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Consumer and business spending in East Baton Rouge Parish was up 17.5% in January when compared to the year before, continuing an 11 month streak of year-to-year gains.

For Denham Springs native Morgan Almeida, the choice to stay in the Baton Rouge area grew out of a love she developed for the region as a college student.

An alumna of Live Oak High School and the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches, Almeida graduated from LSU in 2016. While on campus she interned with TEDxLSU, a speaker forum, which allowed her to work with community organizations pushing for positive change in Baton Rouge.

“I think that’s where my love for Baton Rouge first started to blossom,” said Almeida, president of Forum 225, a leadership and networking organization for local young professionals.

According to data from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, however, Almeida is among a declining number of residents planting roots here early in their careers.

From 2015 to 2019 — the latest data available — the Baton Rouge area lost 6,903 people ages 25 to 44 to out-of-state markets. BRAC deems those ages as early-to-mid career professionals.

That’s compared to a potential growth in population for the Baton Rouge metro area by roughly 24,000 residents by 2025, according to BRAC data. And it comes at a time when 44,000 jobs are open in the region.

To help combat the workforce challenge, BRAC and Forum 225 have announced a partnership to convince young workers to stay. They’ll work together to connect young people to professional networks and career opportunities in the area.

As part of the collaboration, BRAC said it will promote Forum 225 as its primary young professionals organization. The two organizations will also co-host a young professionals conference sometime in May.

What has BRAC and Forum 225 officials optimistic about their efforts is data showing that those who stay feel good about their future. More than 60% of young professionals in the Capital Region surveyed by BRAC said they have a positive outlook about their career arc.

“The people who are paying attention see some momentum (in Baton Rouge),” said Andrew Fitzgerald, senior vice president of business intelligence at BRAC.

It’s important to keep those younger workers here so they can provide a larger tax base and stimulate economic momentum even through basic activities like grocery shopping and movie watching, Fitzgerald said. They can also fill job openings as older employees retire.

“Whether it’s urban, suburban or rural areas of Baton Rouge, continued growth is very vital,” Fitzgerald said.

A variety of factors have fed into the outward migration, Fitzgerald said. Top of mind for younger generations isn’t just top jobs with top pay. Quality of life factors — such as available public amenities and cost of living — play a key role.

“Young talent wants cost of living to be affordable. They want high quality of place,” he said. “They want good public amenities. They want good jobs. They want affordable housing and walkability with that affordable housing.”

As a mid-sized city, Baton Rouge can win the cost-of-living battle against major metro markets, Fitzgerald said. But challenges like crime, blight and litter can make an impact in the retention war. A lack of bicycle paths and public transit, particularly downtown, also impact the city’s recruiting efforts.

“There are some livable place factors that definitely play a role that we need to be more proactive about solving,” Fitzgerald said.

Reaching those young professionals early is key, Almeida said, hence the BRAC-Forum 225 partnership promoting each other’s efforts.

“It is a lot of work to get people to stay,” said Almeida, who works as a marketing strategist for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. “But I believe in this partnership.”


Email Robert Stewart at robert.stewart@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter, @ByRobertStewart.