5 Questions

By Beau Denton October 31, 2010

Oh, To Be Young

Elise Lipoff, 29, is a public relations specialist for Willis A. Smith Construction and chair of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Group. She talked about the business climate for young professionals and how Sarasota can develop young talent.


Q: Is Sarasota a welcoming business destination for young professionals?

Absolutely, if a young professional’s lifestyle falls within the realm of what Sarasota can offer, like the financial, real estate or nonprofit industries. But if someone moving here doesn’t fit within that scope, it can be a very unwelcoming place, with a lot of people telling you no. Look at cities like Austin or Atlanta: Austin has technology, and Atlanta is a hub of international corporations. Sarasota doesn’t offer that.

Q: How do we attract more 20- to 40-year-olds?

We have a perception problem. The EDCs and universities need to be marketing to recent grads about Sarasota being a wonderful place to start your career. We’re so focused on retirees, and companies will hire retirees for significantly less than a young professional. Entry level salaries are the lowest in a very long time. The YPG has lost half our membership base in a two-year period—we went from more than 700 to 350, because they know that they’ll make more someplace else. Most people my age still can’t purchase a home in this town.

Q: Does downtown Sarasota hold any attraction?

We need to promote affordable downtown housing [in places] like the Rosemary District, because young professionals have an urban mentality. They don’t want to drive to places like Publix, they want to walk. And they’re very aware of keeping things local, so they love organic shops and little restaurants. What we need are innovative techie guys and a unified plan for a business incubator that attracts new ideas. We don’t have a big live music venue that’s indoors. Young professionals want to see the bands that they like without driving to St. Pete or Tampa, but the noise ordinance is an issue.


Q: What assets does Sarasota offer young people?

Young professionals love outdoor sports and anything green, so paddle-boarding, kite-surfing, kayaking, bike trails and the beach are all assets. They love technology, and moving forward with cable and broadband would be a selling point. Sarasota has excellent social capital, like the arts organizations and the film festival. We have so many neat, smaller town activities that would be desirable to a young professional because they want to feel like they’re a part of everything.


Q: Why join the Young Professionals Group? I would have felt lost without the YPG. There’s a wide divide between retirees, the business community and families, and young professionals can get lost in the mix, so there is a clear need for the organization. We bring a little sanity to trying to get established in a new town. ■

Assignment Downtown presents “Rounding Out Downtown Demographics: Attracting the Under 40s.”

Listen to a panel of students and local university presidents talk about the role downtown plays in the lives of our colleges and co-eds, Monday, Nov. 8, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts. The event is part of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Assignment Downtown Council 2010 speakers’ series. $25 ($35 at the door). RSVP to

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