March 28, 2013

Editorial: Pay attention to young people


---- — Communities everywhere are trying to figure out how to keep young people from leaving. The best idea: Ask the young people. And really listen to what they say.

The departure of that generation from any community is a serious issue, and rural areas have special challenges. The wisdom of older citizens provides a solid foundation, but younger residents bring verve, fresh ideas and new perspective.

If they can’t find jobs and cultural and recreational interests, they won’t stay. And all of those attributes are harder to come by in rural areas with more limited resources, employers and opportunities.

North Country communities need to minister to the needs of longtime residents — but they also must focus on turning young people into the longtime residents of the future.

If that doesn’t happen, more than the culture of a community will suffer; its economic vitality will also decline. We need young professionals in local business, health care, education — all fields.

If you think current North Country leaders have all the answers, you are mistaken. Most of them are truly eager to keep young professionals — recognizing the importance to their communities — but in this case, it is important that they do more listening than talking.

That opportunity is available this evening, thanks to Adirondack Young Professionals. The group will host its sixth-annual Economic Forum at 5:45 p.m. at Olive Ridley in Plattsburgh with the focus on this question: “How can we attract and retain young professionals through career development, business expansion and cultural advancement?”

Panelists — not all of whom qualify as young, we gently point out — will address the issue, and light fare and a cash bar are available. You don’t have to be a member of the group to attend, so we encourage both interested young people and established leaders to participate in this important discussion.

Press-Republican Staff Photographer Kelli Catana provided an interesting multi-media report last Sunday called “A Youthful Workplace,” in which young professionals from Plattsburgh talked in print and on video about what they love about this area and how they would like to see it change and grow. These were people who have established themselves in the community and have a passion for this region.

It was clear from the report that they think the North Country undersells its attributes, that negativity about the area is too pervasive, that people should take the perspective that quality counts more than quantity. They talked about how it is sometimes hard to get people on board for change.

To achieve the goal of curbing the “brain drain,” we need a diversity of ideas, and that requires drawing suggestions from a wider range of community citizens. The instigation needs to flow from women and men, from free-thinkers and traditionalists and from people of varied ethnicities.

The forum tonight can be a step toward a community that embraces change.

Our advice: Listen up.