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Youth Look to Leave County after Graduation

OSSINING, N.Y. -- As president of the Ossining Parent, Teacher and Student Association, Rachel Simon has deep roots in the community. Her 19-year-old daughter, however, recently moved to New York City to attend Hunter College and Simon is not sure her daughter will return to Ossining after graduation. 

"I think it's a combination of things," Simon said. "First you don't want to live where you grew up because you want to be really independent and make a place for yourself. And then the cost of living here, even in places like Ossining and Yonkers which are less than Briarcliff or Bronxville, is still really expensive."

Keeping young people from leaving Westchester has been an increasingly important issue facing the county, according to Laurence Gottlieb, director of economic development for Westchester County.

"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."

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 places such as Austin, Texas. 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. With the county's schools some of the most expensive in the country with roughly $5,000 to $8,000 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."

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