Pensacola, Florida
Sunday November 23rd 2014

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Outtakes 1/24/13


Busting The Prodigal Myth
By Rick Outzen

Over the years, the Independent News has written about the talent drain as young people leave the area for better paying jobs and more opportunity in larger cities. The rebuttal has often been that the greater Pensacola area’s prodigal sons and daughters will eventually return and their sojourns shouldn’t be a matter of concern.

Richard Florida, founder of the Creative Class Group, a global think tank based in Washington, D.C. and author of “Rise of the Creative Class,” is blunt.

“Many cities think they can lure young people back as they get older and have families,” he wrote recently in The Atlantic magazine, “and while this may work to a certain extent, the simple math suggests they can never recoup their losses of young people.”

The math for Escambia County is startling, and overlooked by our elected officials. No one has addressed the 2010 Census because the numbers show a community in decline.

The “Prodigal Return” is another Pensacola myth. Our young adults aren’t returning, at least not in the numbers that they leave. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Escambia County lost from 2000 to 2010 13,647 people in the 30-44 age group.

And before you ask—no, they didn’t all move to Santa Rosa County, which only had an increase of 221 people in that age group.

What can we do? Richard Florida recommends that we figure out ways to retain that age group. We need a robust job market that pays more than $8 or $10 an hour and has a plethora of employment choices. They want to be around other people their age, which, of course, offers more dating opportunities.

The other issues are: safe neighborhoods, affordable housing and, when they start having kids, good public schools. All three are challenges for this community.

Florida says, “Every city, every neighborhood, every place has people and assets to build from.”

I agree and I love this place. We have fantastic people—friendly, hospitable people. I hate when I hear any of the younger ones moving away. It’s a talent pool that we can’t easily refill. And the census numbers validate that we are not.

We facilitated in 2006 the formation of the Pensacola Young Professionals, but it has only been partially success in stemming the brain drain. However, it’s time for Mayor Hayward, Pensacola City Council, Escambia County Commission and the Greater Pensacola Chamber to focus on this age group that is critical to the vitality of our community.

We talk about retaining businesses. It’s time we add retention of talent to the discussion, too.