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Why do you stay? Why do you go?

Young professionals weighed in during the We Live New York summit.
Zack Seward
Young professionals weighed in during the We Live New York summit.

On the eve of our brain drain conversation taped last week, we visited the opening reception of the We Live New York summit. We wanted to know why the young professionals in the room were here. Not "here" as in Ithaca, where the conference was held, but "here" as in upstate New York. We also wanted to know what tempted them to leave.

Here's what we found out.

Why they stay

"You know a lot of people in the area," says Ashley Sleybaugh, who plans events for Sikorsky in Central New York. "If you need something there's definitely always somebody to help you out and do it. My company is a great company. It's growing."

The great outdoors (or at least some modified version of it), as well as affordability, also figured into young people's decision making. Justin Faulkner is a student at Cornell's hospitality school, but still lives in his hometown.

"What I like about Elmira is you can have a good time and it's relatively inexpensive, and you can do it at a moment's notice," says Faulkner. "You don't need to plan out a whole trip. If you want to go golfing, you can just say 'let's go golfing.' You could go golfing right now - we almost did it last Friday when it was in the 60s."

While Justin was reaching for spring, another guest at the event, Melissa Hart, was bullish on winter. She grew up in upstate and took a detour to another, much colder place before returning to Plattsburgh.

"Moving to a place like Fairbanks, Alaska got me thinking about winter in a different context," says Hart. "You have to embrace winter when you live in a place like that. So when we moved back people were like, 'Ah cold, blah blah blah!' But we were like, 'Woo, it's mild!' You get into that different mindset. Getting into outdoor recreation is pretty key - especially where we live."

Why they go

"[I wish we had] more of a downtown, more things to do, more things to attract people to the area and keep people in the area," says Sleybaugh. "I think that there's a lot of things that are already there that aren't promoted very well, or aren't marketed very well."

But ultimately, most everyone we spoke with made the same point as Pat Fiorenza, a 24-year-old masters student in public administration at Syracuse:

Fiorenza: "Jobs. Working on the economy and getting people opportunities. Making it easy to start a business. And anything related to employment is huge. A lot of my friends who've graduated from college haven't been able to find positions, so they go to Boston or they go to New York or to D.C. And they say, 'I'm going to go back. I'll be back.' But then they get tied up with their careers and it's a little bit longer [before they] come back. Innovation Trail: "So you can't do it without the jobs." Fiorenza: "Yeah, absolutely."

If you've been listening to our brain drain series (and it's not too late - radio is fleeting but the Internet is forever!) and want to weigh in, here's your chance. Talk back below.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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