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August 23, 2021

CT launching several initiatives aimed at attracting, retaining young professionals

Contributed The state of Connecticut and others are working on several initiatives to attract and retain young professionals like Sabrina Tucker-Barrett, 40, of Bloomfield, who launched a Hartford-based nonprofit, Girls For Technology.

Young professionals help stimulate the economy, drive innovation and provide companies the talent they need to succeed, and over the years, Connecticut has fallen short in attracting and retaining them.

Then the 2020 pandemic hit.

“Last year, Connecticut emerged as the top destination for those looking to relocate due to the coronavirus,” said Cristine Castonguay, brand director of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

Christine Castonguay

“People are moving from bigger cities and opting to be closer to families, which has been beneficial to Connecticut,” she continued. “Connecticut is more attractive than ever.”

Indeed, over 27,000 people left New York City and its surrounding metro areas for Connecticut last year, according to a CBRE analysis, which contributed to one of the state’s hottest housing markets in more than a decade.

The analysis, however, didn’t break down the ages of those who relocated to the state, so it’s not clear what percentage were young professionals, who are typically between the ages of 22 and 40, with varying education and experience levels, Castonguay said.

And we still don’t know if Connecticut last year was able to increase its overall population. U.S. Census Bureau migration data, which tracks people moving in and out of states, typically publishes in the fall.

Regardless, state and regional economic development officials believe now is a good time to capitalize on the trend of more people seeking out smaller cities and suburbs as a result of the pandemic, and they are taking a few concrete steps to target young professionals in particular.

Attracting and retaining

Prior to the pandemic, Connecticut for years had been fighting a brain drain as many recent college graduates chose to relocate to larger cities like New York and Boston, or to locations with a cheaper cost of living.

According to a 2020 report from the Governor’s Workforce Council, only 34% of four-year college graduates remained in-state one year after their 2017 graduation. In comparison, Massachusetts retained 42% of their graduates and New York 53%.

One bright spot is that Connecticut has seen a small increase in people living in the state who are between the ages of 20 and 34. That population cohort grew 6% between 2012 and 2019 and makes up about 19.2% of the state’s overall population, U.S. Census data shows.

Lawmakers have even considered perks to try to make the state more attractive to young professionals. In 2017, for example, the legislature passed a bill that provided an annual $500 income tax credit to recent college graduates who received a degree in math, science, technology or engineering and remained in Connecticut to live and work.

That tax credit was eliminated by Gov. Ned Lamont, who later announced a different grant incentive program for high-achieving college students that remained in Connecticut.

Last month, Lamont and the DECD launched a new online hub,, aimed at attracting and retaining young professionals. It’s one of the state’s first initiatives to target young talent, according to Castonguay. offers career and entrepreneurial resources, and highlights what the state has to offer — such as its rich arts and culture scene, growing tech sector and walkable cities — to help sway young professionals into making Connecticut their home.

The website also features young professionals who are planting roots in the state.

Sabrina Tucker-Barrett, 40, of Bloomfield, is featured on the site. The New London area native and Charter Oak State College graduate said she chose to raise a family in Connecticut and launch a Hartford-based nonprofit, Girls For Technology. The organization, which was founded in 2015, focuses on bringing girls between the ages of 11 to 17 closer to technology and engineering.

“Connecticut is a very friendly place for women entrepreneurs,” she said, adding that Black women entrepreneurs are also a fast-growing group in the area.

The central location between New York and Boston expands business opportunities, and the Connecticut school system is difficult to top, she added.

New initiative, not a new idea

The concept of attracting and retaining young professionals is not new to the MetroHartford Alliance.

For more than a decade, the regional chamber of commerce and economic development group has worked to retain young professionals to the Hartford region through it’s HYPE initiative. HYPE is an acronym for Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs and it has garnered more than 4,000 members.

It offers networking and other opportunities to connect young people who live and work in the region.

MetroHartford Alliance CEO David Griggs said the state has not done a great job retaining and engaging young professionals but his group is trying to change that.

Last month, the Alliance launched a new initiative called AllHart, which focuses on the recruitment of out-of-state young professionals.

“The vision for it is to help our companies compete successfully with the talent they need,” Griggs said.

The initiative was developed after speaking with Alliance investors, such as Travelers, Hartford HealthCare, and Stanley Black & Decker, and asking them what kept them up at night, Griggs said.

“And hands-down it was attracting and retaining the talent we need and it didn’t matter if it was manufacturing, health care, or insurance — they all said the same thing,” Griggs said. “So it became clear that as an organization that we needed to help them solve that problem: how to recruit and retain the people they need to be successful.”

AllHart organizers will market primarily through social media campaigns, to sell Hartford by showcasing what it’s like to live here. They will target college towns or other areas where Alliance investors want to recruit talent.

“We need to increase the stickiness that people have to the Hartford region,” Griggs said. “And the way you create that stickiness is you help them make this home.”

“Our region needs to grow,” he added. “We need to grow economically but we also need to grow our population.”

Campus Connecticut

The state’s Workforce Council, launched in 2019 by Lamont to boost the state’s overall workforce development efforts, has approved a strategic plan that aims to keep college graduates from relocating to other states.

The plan aims to grow the state’s talent pool and attract more businesses by increasing internship experiences for college students.

“Employers can play a leading role in retaining homegrown talent while helping to win the war for talent,” the plan states, adding that students who gain work-based experiences and work relationships in college are more likely to remain in the state after graduation.

AdvanceCT, the state’s nonprofit economic development arm, has agreed to sponsor the initiative that will launch its first retention organizations in Hartford, New Haven and Stamford. The initiative will be supported by local economic development entities, according to the plan.

The retention organizations will encourage businesses to develop internship programs and sponsor citywide events and activities that will include live music, entertainment and job fairs, to help create a sense of community among college students.

The goal is to retain 5% more undergraduates in the three cities in five years.

Although the council approved the plan in 2020, it was put on hold due to the pandemic, according to Kelli-Marie Vallieres, the state’s chief workforce officer.

The initiative is expected to start back this year, she said.

The plan was modeled after “Campus Philly,” which aims to fuel economic growth in the greater Philadelphia area by marketing the region as a great place to live and work to college students before they graduate. It includes a website and in-person events.

From 2000 to 2017, the percentage of college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 making greater Philadelphia their home increased by 115%, according to the website.

Solid start

In its first two weeks, attracted more than 78,000 pageviews from more than 52,000 new site users, according to Castonguay, adding that most of the visitors are coming from neighboring New England states, New York and California.

The state invested about $350,000 to develop, launch and promote the CTforMe website and its accompanying Instagram channel, according to a DECD spokesperson. Funding came from the state’s marketing budget.

“This is only the beginning,” Castonguay said. “We’re really looking to grow this platform as a resource for not only the young professionals looking for that job, but also for all of our companies in the state to have some place to direct people to for more information about what it’s like to live, work and play here in Connecticut.”

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