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GreaterReadingChamber.org

unconventional thinking from Berks County. To begin with, for a
county of our size, we are fortunate to be home to five colleges or
universities that enroll a total of approximately 22,000 students.
A significant percentage of the students have some ties to Berks
County or surrounding counties; we estimate 55%, or 12,000.
The unanswered question is how many of these 12,000 remain
in Berks County upon graduation. Anecdotal evidence indicates
that less than half remain. We lose many of them to places like
Philadelphia or Brooklyn, NY, and this is despite the fact many of
them have their pick of job opportunities in Berks County when
they graduate. Therefore, what is driving our millennials away?
Overwhelmingly many cite lack of entertainment, night life, and
age-relevant recreational options. They also cite lack of housing
options for younger, single demographics.
The second part of this strategy involves attracting new talent to
Berks County. Population growth in Berks has essentially flatlined.
The good news is we are not losing population like other counties.
The bad news is that we are getting outpaced in growth (20102015) by nearby counties such as Lehigh (+2.3%), Lancaster
(+2.7%) and Chester (+2.7%). So, what are the factors that make
Berks County less attractive to newcomers, and who are the target
groups we want to attract?
As mentioned above, millennials are one group we want to
attract. If we are serious about this group, we need to look at
revitalization efforts in the city of Reading to address nightlife,
entertainment, and urban style housing options. The second
group, however, are young to middle-aged professionals who
now are starting their own family. For this group, available and
affordable housing options, good schools, and lower costs of living
are all factors that drive their relocation decisions.(The assumption
here is that the jobs are the one criteria that makes Berks County
attractive.) We also need to do a better job of marketing Berks
County as a Live, Work & Play community. We certainly excel in
the Work category, and I would argue that we have a good range
of entertainment options for families. We also have good schools,
but our housing inventory remains limited. Without available
homes, people won't live in Berks. Our competitor counties
mentioned above also outpace Berks in terms of new housing starts.
Of course, these are not the only factors driving relocation. For
example, Berks County's property tax is higher than Lancaster and
Lehigh Counties. Transportation access is also an issue-Lehigh
has an airport, Lancaster has rail access to Philly. The bottom line
is that if Berks County is serious about a talent attraction strategy,
it will need to take a holistic approach that looks at community
development and housing development, not just traditional
economic development.
To bring this conversation full circle, no single approach will
solve our looming workforce shortage. We at the GRCA recognize
that we will need to overhaul our traditional approach to economic
development in a way that focuses on securing future prosperity,
by ensuring we have a talent pipeline.

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