Sarasota political and business leaders at the recent Sarasota Tiger Bay Club luncheon lamented the phenomenon of “brain drain.”
Ringling College of Art and Design, New College of Florida and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee continue to grow and produce new graduates within five miles of downtown Sarasota. But there were fewer than 100 voters between the ages 18 to 30 in the 2011 city election. The numbers didn’t improve in the election this year.
The numbers tell the story of a disengaged populace of young professionals.
During the Tiger Bay panel discussion, longtime homebuilder Carlos Beruff said: “If we continue to think the same way we have for the past 20-30 years, then they won’t want to live here.”
It’s the chicken-or-egg dilemma.
Sarasota lacks attractive, affordable housing near downtown to draw young professionals. But to get the affordable housing, we also need bait — something to draw a critical mass. We need a vibrant downtown scene. Live music helps.
But sadly, despite the ongoing dialogue about the importance of young professionals to the local economy, it appears to be business as usual at City Hall.
Just when it seemed like Sarasota City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo was on the brink of a major breakthrough toward changes to the sound ordinance, the issue was relegated to an ad-hoc committee.
Death by bureaucracy.
Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder didn’t help, either. He threatened businesses that didn't comply with the sound ordinance with a ban on liquor sales after 11 p.m. And yet, he is purported to be a pro-business commissioner.
If Sarasota wants to end its “brain drain,” political leaders need to quit talking and embrace young professionals. Adopt some meaningful changes — increase density restrictions in the Rosemary District; let downtown bars and restaurants turn their volume up to 11; and don't dare consider restricting restaurant space at the new State Street parking garage.
The city and county spend millions of dollars on incentives to bring in new businesses. How about investing to keep the next generation?
Alex Mahadevan is digital content producer for Digital Observer Media and a self-proclaimed young professional. He was born and raised in Sarasota and currently resides in Laurel Park.