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Rye College Grad Needs A More Happening Place

RYE, N.Y. -- Joe Klass just graduated from college and is back home for the summer, and as far as he is concerned, that's as long as he is planning to stay.

"I'm looking to move to D.C.," said Klass, 22, who grew up in Rye and went to Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. "I like that city. There are a lot of people and there's always something to do."

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."

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, 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 school districts among some of the most expensive in the United States -- 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."

It probably won’t be soon enough for 20-somethings like Klass. For him, Rye was a nice place to grow up, but he said the pace is a bit too slow for him nowadays.

“It’s just not for me,” he said.

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