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Catawba Countyâ€™s young professionals say it will take a combination of jobs and quality-of-life improvements to keep young people from leaving the region.
In the past 10 years, the county has had a 15-percent decline in the population ages 25 to 34. In that same time period, surrounding counties have also witnessed a 25-percent decline in the younger age brackets.
The elderly population has skyrocketed throughout.
On Wednesday, members of the Hickory Young Professionals (HYP) met with city and county officials to brainstorm ideas for how to bring youth back to the area. They talked about what must come first, the chicken (jobs) or the egg (quality of life).
HYP member Matt Crouse said it may be a mixture of both.
â€śRight now, I can count six to eight of my friends that have moved to (Spartanburg, S.C.) or (Greenville, S.C.) and wonâ€™t come back," he said.
"They have fun and have easy access to entertainment and the outdoors.
Theyâ€™ve got some of those corporation things there, too, like BMW. They have some bigger businesses that take chances on younger people."
HYP member J.P. Jones said it can sometimes be difficult to compete for young people with close metropolitan areas like Charlotte and Winston-Salem close by.
â€śHickory is very consistent and itâ€™s beautiful and historic, but the big things that attract young people to other places is the unpredictability.
People like that unpredictability at younger ages,â€ť Jones said.
While many young professionals thought the â€śunpredictabilityâ€ť of Charlotte and other major cities attract students that are fresh out of college, others said Hickoryâ€™s â€śslower-pacedâ€ť and â€śreliableâ€ť lifestyle can also be used as a tool to draw new parents to the area.
â€śThe Hickory area is a wonderful place to grow up and very friendly.
Itâ€™s a great place to raise your children,â€ť said Bryan Dingler, business development director at Clark Tire & Auto in Hickory. â€śIâ€™ve been very fortunate to start a career here, but a lot of people donâ€™t have that. They have nothing holding them back from going to Charlotte, Raleigh or somewhere else.â€ť
The young professionals worked in small groups to compile a list of suggestions to improve Hickoryâ€™s young-population base. The list will be used as part of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerceâ€™s planned â€ścompetitiveness planâ€ť that area economic professionals will develop in coming months.
Some of the suggestions included better internship programs, movement in big business, outdoor venues and larger shopping areas.
â€śThis conversation is being had in every boardroom, Chamber and council in America,â€ť said Amy Powell, vice president of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce. â€śItâ€™s a big topic.â€ť
For more information on the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and its events, visit catawbachamber.org. For more information on Hickory Young Professionals, visit hyp-hickory.com.