Most of Dayton’s young adults and newer arrivals believe the city is headed in the right direction, and many think it’s a good place to live, a citywide survey found.
But that does not mean they plan to stick around. Many say they are not likely or don’t know if they will remain in the Gem City.
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Dayton needs to hold onto its young talent and professionals because they are essential to the local economy now and in the future, said Holly Allen, marketing and communications director for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Many pack their bags to leave for supposed greener pastures, believing it’s the best way to advance their careers and have a better life.
But the region has abundant professional opportunities that people don’t always know about, especially if they are not taking advantage of networking opportunities and improving their professional and social connections, Allen said.
“With those connections in place, I think it would be much harder for a young person to leave Dayton behind for an unknown opportunity elsewhere,” Allen said.
Some residents don’t realize how affordable Dayton is, which makes it possible to have a good quality of life, especially as the city adds the same kinds of living options, amenities and social and recreational activities that make other markets attractive destinations, local community members say.
Almost 61% of Dayton adults under 35 say the city is headed in the right direction, according to the detailed results of the 2019 citywide survey that are now available online for review.
That’s far higher optimism than other age groups. About 45% of residents ages 35 to 49 and half of residents 65 and older feel the same way.
About 68% of newer residents — those who have lived in Dayton less than a decade — say the city is on the right track. By comparison, less than 52% of residents of longer tenures share that upbeat view.
But survey results also show that only about 52% of residents who have lived in Dayton less than 10 years say they are likely to remain. Less than 47% of adult residents under 35 say they are likely to stay.
Many people leave Dayton for job opportunities.
National research shows that younger generations of workers view their professional trajectories much differently than previous generations, because gone are the days when individuals worked their entire professional careers for one company, said Allen, with the chamber of commerce.
Millennials want to make big career moves quickly, and many think they have to leave the region to make that happen, she said.
But workforce-attraction organizations like the chamber of commerce are trying to create a “net” to keep young talent here, and networking is a major piece of that, she said.
Through groups like Generation Dayton and chamber events, young professionals can get to know business leaders and decision makers and learn about other job opportunities and local companies’ workplace cultures, she said.
Generation Dayton is a young professionals group that focuses on networking and professional development.
Career advancement is possible without having to pack up and move elsewhere — it may just be with another employer, or it may require additional training or education that leads to a promotion, officials say.
The Gem City certainly is not everyone’s dream home.
Dayton is a mid-sized city in the Midwest, and many other places offer brighter lights and more glamorous lifestyles and amenities.
With a population of about 140,823 people, Dayton is the 190th largest U.S. city, according to the U.S. Census.
Ohio has several bigger markets.
Young residents also may feel drawn to “sexier” cities that boast coastlines and beautiful, year-round weather, Allen said.
But affordability is a major factor millennials consider when deciding where to live, and Dayton definitely is a good value and has a very low cost of living, Allen said.
Last year, the Dayton metro area’s housing costs were the 43rd cheapest out of 266 urban areas nationwide, according to data from the C2ER Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
Dayton’s overall cost of living score was 72nd cheapest among metro areas, and was lower than every other Ohio urban area except Lima (42nd cheapest), the index shows.
Dayton’s affordable housing might explain why the region has a fairly high share of younger homebuyers.
Millennials accounted for about 52.44% of mortgage loan originations in the Dayton metro area in the fourth quarter of 2019, ranking it 24th out of the 100 largest metros for its share of millennial home loans, according to research by Realtor.com. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996.
Young adults in Dayton are not afraid to commit to the region and call it home, which seems like the real test of their satisfaction with it as a place to live, Allen said.
“Anecdotally, we’ve heard many stories from Generation Dayton members who moved away from Dayton because they were pulled to larger metro areas on the coasts but quickly learned that life was actually better for them in Dayton, and they returned,” Allen said.
Groups like Generation Dayton, UpDayton, Dayton Inspires, Dayton Sportcial and Gem City Social Sports are trying to provide young professionals with social and recreation opportunities that get them to buy in or get more involved in the community.
Dayton residents under 35 are looking for more amenities and things to do close to where they live, and the city has many projects in the works in the downtown area that will make it a more attractive home, said Kelsey Calderone, co-owner of Gem City Social Sports. She is also opening a new business in the Fire Blocks District.
“For me, I have made it my goal to help Dayton get to the point that people of every age are building their lives and staying in Dayton for many years,” she said. “As adults it’s hard to feel a sense of belonging or home when you don’t have a support system within your city. I am striving to break those boundaries in Dayton, and in doing so, Dayton has truly become my home.”
Lauren White, UpDayton’s executive director, said Dayton has a lot more going on today than it did 11 years ago, when her organization was first formed.
Hundreds of new apartments have opened downtown and many more are in the works.
There’s new recreational opportunities, especially focused around the riverfront, and new entertainment options are opening up.
And a growing number of businesses are moving downtown into renovated spaces, offering their employees a walkable live, work, play experience.
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