More than half of all New College graduates leave Sarasota to pursue masters and doctorate degrees. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal survey ranked New College No. 2 among public institutions as a feeder school for the nation's most elite law, medical and MBA programs. At the Ringling School of Art and Design, recruiters from Dreamworks, Sony Picture Imageworks, CNN, LucasArts, Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, Disney and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art try to sign up promising computer animation and fine arts graduates. It's enough to make local business people, who are looking for bright, enterprising college graduates, throw up their hands in despair.

But not everyone's leaving. Approximately 300 New College alumni live here today, says alumni director David Bryant, and those are just the ones he knows about. Their No. 1 field of choice is teaching, but student surveys have shown that they are also concentrated in business (23 percent), the professions and the arts. "Anecdotally, it seems like we've continued this trend of people leaving for graduate school and coming back because they like the weather, the culture, the quality of life," Bryant says.

Ringling grads who have stayed in Sarasota and Manatee-there are nearly 800 of them-work in design, media, advertising, production or architecture firms, comprising a snapshot of the creative class Sarasota County economic development types would like to attract to this area.

Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling School, wants to see more opportunity for Ringling graduates locally, and he is working with the Committee for Economic Development to strengthen the creative cluster of local industry. "There's a lot of talent in town," says Thompson. "Some want to leave, but many would love to stay here."

Local volunteers are brainstorming ideas such as developing a bohemian entertainment district on the North Trail. But in the interim, Thompson is endeavoring to educate existing business owners about how to employ the creative talents of Ringling grads.

"There are two types of economic development-hunting and gardening," says Thompson. "Hunting is when you convince a company to move here. Gardening is growing from within."

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