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Columbus Officials Hope New Initiative Will Retain Young Talent

Even though 20,000 students graduate from colleges and universities in and around Franklin County each year, about two-thirds of them leave the state. The Columbus City Council hopes a new program will attract and keep young professionals in the city.

"It's a family town. It's good if you have a family, but I don't have a family, children, rather. So I just want to go away."

That's some of the mindset Columbus officials face when trying to recruit and retain young talent and professionals. The Columbus City Council will decide whether to spend $85,000 to pay for a program called the Young Professionals Initiative. The city has hired a consultant to study Columbus' young professionals over the next year or so, and to make suggestions on how to keep them here.

But with roughly 13,000 Central Ohio graduates leaving the state each year, officials and consultants appear to have their work cut out for them.

28-year-old Jamie Carlton is an attorney who just moved to Portland, Oregon from Columbus. Carlton lived in Columbus for two years following law school in Akron, and said at the time it was the most livable city in the state. But she said she and her boyfriend were looking for something more liberal.

"I think Columbus is very progressive for a Midwest city. I think it does a great job. I'm not sure it's enough for us. We tend to be pretty progressive. We really like to be outdoors, and hiking, just really being out there. And Columbus didn't always offer that," Carlton said.

Despite not being licensed to practice law in Oregon, and having no jobs lined up, Carlton and her boyfriend sold one of their cars and moved. She said she is taking advantage of the light rail and streetcar systems in Portland, something she said would be beneficial to Columbus.

"I think people my age want mobility; people who are environmentally conscious don't want to rely all the time on their cars. And I know that was something for us, we kind of felt slaves to our cars there," Carlton said.

While light rail plans have been scraped, streetcars are being considered for the downtown area.

But not all young professionals feel the same way as Carlton. Rhea Polen is a 22-year-old paralegal. Polen, who's from southeast Ohio, said she moved to Columbus because there were more job opportunities than in her hometown. And so far she likes the city.

"As a young person I would say my favorite thing is the trendy communities such as the Short North, the Brewery District and German Village where I reside," Polen said.

And Polen had a few words for young people thinking about moving from Columbus.

"It's an excellent place to be. Just open your eyes and look around. It's a great city," Polen said. 26-year-old Matthew Hanson attended graduate school at Ohio State University. Although Hanson is from Pittsburg, he chose to work in Columbus.

"The housing's inexpensive. There's decent night life going on. The Short North is awesome. I live on High Street right in the Short North I can walk everywhere I want to and visit shops and restaurants and go out to the bars at night. It's a fun place to live," Hansen said.

Consultants will be in Columbus over the next year to review living factors for young professionals such as the earning index, night life and transportation. The Greater Columbus Arts Council and Experience Columbus have also pledged money for the effort.