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Posted: February 11, 2011 1:00 a.m.

Newton youth want careers, nightlife

Officials sought desires of youth in online survey

Nearly half of people who grow up in Newton County leave after high school, according to a recent online survey conducted by The Center for Community Preservation and Planning.

When asked how elected officials could attract young people to Newton County, current and former residents responded with a common refrain: More restaurants, a movie theater, a bowling alley and some sort of nightlife, whether bars or musical venues.

"I feel there are not enough options in general for young people in the county. I don't know statistics, but I perceive there to be limited opportunities in regards to both work and entertainment. Seeing as I am single without a family, these are main concerns in determining where I live," said one respondent in the 23-to-29 age group.

"I think of Newton County as a place where I could live but would then have to commute for work, cultural activities, shopping, dining (that isn't chain), live music/bars, sporting events and recreational activities. It would be an affordable and pleasant place to own a home, but I feel I could find an affordable and pleasant place to own a home in an area that would not make commuting necessary."

The lack of entertainment options and the fact that many professionals would have to commute elsewhere to work in their job of choice were two of the most common reasons cited for why Newton County natives move elsewhere after high school.

"I have very fond memories of Newton County and have not ruled out the possibility of moving back someday. However, I do not feel that I would have a well-rounded ‘twenty-somethings’ experience there. It is somewhere I can envision living when I have a family and am less concerned about occupying my time with as extensive amounts of entertainment and social activities as I do now in my mid-20s," said another survey taker.

Other suggestions for attracting youth included facilitating MARTA expansion to Newton County, promoting a younger shopping experience on the square by recruiting shops like boutiques, expanding Oxford College to draw more young professors and expanding the job base.

"Bring jobs to Newton County relevant to people with college degrees besides the medical and education field," said a 30-to-39-year-old respondent.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said the entertainment and quality of life issues are related to community development.

"Many of the same things the youth want, entertainment, retail, bars, nightlife, are some of the things businesses and industry want and pertain to creating a business culture conducive to recruiting and retaining jobs and families to move here," he said.

Local elected officials sought out the survey, which is a promising start, said researcher Ruth Miller, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and former intern at The Center. Miller compiled the results. The survey was taken over two weeks and had 238 respondents.

One of the most interested findings for Miller was that current and former residents both wanted to see an increase in public transit and bike and walking path options. She said the percentage of people who said they desired public transit options was consistent with the percentage of people in areas that have the most extensive public transit systems.

"This is one of the easiest to plan for, because it’s so infrastructure related," Miller said.

She noted that the survey was not scientifically grounded and has built-in biases, since most respondents found it through friends on Facebook. Still, she contends it’s a good starting point for local governments looking for perspective. Many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s also responded, allowing officials to compare the desires of younger and older people, which were sometimes very similar.

"We received a lot of thoughtful, polite and encouraging comments. Some people were thankful for a leadership that would ask them what they wanted. Even just asking was meaningful," Miller said.

One of the bright notes for leaders was that 57 percent of residents who came to Newton County later in life stayed.

Survey results were presented to the Leadership Collaborative at its annual meeting on Saturday. The Leadership Collaborative includes officials from the county and five city governments, the school system, the water and sewerage authority, the chamber and community groups.

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