Submitted by Colleen Campbell, Intern, Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership
I remember walking into Voodoo in December with a small group of friends. We were all home for winter break, and as we headed into our final semester of college, we couldn’t stop talking about our post-graduation plans.
Since then, my friend Abby has remained in Erie to complete the nursing program at Gannon University. The other two, however, are now long gone—having accepted incredible job offers in Washington, DC.
Many of us look at Erie and wonder why more college graduates aren’t coming back. Research suggests that this age group of residents is particularly important to attract, however, Erie has done little to engage us in networking and career opportunities before we have made the decision to leave. Personally, I love Erie and I could never see myself spending the rest of my life anywhere else; this city and its people have so much to offer. However, this isn’t the case for every 22-year-old.
Coming out of my freshman year at Gettysburg College, I was fortunate enough to have made a contact a Knox Law, leading to my first internship. After that, however, I relied on cold-calls and the generosity of Erie businesses and non-profits to allow me to spend my summers working downtown. I knew that I wanted to build a career here, but for students that are still unsure, it is much easier to relocate for internships in Philadelphia, Boston, or Baltimore, accepting a grant from their institution to cover summer living expenses.
The truth is, while Erie offers extensive support to members of the business community through programs such as Young Erie Professionals and Business After Hours, it does little to attract and include students who have not yet established their five-year plan. In other words, a number of undecided students may easily be persuaded to look for work in Erie (or elsewhere), provided a network of opportunities and assets within the city are marketed to them.
Below are three talent attraction strategies that have served to enliven local workforces across the country. I challenge our community to consider an active role in bringing college graduates back to Erie, remembering that scholars including economists, computer scientists, and historians are resources that a city must compete for.
In recent years, Erie has extensively researched, analyzed, and utilized workforce data, however investigation on this matter may be extended to include an emerging generation of residents. Perhaps there is value in surveying local students as they prepare to move forward from high school or to check in with them and offer support if they have decided to leave for college.
In 2015, the Metro Atlanta Chamber funded an initiative to extensively research the perception of the region among the workforce, examining the variation in perspective among differing ages, genders, and races of residents, and non-locals. When a city takes action to understand the perspective of its existing and potential residents, it is better able to cater to the members of the workforce that it seeks to attract.
Career development begins with experience. As early as high school, students may consider whether a city provides prospects for them to learn and grow, and it is the job of the community and local organizations to compete with experiences that are available elsewhere.
The Youth Development Institute of New York City has established a successful Career Internship Network in which members, including a variety of cultural institutions such as museums, libraries, and historical societies, offer experiential opportunities to local high school students. This kind of program not only serves to create a talented workforce but also initiates connections and inspires individuals to build a future in a community in which they have established their roots. In Erie, this may expand to include internship opportunities with local firms for local high school students, Erie graduates attending schools locally and across the country, and non-local college students studying in Erie.
Research suggests that above all else, young people value community quality and affordability when choosing a place to live. Fortunately, these may both be considered two of Erie’s greatest assets! While in the past Erie has made extensive efforts to advertise to professionals looking to relocate, organizations may consider actively reaching out and marketing to local college students as a strategy of population retention.
Pittsburgh, PA has been acknowledged in multiple studies for its ability to attract new, young residents on premises of its affordability and exciting night life. In addition, the city has been highlighted for its ability to bring back “Boomerang” residents who left Pittsburgh to build their careers, but return for opportunities to work, purchase a home, and participate in the community.
For over 20 years, the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project has served to create an inclusive and engaging community, offering jobs, a calendar of activities available to the public, and a strong policy position for positive and equitable growth. This is however just one of many thriving organizations in Pittsburgh, which offers messages and opportunities in support of younger voices.
With its thriving non-profit and philanthropic atmosphere and a cost of living which is nearly 19 percent less expensive than that of Pittsburgh (a city which has been identified as one of the most affordable places to live within the country), the city of Erie has unbelievable potential to compete with larger cities. The future of our workforce, however, depends on our ability to market community assets to individuals looking for a place to develop a career.