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Published on February 28th, 2017 | by Chris Settineri

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Why Don’t You Stay?: Convincing Students to Stay in Lakeland Post-grad

In 2016 Lakeland Regional Medical Center was ranked as the busiest single site ER in the country. For aspiring nurses and medical practitioners, this seems like good news–the busier an area, the more jobs will be available.

Why then is it that most students seem turned off by the idea of staying in Lakeland after college?

“I love Lakeland, but when it comes to meeting new people and exploring new places, that’s what I want to do when I get out of college. I don’t think Lakeland is the place to do that,” Ashley Allen said.Lakeland Article Image

However many students still leave even with the possibility of a job. Recently there has been a push to make Lakeland a more desirable place to live and work.

With the advent of Y Lakeland, Catapult, and other media and organizations focused on attracting and keeping young talent in Lakeland, the city has been transformed from a small quiet town to a young vibrant city with a lot to do.

The city does offer a lot of unique and attractive amenities to the young professional’s crowd. Its location at the heart of central Florida gives Lakeland residents the ability to get to Orlando or Tampa with a short drive on I-4.

The small businesses and events in Lakeland offer a lot to do. Silver Moon Drive in Movie Theatre, 801 E. Main, Black and Brew, Concord Coffee, First Friday’s, and the Polk Museum of Art are just a few of the small businesses focused of Lakeland’s community culture.

For young entrepreneurs Catapult is a unique business incubator that can help startups and allows for creative collaboration between businesses.

“Catapult provides an environment where people can experiment, collaborate, and test out new ideas and concepts,” Mark Cabrera, CFO of Saddle Creek Logistics and Catapult Mentor, said. “For students we try to provide a place where they can come start their business and hopefully become successful and decide to stick around for the long term. When our users are successful, the whole community benefits from a  stronger local economy.”

Even with all of the opportunities, many students still choose to leave after their four years.

The problem is a two-part issue, first and foremost is that Lakeland’s demographics in terms of income profiles are not the best, this is in large part due to the fact that many people who live in Lakeland work in either Tampa or Orlando.

According to US Census 2015, the median household income in Lakeland Florida as of 2015 was just $39,706, which is almost 20 percent behind the country at $53,889. Almost 20 percent of Lakeland residents live below the poverty line versus 13 percent nationwide. These stats don’t bode well for career growth.

Second is that many students don’t get out and explore Lakeland and instead opt to travel to Orlando or Tampa for fun.

Lakeland’s small businesses and events are geared toward the younger crowd, but if the young targeted crowd is not in attendance, then it doesn’t matter.

“In order to attract more talent and ultimately more money to Lakeland, the city and county need to start developing incentives for young college grads to stay,” Gary Ralston, managing partner at Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler said. “Doing so will over time increase the median income as well as raise demand for things like real estate, goods, and services. That will be good for business, the city, and its citizens.”

FSC does do a good job at trying to expose more students to the area with recreational and other events often taking place at different locations throughout the city.

The city of Lakeland itself though is starting to develop incentives for young people to stay, live, and work in the city.

No longer can Lakeland be looked at as a small passerby town between Orlando and Tampa, It needs to develop into its own metropolitan area that can support the needs of the younger crowd.

It is on the way there, with the advent of new businesses, events, and economic programs designed to support both businesses and individuals Lakeland is maturing and growing into a place where people can live work and play.

Related:

50 Things to do in Lakeland

Census Quick Facts

The Lakeland Ledger

US News and World Report on Lakeland


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