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Millennials on the Move: Multiple factors drive millennials away from Sarasota

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - A large number of millennials are looking to get away from Sarasota, but that could have some negative long term affects.

U.S. News and World report finds the median age of people living in Sarasota is 50 years old, which means a bulk of the community is in or near retirement. Sarasota's Young Professional Group (YPG) found nearly half of millennials want to leave because of the cost of housing, but YPG is working with city leaders to find ways to keep them on the Suncoast.

A survey by YPG found a majority of millennials expect to pay less than $1,000 per month for a one bedroom apartment but many said they can't find an apartment in that price range in Sarasota. They're paying hundreds of dollars more, which makes them feel like they're just throwing money down the drain.

"I could've moved out but I would've been living in the slums," explained 26-year-old Loren Cookerly.

Cookerly faces a tough decision: continue living at home with his mom, or struggle to affording living on his own while going to Manatee Technical College full time. For now, the answer is to stay at home while trying to make ends meet.

"Of course my ego was shot a little bit when I couldn't move out or have as much money as I did," explained Cookerly.

Cookerly began his 20's in the air force moving around the country. He said he was living comfortably, but would need to make $800 extra monthly to afford the same lifestyle in Sarasota.

"I want to live in sarasota," said Cookerly. "This is where I grew up. I shouldn't have to move. I love Sarasota. This is where my family is."

Cookerly isn't the only person on the Suncoast struggling. A 2017 analysis by U.S. News and World Report found the average monthly cost of rent is $991 per month in Sarasota, and the Career Advancement Hub on the Suncoast found workers in Bradenton, Sarasota, and North Port make an average of $14.84 per hour before tax deductions. That means employees working on the Suncoast and living in Sarasota spend 41% of their monthly income on rent, not including utilities.

"The cost of housing has outpaced the growth of wages. Not just in Sarasota, but throughout Florida and across the United States," explained Kevin Cooper, President of Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Cooper said the wages in Sarasota have lagged behind the average national wage and throughout the state. U.S. News and World Report found housing costs are 9% higher in Sarasota compared to the national average, but workers are making 8% less compared to the rest of the country.

"Housing has really been a difficult issue for our wages to keep up the price appreciation," explained Cooper.

"The cost of housing keeps going up and up and up. That's a real challenge looking at retention because young professional are moving around a lot more," said Mimi Cirbusova, Coordinator of Sarasota's Young Professionals Group.

Cirbusova has lived in Sarasota her entire life and she sees YPG members come and go regularly. A survey by YPG in 2015 found nearly half of participants considered leaving Sarasota because of housing costs and 62% of respondents are looking for a one to two bedroom apartment for less than $1,000 per month.

Cirbusova said the number of millennials moving to and from the Suncoast fluctuates and while there are many transplants, there's also a small group of life-longers who would never consider leaving the area, even as the cost of living rises.

"It's incredible to see the people that are so passionate about the work that they do and they not only want to better themselves, but the community that they live in," smiled Cirbusova.

"It's not certainly about income. It's certainly not about the lifestyle of the community. It's really about a place that can be challenged," explained Rich Swier, founder of The Hub in downtown Sarasota.

Swier understands the struggle of starting a business in Sarasota as a young adult after opening his first company at the age of 21. He said millennials are a unique generation because they want to make the most of their creative minds. That's why he started The Hub in downtown Sarasota for entrepreneurs and creators which is now made up of more than 80% millennials.

"They're looking for opportunities where they can grow as an individual but they want to work with groups and a lot of the corporate environments don't support what they want to see," said Swier.

Cirbusova also recognizes millennials are one of a kind and will make an extra effort to stay afloat to continue living miles away from award winning beaches.

"They do extra things like trying to start a little side business, try to make some extra income," said Cirbusova. "We also hear they have roommates they're trying to partner with."

"I budget very extremely," said Cookerly. "When I budget I will eat cans of tuna if I have to."

Cookerly said four years in the Air Force taught him patience and perseverance, and that good things come to those who wait and work hard.

"I need to make more money and in order to make more money I need to go to school. And I need to eat cans of tuna right now so later on I don't need to eat cans of tuna," smiled Cookerly.

Swier and The Hub team believe making a change now will have a long term effect because if millennials see growth and improvement, they are more likely to invest in businesses locally.

The Sarasota Chamber of Commerce added job growth in the area is expected to continue attracting millennials and it's working with city leaders like commissioners to find more ways to improve the area for young adults.