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Rochester clicks for young professionals 

Greg Cunneyworth in the Makeway offices. The RIT graduate founded the digital design firm.


Greg Cunneyworth in the Makeway offices. The RIT graduate founded the digital design firm.

The Rochester region is home to about 20 colleges, universities, and technical schools, which is impressive for a mid-size metro.

But despite those offerings, the area's loss of young professionals continues to concern many business and community leaders in Upstate New York.

A Brookings Institute report on education, which is based on data from 2007 to 2009, looks at what it called the migration of college degrees by metropolitan area.

Cities that experienced the most brain drain were Rochester and Detroit, while cities with the most brain gain were Austin and Raleigh.

But some recent area graduates are bucking that trend, saying that Rochester has distinct advantages for young professionals.

Meghan Gillen graduated from Nazareth College in May 2014 and found a local job in her field a month later.

She says that she didn't have much difficulty getting job interviews, and even turned down a couple of offers before accepting a full-time marketing position with American Aerogel.

The startup company manufactures insulation materials used in thermal packaging by biomedical, pharmaceutical, and health care companies.

"Getting the job I wanted wasn't super hard," Gillen says. "A lot of employers know Nazareth College and think well of it. But it seemed like a lot of places want to hire local college students and they want to be supportive."

Gillen says that she thought about moving, but that she didn't want to give up the comfort factor of Rochester. And moving to a different location isn't always easy, she says.

"There's always that risk that you could move for a job and might not like it," Gillen says.

click to enlarge Meghan Gillen is in a - marketing position with American Aerogel. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Meghan Gillen is in a marketing position with American Aerogel.

Greg Cunneyworth graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2009 where he studied graphic design and marketing. His job search was more difficult, because the recession caused a lot of companies to either cut back or hold off on hiring, he says.

Cunneyworth worked in Toronto for a short time before returning to Rochester in 2010 to start Makeway, a digital design firm. Both of Cunneyworth's partners, Josh Lowery and Ian Maroney, graduated from local colleges and also decided to stay in Rochester.

Makeway has clients throughout Western New York and as far away as Seattle, Cunneyworth says.

"We've been lucky," he says. "We've been very busy for the last five years."

Starting a small business in Rochester was easier than he expected, Cunneyworth says. Most of the initial prospective clients were receptive to an appointment for a presentation, he says, and now Makeway gets most of its business through word of mouth.

Cunneyworth says that Rochester is the ideal place for his business because it's affordable.

"We were able to get the office we wanted in six months," he says. "We have a beautiful 1,200-square-foot loft in the Cascade District."

Dana Belles graduated from the University of Rochester in 2013 with a degree in brain and cognitive sciences, but she's currently working in education for AmeriCorps, she says, to gain experience.

Her degree could eventually take her in several directions, she says, but public health and occupational therapy are her two main considerations.

Though she moved home to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a short while after graduation, she says that she returned to Rochester as soon as she could.

"I really love Rochester," Belles says. "For some reason it really clicks for me." The bike-friendliness of the area is a huge plus, she says.

"I love going to all of the different farmers markets in the summer, and of course, the Public Market," she says.

Belles says that one of the most attractive things about Rochester is the passion that people have for the city and their commitment to making it an even better place to live.

She says that most of the people she meets are involved and committed to the community in ways that she hasn't seen in other cities.

Another consideration: Rochester's lower cost of living.

"There are other larger or more exciting cities where the pay is either the same or not as good and the cost of living is so much higher," Belles says.

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