However, it may be that livability is in the eye — and age — of the beholder.
Even as Sarasota lands on lists like Livability.com’s “Top 100 Places to Live,” the county is trying to figure out why millennials don’t seem to see the appeal.
That generation, born after 1980 and raised on computer technology, may prioritize elements of “livability” differently, according to Elma Felix of Sarasota County Planning and Development Services.
While Livability.com touts Sarasota’s year-round access to beaches, excellent golf courses and attractiveness to tourists, Sarasota County is wondering if better public transportation and more multifamily residential developments might not figure more prominently in what has become a poorly represented demographic.
Livability.com does not disclose methodology on its website, calling it proprietary, but says that it ranked more than 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 250,000 using 40 “data points.” The site credits Sarasota with “a thriving downtown,” craft breweries, shops and galleries.
But, even so, Sarasota doesn’t seem to be attracting younger members of the work force.
County staff looked at population pyramids and demographic projections through 2040 and found inadequate growth among millennials. That may result in a smaller labor force, among other things, according to the county planning department.
“We saw what looked like a belt tightening around the part of the pyramid where millennials are,” Felix said.
Conversely, the top of the pyramid, representing people 60 and up, is expanding rapidly.
Planning staff asked high school students at a recent young professionals’ meeting if they would stay in the area after graduating, and 80 percent said they would not.
Sarasota County wants to involve millennials in discussions related to upcoming comprehensive plan updates so they can include that generation’s needs in the revised comprehensive plan.
Felix said planners aren’t sure whether a lack of millennial-friendly attributes was caused by low demand, given that the population was underrepresented here, or if the lack of existing enticements resulted in a low millennial count.
“It may be a ‘chicken and the egg’ kind of situation,” Felix said.