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Young professionals are finding plenty to like here


In this grim period of a grim political year, it's easy to get sucked in by the negativity. Presumably intelligent Republicans are lining up to support Donald Trump. A Clinton win isn't a slam dunk. Two of the most powerful elected officials in New York State have been sentenced to prison for corruption. And PreetBharara's investigators are sniffing around people close to the governor - including the SUNY Polytechnic chief who seems determined to control Rochester's Photonics Institute.

So it's a relief to find hope and possibility, not in the presidential race, not in politics at all, actually, but here at home, in the substantial number of young professionals who are ready to change the community and seem determined to do it.

Many older Rochesterians have watched our adult children leave for larger cities. And we convince ourselves that everybody's doing it, that younger generations won't find anything here to like. That isn't the case, though, for the five young professionals who were featured at last week's Rochester Downtown Development Corporation program.

These are not the young adults who were starting their careers in Rochester in the 1960's and 1970's, when the Big Three industries were dominating the local labor force. These young adults are working in some of the numerous smaller enterprises that seem to be Rochester's future.

Four of the five on last week's RDDC panel grew up here, left for college or work, but came back. Rochester is where they wanted to live.

Ana Liss was convinced that the city offered a good career opportunity, and she found it at Greater Rochester Enterprise, where she is managing director of business development. André Primus, who came home because he "got the Rochester itch," is an assistant planner at Highland Planning community development firm and is also the founder and director of RocShare, an organization that encourages sharing economies.

Steve Vogt went to New York City but didn't like it, came back home, and is a manager at the data management firm PeerPlace Networks. Sarah Fitzgerald is a marketing associate at the rapidly expanding downtown firm CGI Communications.

The fifth RDDC panelist, Seth Eshelman, came here as a student, got a degree at RIT, and wanted to stay, believing the city offered "space and opportunity." The result is Staach, the furniture-design company he founded 10 years ago in the former main post office on Cumberland Street.

They like Rochester's affordability - although they want lower priced apartments downtown. ("I love the new developments," said Fitzgerald, "but I can't afford them. I'm climbing up the corporate ladder, but I'm not there yet.") They like Rochester's people, the "walkability" of the center city, the festivals.

And they want to be involved in the community. Several of them mentioned, unprompted, what some young-professional panelists had said at earlier RDDC programs: They want to help make Rochester thrive. They want to help make Rochester a place other young adults want to live. Rochester, said Primus, is "the right size to get things done."

Primus, Fitzgerald, Vogt, Liss, and Eshelman are representative of a large and growing population of young professionals. Their interest and enthusiasm suggests that Rochester could be attractive to many of the young people who graduate from area colleges and universities this time every year. But we all know what the challenges are. A big one: jobs. Lots more jobs. And if we want young professionals to live in the city once they have children, we'll have to have a school district vastly different from the one we have today.

Rochester, as André Primus said, is "the right size to get things done."

I hope, then, that politics and lethargy and insularity and risk-averseness - which sometimes seem to overwhelm the best of intentions in this community - don't get in the way. We ought to be able to promise André that we won't let him down.

A version of this article appears in the May 18 print edition of City Newspaper with the title "Looking for Optimism and Finding It at Home."