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Not Back To The Suburbs!

Young Workers Want To Be In TheThick Of Things, Not An Office Park

April 6, 2007

Hartford is likely to lose MetLife to Bloomfield. Given the bottom line, this should come as no surprise. Many MetLife employees may miss downtown's restaurants and CityPlace's view. Some might even wax nostalgic for lunchtime strolls, rather than a drive to some strip-mall sandwich shop. That is if they decide to leave the building at all, what with the selection in the cafeteria. In the end, however, even those few disheartened souls will find solace: free parking.

But time will tell - if it has not already - that the short-term benefit to the bottom line is not worth the long-term cost to the talent pool.

It is a right of passage for young people to want to "get out of this place." Usually "this place" is a quintessential suburb with little or nothing for youth to do. In Connecticut, "this place" is the entire state. The whole of Connecticut is, in fact, fast becoming that quintessential suburb. It's little wonder then that, after I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2003, I waved goodbye to so many friends.

They bolted for Boston and New York. It was not jobs that lured them. In fact, many arrived unemployed and worked as unpaid interns. Those without well-heeled parents took second jobs to pay the extraordinary rents commanded for apartments that make college dorms look like suites at the Ritz. Such suffering, however, was a small price to pay for an endless array of bars, nightclubs, theaters, museums, shops and, of course, other young people.

Most who stayed behind did find jobs. They often found better work than our city friends. But many of those jobs were in corporate office parks similar to Cigna's Bloomfield campus. And, unimpressed by Hartford's lack of "things to do" and discouraged by its crime rate, they settled in Manchester, shopped for necessities at Target and spent most of their weekends -and money - in New York and Boston.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association recently ran a television advertisement touting the need for jobs and lower living costs to keep young talent in the state. It goes without saying that these are two crucial components in ending the brain drain. We must realize, however, that many college graduates actually flee Connecticut for costlier places and lower-paying jobs.

They do not want a car, let alone free parking. They want to walk to lunch, to happy hour and to their apartment. They want to meet for Sunday brunch at a cafe, not Denny's. They want to shop at young designers' markets, not Macy's. They want to live around other young people in a vibrant city. They do not want to be isolated in a suburb. They have been there and done that; that is where they grew up.

What the business association's commercial missed is that a key - if not the biggest - part of the solution to Connecticut's brain drain is to keep businesses in the state's cities, including its capital. Hartford is poised for a renaissance, with intrepid young professionals ready to make the most of its new apartments and existing charm.

But getting in a car to drive to Bloomfield defeats the point of living in downtown Hartford.

This is not a plea to MetLife to ignore the bottom line. This is a plea to the state of Connecticut to change the bottom line by investing in mass transportation, supporting regional planning and fixing our broken property tax scheme. Failing to save Hartford will leave young talent without a reason to stay in Connecticut, and they will continue to look for their ticket - more likely, their ride - out of "this place."

Mathew P. Jasinski, 25, of Hartford graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 2006 and is an attorney.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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