WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – White Plains is a model for making Westchester County more appealing to young professionals, said Marsha Gordon, president of the Business Council of Westchester.
The Business Council has identified “youth flight” – a trend that has seen many young people leave the county after they go through its schooling system – as a major issue facing Westchester. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Westchester County's age demographic is slightly above the national average, by about 1 percent.
“We’re competing on a national level for the hearts and minds of young professionals,” said Laurence Gottlieb, director of the Westchester County Office of Economic Development.
A recent series of focus groups asked students and young professionals for the pros and cons of living in Westchester County. It revealed that White Plains ranked as the top city in the area they wanted to live in, and is “the model for what they saw as attractive about Westchester County,” Gordon said.
The focus groups most liked White Plains’ nightlife, restaurants, family activities, diversity and proximity to Manhattan.
This summer, the city introduced the county’s first bike lanes and Zipcars and shut down Court Street for a mega outdoor yoga class that drew about 400 people. Mayor Thomas Roach said he wants to hold more events to further raise the city's profile.
Businesses want to be where the talent is, and young talent wants to live in “cool and affordable places,” said Meg Walker, vice president of Project for Public Spaces, a group working with county business groups to help transform Westchester into a hot spot. Many of the county’s youth have moved to Austin, Texas or North Carolina because, she said, it’s more affordable and entertaining.
“We need to create places where young people really want to live and play as well as work,” Walker said.
Julie Hung, 16, plans to go to college in Boston, and believes young people leave not because of what Westchester lacks, but because they want to be mobile.
“It’s a highly mobile workforce,” Gottlieb said. “They’re not necessarily anchored to a particular area, unless they want to be. Once you have them here, you have to offer the lifestyle that they feel is conducive to their personal development.”