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Posted January 10, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Commission looking at ways to retain young professionals

Survey suggests room for improvement

By Garren Shipley -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- Young professionals in Winchester and Frederick County are generally happy and plan to stay in the region.

But there are areas where the community needs to improve in order to hold on to a key segment of the population, according to a Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission survey, the results of which were released Friday.

"Research tells you time in and time out that a community's ability to maintain and grow its population of young professionals is going, to a large extent, [to] indicate your success economically going forward," said Patrick Barker, the commission's executive director.

Said simply, America's population is aging, and localities that maintain a base of 25- to 44-year-old professionals will be much better situated to compete in the global economy going forward.

So just who are the young professionals in Winchester and Frederick County?

According to the survey, they're by and large married with one or two children. They have a bachelor's degree, work inside the city limits and make anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 per year.

Most have lived in the area for more than 10 years, but some 23 percent have been here for less than five years.

Keeping Winchester and Frederick County competitive means retaining and attracting more people in this cohort, Barker said.

"We need to understand what's working, what's not working," he said.

Things that are working are public safety and educational opportunities -- both were rated as very important, and the vast majority of people were satisfied with those facets of local life.

"Overall, those young professionals were satisfied with what the community had to offer," Barker said.

Some of the things that need improvement include public recreation opportunities, entertainment and retail options.

"This is trying to show you some of the homework that we have to do," he said.

Most who took the survey are satisfied enough with life here to remain.

The majority said they were in Winchester and Frederick for the long haul. Some 57.2 percent agreed with the statement "I really like it here and intend to say as long as I can."

But not everyone is convinced. Another 19.8 percent indicated they were "not really attached to the community," and 18 percent hadn't made up their minds.

Just under 5 percent of those surveyed replied, "I'll leave the first chance I get."

Still, only about half of those here for the long term said they'd recommend the area to friends or family members.

That demonstrates that the community has yet to convince some shorter-term residents that Winchester and Frederick are where they need to stay.

Barker said the next step for the study is to hold open-discussion meetings with young professional groups to get more specific input about what Winchester and Frederick County need to become more attractive.

* Contact Garren Shipley at gshipley@nvdaily.com

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