to mobilize young people are mere social clubs.
"A lot of people get turned off because nothing is being done, no progress is being made on things like affordable housing, insurance costs and transportation," Raulerson said. "Those issues get pushed aside for things like, 'Let's have a cocktail party.'"
A Web site lampooning groups like Emerge Tampa Bay, the area's leading young professional organization, has sprung up. The site, emergetampabay.com, plays off Emerge Tampa's Web site, www.emergetampa.com, and lists a phony weekly agenda, with items including "Friday — Another boring committee meeting where nothing gets done."
Emerge Tampa delegates respond to the critics with a generalized "all's well," and have focused most of their efforts on growing membership numbers and networking opportunities.
"Many of the young professionals in the Tampa Bay area are facing challenges facing all people," said Emerge program chair Candace Cusseaux. "The challenges aren't unique to the Tampa Bay area."
But one predictor of how Tampa's young professionals are faring is telling.
U.S. Census data show the population for the Tampa Bay metro area grew by 8.9 percent between 2000 and 2006, while the population growth of those ages 22 to 34 was flat, shrinking by 0.02 percent.
Still, groups like Emerge are optimistic, citing good climate and outdoor activities as lures for young professionals.
"It's really a question of perception vs. reality. And there are opportunities in Tampa Bay," Cusseaux said.
But whatever the reality may be, perception is still influencing career decisions.
"I don't want to settle for just any position," said Schmitz, the UF grad student. "I want to direct my degree and channel my creativity to a company that I believe in."
Dominick Tao, 22, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.