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White Plains Teens Join County's Youth Flight

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Living in Westchester comes with an inflated cost of living, according to Kevin Henderson, a junior at the White Plains High School who hopes a basketball or football  scholarship will take him to college in North Carolina or somewhere far from the county.

"It's too much money for the littlest things and they need to start building more stuff for everyone," said Henderson, 15, who moved from Yonkers to White Plains about 12 years ago. "All of my friends I know want to get out."

Many other local youth, including Milinda Alcy, 16, plan to ditch Westchester for more happening locales. Alcy, an aspiring R&B and hip hop singer, said she intends to move to California, Georgia or Orlando, Fla.

"I'm living somewhere else, somewhere warmer and with more entertainment," said Alcy.

Keeping young people in Westchester has been an increasingly important issue facing the county, according to Laurence Gottlieb, director of economic development for the office of the county executive. And the first and biggest step has only recently come into fruition.

"The first step is admitting that we have a problem," Gottlieb said.

According to U.S. Census data, Westchester County's age demographic hovers slightly above the national average by roughly one percent. The number translates into younger people leaving the county while older residents adhere to the county's old niche that Gottlieb called a "bedroom community."

"The county used to just be a place for people to sleep," he said. "But that is changing."

Rob Fusco grew up in Harrison and said he plans on attending Florida University when he graduates next June. His reason for leaving, he said, hints at a vicious cycle in Westchester.

"A lot of my friends are going down south," he said. "I don't want to be left alone here with my grandparents."

The issue is a featured talking point for county business organizations and was a pivotal short-term goal in a recent Business Council of Westchester report .

Gottlieb said the south has proven to be a popular location for young people leaving Westchester, particularly Austin, TX. Popular and attractive events such as music festivals like South by Southwest have become staples of the region and Gottlieb said the county could learn to adapt similar initiatives to make the area more appealing for younger demographics.

"The music festival in Austin is one of the hottest things in the state," Gottlieb said. "What's our own thing? We need to find out."

Gottlieb said Westchester's biggest problem is a failure to obtain returns on heavy investments. The county's schools are some of the most expensive in the country, with roughly $22,000 spent per student, young people then relocate after graduating and become assets to other areas.

"It's a business issue," Gottlieb said. "And Westchester needs to look at it and think about how to sell itself as a place to be."

Are you concerned about the youth flight? Do you think the county should do more to attract younger people? How effective would more affordable housing units and a livelier entertainment scene be? Email thoughts to strangle@thedailywhiteplains.com and we'll include your responses in future coverage.

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