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'A place of brain gain': Growing number of college grads choosing Tampa Bay region to begin careers

Business growth in the local area is reportedly being seen across several sectors, like tech and healthcare.

TAMPA, Florida — After graduating from the University of South Florida with a degree in cybersecurity, Julie Gonzalez is now working in IT Security at Raymond James Stadium.

She knew she wanted to stick around in the Tampa Bay area.

“It just seemed like a very natural choice to stay around,” Gonzalez, a Broward County native, said. “I just think that Tampa provides a lot of opportunities for folks.”

Gonzalez is among a growing number of recent college grads choosing to launch their careers in the Tampa Bay area, which saw a 17,000-person gain in net migration between 2020 and 2021 among that demographic. Tampa ranked towards the top across all major metropolitan areas in the nation, trailing just a few cities.

“It used to be Tampa was known as a place of brain drain, now today we're a place of brain gain,” says Craig Richard, CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. “Students are finding us as a place to not only live because it's a beautiful place to live and work but because of the economic opportunities that we have."

Richard says business growth is being seen across several sectors, like tech and healthcare, and at the same time, college grads see the area as a place that hires and attracts top talent. 

“Tampa is now no longer the best-kept secret,” Richard added.

While rapid growth is helping drive the local economy, it does come with some growing pains, like with general infrastructure. 

“Not only in terms of transportation and mass transit but also in terms of water and sewer and your basic services. So we just have to make sure we're on top of our infrastructure, that we're accommodating a new growth,” Richard explained. 

There’s also the rising cost of living, with inflation outpacing the national average. Richard says it's not as bad when compared to major cities like New York City, where young professionals are moving out to come here. 

“While we have gotten more expensive at a local level, we're still very, very competitive compared to other major metropolitan areas,” he added.

And that is in part why Richard and other business leaders think the Tampa Bay area is primed for continued growth, as more grads across the country turn their tassels to the left.

“It's an exciting place to be. You have the beach right down the road, sports teams, cultural arts, amenities, all the things that people are looking for to have a good fulfilling life,” Richard said.

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