EVANSVILLE, Ind. – What brings a young adult, fresh out of college, to the Evansville area to work and live?
Is it miles of beautiful Ohio River coastline? Cost of life? The sports scene? Night life?
The Courier & Press spoke with several recent University of Evansville graduates now working in the city, as well as two local job market experts. The short answer: it’s as much about in-career job opportunities as it is about looks.
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The image of a city matters
Tara Barney, CEO of Evansville Regional Economic Partnership, a economic development organization and local business advocate which serves Vanderburgh, Gibson, Warrick and Posey counties, said the key to economic growth in the tri-state area is attracting young talent to local industries. The determining factor for this to happen? Painting Evansville in a positive light.
“As I jokingly say, it’s about dog parks, live music, fresh food and ambiance, which is the hardest part,” Barney said. “A big part of the young people who choose to come here is the image.”
Barney noted that attracting young talent, particularly in the 20-35 age bracket, is important to the health of the city for two reasons: A lot of what they want in a city — cool restaurants and places to go for a hike or walk the dog – is what the majority of these people ultimately want. In addition, members of this age bracket have longer careers ahead of them and are more likely to start families in the city, which helps to increase the local population.
“Look who lives downtown,” Barney said. “(These are) young people and people who have taken their children out of the house.”
Barney challenges the old adage that “kids will move for work”. She believes that today, when young job seekers have a choice of places to start their careers – and they have plenty of choice in today’s job market – they will choose the place with the best “quality of work”. ‘place”.
This means that the region that combines a lower cost of living with lots to do will often win out. But circumstances and familiarity also play a role.
Take Izzy Dawson, 22, an EU graduate in 2021 with degrees in marketing and supply chain management. Dawson, who works at Berry Global, said she didn’t like living in Evansville while in college and didn’t plan to stay long after graduating.
She interned at Berry Global during her second year in EU and loved the company. When they offered her a job during her last semester in college, she took it.
Dawson said labor market uncertainties resulting from the pandemic influenced his decision to join Berry. Although being in Evansville wasn’t her first choice, Dawson, a native of Trafalgar, Indiana, said she grew to love the city.
“I didn’t really like the area (around campus),” Dawson said. “But since I moved downtown, I love it. I’m on the river and there’s a lot to do.”
Trafalgar is a two-hour drive north of Evansville. Dawson, like most of the other EU grads interviewed for this story, is from Indiana.
And that follows with the data the EU keeps on where its students end up after graduating. At college Annual ReportUE said 61% of its 2020-2021 graduates remained in Indiana.
Gene Wells, senior director of the EU Center for Career Development, said about 70% of graduates stay within 150 miles of campus. He didn’t have specific data on how many graduates stayed in Evansville or Henderson for work, but thought those numbers had remained “stable” and “fairly strong” over the years.
Attracting “local” talent
When a graduate has ties to a region, it’s easier to retain them, Barney said. She calls these people E-REP’s “preferred customers” because they are much more likely to stay in the area.
“We don’t gain anything if we don’t focus on people growing up in our area or people (living) within 100 miles who come here to shop or go to the hospital,” Barney said. “There’s an (exodus) of people (going) from rural America to urban America, and we want them to choose this urban area.”
Dalton Selvidge, 23, a 2021 EU graduate who majored in civil engineering and now works at Commonwealth Engineers in Evansville, already knew the town quite well; he’s from neighboring Santa Claus, Indiana.
“For us, Evansville was the big city,” Selvidge said.
He had planned to pursue his master’s degree at a school in Colorado, but instead accepted an offer with Commonwealth after interning with the company for two years as an undergrad. Selvidge said he doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon because, according to him, Evansville “has everything anyone could want.”
If he ever feels like the beach or the mountains, Selvidge said he can always go on vacation.
Of course, not all EU graduates are from Indiana. Credence Pattinson, who now works at the Old National Bank in Evansville, came to the EU on a swimming scholarship from Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Pattinson said he knew nothing about the school or the area until he arrived in the fall of 2017, but has since had “a lot of fun” in the area and doesn’t see how other graduates recent would not have fun here too. . He sees himself staying for at least the next three to five years.
One thing that surprised Pattinson? How many companies were based here. He cited Old National and Berry Global as examples.
“I was blown away by how many opportunities there are in the city,” Pattinson said.
Looking for multiple options
If a job isn’t working out, Barney said it’s important for a city or region to be able to provide other options for potential workers. She thinks the tri-state area offers that redundancy.
“That’s why it’s so important that we think of ourselves as a region, because it gives our constituents a lot of choice,” Barney said. “When you’re too small a market and don’t think broadly, you don’t naturally offer your target audience those choices that may seem intangible, (but are actually) very real.”
Barney and Wells both highlighted two industries — manufacturing and health care — as strengths in the region’s labor market. Wells noted that the EU graduates a “significant number” of medical professionals each year and many of them stay to work in the region.
Andrew Patton, 25, is a recent EU graduate who has joined the ranks of the region’s health workforce. He works for the Rehabilitation & Performance Institute in Owensboro, Kentucky, as part of its orthopedic residency program.
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Patton said he spent a lot of time preparing for this specific residency program, but from what he’s seen the area is “pretty saturated” with physical therapy clinics.
Originally from Springfield, Illinois, Patton and his wife will eventually want to move to Michigan to be closer to their family, but he said they plan to stay in that area for a few years after his residency ends due the low cost of living in the region.
And who knows? Maybe they will stay longer. Plans change.
Izzy Dawson did. Although she initially disliked the Evansville area and had planned to move after college somewhere closer to her hometown of Trafalgar, she now believes she will be staying in the Tri-State much longer.
“(Right now) I’m really enjoying my job in Berry and where I live,” Dawson said. “I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon.”
Contact Ray Couture at email@example.com or on Twitter @raybc94.