CBICC Connect unveils results of Centre County young professionals survey

Andrea Harman speaks as young professionals share items from a survey they ran with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County on Friday, May 20, 2016.
Andrea Harman speaks as young professionals share items from a survey they ran with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County on Friday, May 20, 2016.

When West Arete, a State College software development company, was contacted by startups in New York and San Francisco with patents they wanted to commercialize, the company’s team was curious why it was chosen over others in metropolitan markets.

“They said, ‘Of all the companies we could pick, we knew you did really good craftmanship here and we knew we could trust you guys,’” West Arete’s president Scott Woods said.

Woods added: “Just informally, we counted up all the different businesses in the region that are either a bike-friendly businesss, or a B Corp., or donate to 1% for the Planet, or are employee-owned and we counted up the number of businesses that have some sort of designation like that. We found that Centre County has about three times the concentration of sustainable businesses compared to even a progressive city like Pittsburgh, so maybe that’s part of our Centre County brand as well.”

That brand was on display at the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County Connect luncheon on Friday at Hoag’s Catering Celebration Hall. At the event, the CBICC unveiled the results of a survey that polled young professionals’ priorities regarding how they live, work and play in the region. Topics, such as Woods’ referencing of more sustainable communities and businesses, were reiterated throughout the survey. More than 40 percent, for instance, deemed additional “bikability” as important to them, while more than 60 percent approved the creation of pedestrian malls.

Part of CBICC Connect’s goal is to attract young professionals to the region and retain them. The group hopes that efforts such as the survey will help in that endeavor.

Building the region’s brand as a young professional-friendly community is one of the first steps, CBICC President and CEO Vern Squier said.

Other results included how many were married or in committed relationships (66 percent combined), whether they rented (41 percent) or owned (52 percent) and the amount of student loan debt they still had (most fell either within the less than $9,999 mark or the $10,000 to $30,999 range). The data set featured 149 respondents ranging from less than 24 years old to 36-45 years old. The bulk of the respondents (113) fell within the age range of 25 to 35 years old.

“The value of the young professionals in any community is significant,” Squier said. “It could be in borough and township meetings; it could be in board meetings; it could be dialogue with the university; it could be dialogue with developers and businesses that are coming — I think the audience is broad for this type of information.”

Across all age groups, the survey found that 60 percent of single people carry their financial burden alone, while more than 70 percent of married or committed respondents shared financial obligations with their significant other.

Regarding the “live” aspect, more than 90 percent of the young professionals surveyed regarded more affordable housing as a key concern. In “work,” topics such as promoting local startups at Penn State, integrating community groups and incentivizing the hiring and retaining of young professionals gained traction in the survey.

With “play,” most of those surveyed wanted to permit more food trucks and have more outdoor seating available at restaurants. About 40 percent approved the idea of establishing an arts district, while 60 percent recommended broadening the “First Friday hours and offerings.”

According to CBICC Connect, the young professionals group has received interest from about 200 individuals and the data will be made available either via the CBICC website or the group’s Facebook page.

“We’ll also start to delve into some of the issues we can make a difference in,” Squier said. “For instance, there was a discussion on housing, or on entertainment offerings, walkability issues, many of the governmental regulations that deal with moving people about and their living choices may be able to be affected by this input.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy