UPDATE: Westchester County spends roughly $22,000 per student. "When these students graduate, we invest heavily in their college education out of the area," Gottlieb said. "Then, if they move back, they start a family and move to areas where they only invest $5,000 to $8,000 per student, which means we lose all of that investment locally."
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - Keeping young people in Westchester has been an increasingly important issue facing the county, according to Laurence Gottlieb, director of economic development for the office of the county executive. And the first and biggest step has only recently come into fruition.
"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."
Rob Fusco grew up in Harrison and said he plans on attending Florida University when he graduates next June. His reason for leaving, he said, hints at a vicious cycle in Westchester.
"A lot of my friends are going down south," he said. "I don't want to be left alone here with my grandparents."
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 Austin, TX. 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 $22,000 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."
E-mail town reporter Phil Corso at PCorso@TheDailyHarrison.com .
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