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Trigaux: Tampa Bay needs to attract the 'Young and the Restless'

Tampa Bay ought to pool its smartest demographic and marketing experts and come up with a fresh, focused campaign to recruit well-educated young adults to this metro area. That will work, of course, only if we can offer more and better jobs here. Those jobs are coming, but too slowly.

So slowly that I am worried too many college grads ignore us and follow the herd to overhyped cities like Washington, D.C., or Denver with cool reputations for those seeking strong career opportunities and cities with style.

If we don't tell young adults what Tampa Bay's got now — not 20 years ago — most won't give us a second thought. From a distance, Tampa Bay still reeks of RetirementVille, even though it no longer deserves the lopsided reputation.

Especially in our downtown areas. A study dubbed "The Young and the Restless and the Nation's Cities," released Monday by the new think tank City Observatory, shows that more 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree or higher level of education are moving to close-in neighborhoods of large metro areas.

"This migration is fueling economic growth and urban revitalization," the study says. We can see it in downtown Tampa and Channelside, in downtown St. Petersburg and a bit so far in Clearwater.

How do we compare in this megatrend to other large metro areas? Yes, Tampa Bay is adding better-educated young adults at a robust clip. But the region is building from such a small base of the general population that it still lags behind other areas perceived as cooler places to live.

From 2000 to 2012, Tampa Bay's population of 25- to 34-year-olds with four-year college degrees grew 40.6 percent to 104,532. That's a gain of just over 30,000 young adults.

Only 11 of the 50 other metro areas had a bigger percentage of growth. But 18 other metro areas outgrew Tampa Bay by sheer number of young, college-educated men and women.

Why do we care about this particular study? It was done by Joe Cortright, the same regional economist who a decade ago authored a "Young and the Restless" study on this area's educated young. That study found that Tampa Bay was perceived as a place where you spend the last part of your life.

A lot has changed here since 2004. Even if progress is slower than many might like.

In the new study, Detroit was the only metro area of the 51 to see a decline (nearly 19,000) in college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds. Yet Detroit still has a larger number of young college grads than Tampa Bay.

So how about a clever marketing campaign to reintroduce Tampa Bay to talented and aspiring young adults?

I'll even get the ball rolling with a suggested slogan:

Tampa Bay: We're not Detroit.

Surely someone can come up with something better.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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