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Fun Draws Them; Jobs Keep Them

October 29, 2005

June Archer produces music records in New York, lives in New Jersey and promotes networking events for young professionals in Connecticut.

The 33-year-old Hartford native - a Central Connecticut State University graduate - also keeps a residence downtown. He believes if the region can offer an active social scene for the 21- to 34-year-old crowd, it can go a long way in retaining them when they begin looking for work.

A recently released economic study bemoaning Connecticut's miserable job generation over the past 15 years - ranking 43rd among the 50 states - will certainly become fodder for next year's gubernatorial elections.

But an underreported fallout from the trend is equally troubling - the evaporation of the state's young professionals.

From 1990 to 2000, Connecticut had the largest shrinkage in the 18- to 34-year-old group of any state in the country, according to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center Inc. More than 200,000 left the state from this key demographic - a sector that not only makes advertisers drool, but is essential in attracting companies looking to relocate.

What's left is an aging state renowned for its high taxes, top-flight education and as a great place to raise a family. But if you're young, single and upwardly mobile, living here can be a bummer.

"In one sense, I'm very surprised, but in another sense I'm not," Archer said. "There's not enough going on in the area to keep that demographic."

Hang on. Things are beginning to change. Across the Hartford region and beyond, events for young professionals are attracting big crowds.

Archer has promoted several popular events in the city, including Hot Chocolate Soul at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, with music, comedy, poetry and a live band for urban professionals. He's also put on a Hartford Life networking event at the former G. Fox building. Other social events, promoted by others and geared specifically for young, single professionals, include Salsa Nights in the Hartford region and New Haven; and First Fridays in Glastonbury, Hartford and East Windsor.

This week at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, they had to turn folks away as more than 1,000 mostly young professionals attended its quarterly "Collage" event, which uses art exhibitions, music and libations to broaden the museum's audience.

While young people want to work hard and play even harder, the singles I talked to also want to establish roots. Affordable housing, real public transportation and diverse entertainment options would help balance the lack of jobs. If those amenities are in place, just imagine what happens when the economy turns for the better.

"What people are looking for is a sense of community," said Michael Gannon, 26, who works at The Hartford in corporate relations. "You can feel isolated here as a young person. We're not ready for the picket fence yet, but that doesn't mean we need more bars to go to - quite the opposite."

Alison Costa, 28, is the marketing coordinator for the Hartford Image Project, which is trying to change the image of the capital city into one where folks feel compelled to live, work and play. The target market is those 21 to 35. She sat with a group of young professionals at the Pour House Restaurant in Hartford last Monday. Besides social and volunteer outlets, the group also expressed a need for mentors to help them navigate work - and life.

Javon Witter and Delroy Ross, both 22 and from Bloomfield, who graduated from the University of Connecticut, are so bullish on the prospects for young professionals in the region that they've partnered on a website business - www.hartfordbuzz.com.

"People say, `Oh, Hartford has nothing,' so we went out and did all this research to show people that there are things to do," Ross said.

For example, tonight at the Zen Bar in Farmington, there is a masquerade party. Witter and Ross also have promoted a "White" party at Club Blu in Hartford, where everybody dresses in white.

Maybe the next resource center report will show that from 2000 to 2010, Connecticut started to attract, instead of repel, its next generation of leaders.

But entertainment alone won't cut it.

It's going to take work.

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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