Dec. 4, 2014

Stemming the outflow of upstate New York's young people

John Sipple
Jason Koski/University Photography
John Sipple, professor of development sociology, speaks at a 2014 Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) Research Roundtable Luncheon.

Young people regularly leave upstate New York, and they are not being replaced by incoming young professionals. The exodus of young people and strategies to reverse this trend were discussed Dec. 2 on campus at “Youth Retention and Attraction in New York: A Research-based Approach Through Student-Community-University Engagement.”

John Sipple, associate professor in Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology, used data from Cornell’s Program on Applied Demographics to highlight the young adult demographic. “What happens when kids turn 23, 24, 25 – where are they locating?” he asked. “What’s really relevant for the conversation today is the “in-migration” and the “out-migration” of kids and adults at different ages.”

These rates are strongly affected by messages that upstate children receive growing up, said Sipple, who noted that we internalize signals from neighborhood adults as well as actual and perceived economic characteristics of communities and regions. These factors become the basis for our decision-making about where to live later on in our lives.

With respect to upstate New York, Sipple said, “the problem is not so much brain drain, or [that] people are leaving at unusually high numbers. People are leaving in regular, pretty typical, rates.” But the rate at which people move into upstate New York is “really extraordinarily low. … Upstate New York really suffers from a lack of in-migration, which signals a very different problem and a very different set of solutions.”

Heidi Mouillesseaux-Kunzman of Cornell’s Community and Regional Development Institute (CaRDI) said young people often are simply not engaged enough and are not receiving enough information about opportunities to remain upstate. Research suggests that one of the messages young people receive is that they need to leave to be successful. She reiterated the importance of delivering the right messages to youth as they mature to ensure that young people know their neighborhoods and communities have opportunities available to them and that they have an important role to play in creating additional ones.

The current message to youth is, “Move away [or don’t come to] upstate New York,” and this needs to change, panelists said. Lecture attendees agreed that “young people provide energy, new ideas and enthusiasm” vital to the success and development of communities. Mouillesseaux-Kunzman said regardless of the strategy employed to attract and retain young people – whether initiating a dialogue or engaging in concrete efforts, such as placing them in leadership roles or teaching entrepreneurship, the effort to retain young adults has to be “deliberate and intentional.”

Eve Hens of the Genesee County Business/Education Alliance spoke about Genesee County’s attempts to retain and attract young adults to the area, and she agreed that such efforts must be “deliberate” initiatives. Her organization is dedicated to informing students that “there are jobs and there are opportunities in our region, and to make sure that students [are] getting an accurate message about the economic health of the region,” she explained.

“We help the schools and businesses work together,” Hens said. “We create career mechanism workforce development programming. It is a true partnership [between Genesee County schools and businesses]. We also work with other organizations in the community … to identify gaps in training programs and employment and try to fill them.”

Hens spoke about several of her organization’s initiatives including job shadowing, mock interviews and a career exploration summer camp – all efforts, she noted, to create awareness among youth of jobs and careers available to them locally and to help young adults plan for their futures.

The CaRDI Research Roundtable Luncheon was co-sponsored by the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Institute for Global Development.

Aaron Coven ’16 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.