Story by Bob Corbell
Over the summer, my wife and I had an enjoyable lunch with a former student.
This person has already achieved an undergraduate degree and midway through post graduate completion. The occupation this individual is perusing is highly professional and very competitive. They wish to establish a homestead in Del Rio. Being almost adamant and determined to do so, some of our conversation revolved around the current and future political, education, an economic make up of our fair city. Without going into the particulars of our lunch discussion, I did leave the table more optimistic about our community in relation to this individual. But one’s effort is not enough which led me back to my mid life pessimistic thought. One young individual is not enough. I came to this conclusion. We, as the citizens of Del Rio, need to retain as many young individuals as we can muster and offer them the opportunity to grow personally and professionally in the town in which they were born.
The question is “how do we do it?”
First, let’s look at what Del Rio has to offer. A strong community passion, rooted in the commitment of family. We have a clean environment. There are deep roots of faith and service for one’s religion of choice which are properly instilled through family love. Our city also possesses a sense of more patriotic pride within young individuals that many Texas communities have to offer. More than a handful of research and studies have found that millennial and post-millennial (those born after 1997) seek the core values Del Rio already has that will grow in their personal and professional life. The values can’t be bought by larger, competitive cities. However, many 20 something’s reluctantly find themselves making a compromise, settling for what the much larger ponds have to offer. Whether we realize it or not, our town has the necessary building blocks for a prosperous future. Where we as baby-boomers and Gen-xer’s have failed is that we have not properly asked for the 20 something’s formal input concerning desired economic growth and needs.
Second, we have to access the millennial and post-millennial needs after four to six years of education or workforce experience. Most will have quite a bit of college debt. At present, outside of the government or education job sector, it will be hard for them to find an adequate wage to match their education or work skills. Some will consider the compromise in salary in lieu of quality of life. However, that leads to another concern on their minds, affordable new housing. As much as they love Mom and Dad, they don’t want to stay parked in the old bedroom. I know in the case of one millennial that they recently took on a very large mortgage in Houston. In so many words, this person said “I would rather start my family here (Houston) rather than waiting five years of qualifying then waiting for construction in Del Rio. The lack of red tape doesn’t exist in a large town. Del Rio will always be there.” I’ve probably have raised the hairs on the back of the neck of some local bankers and realtors who might disagree. But when these young folks are able to get what they want in a large town, and quickly, they are not going to shop for comparison. They are going to act and move on with their life.
Finally, how do we get these young individuals to come back home? Right now, my guess is that we retain less than 15 percent after college, and I think that’s a high estimate.
The person I had lunch with briefly spoke about this effort, but I will expand on it. Del Rio community and professional leaders can reach out to them by asking for their input and involvement through a future task force. Much like many major cities have done through out the United States for the last two decades, proper and well developed initiatives which have led to a renaissance of current and future economic growth in those communities is the benefactor.
Suppose a joint initiative between the county, city, school, and both chambers of commerce could be established with bi annual or quarterly meetings focused on constructive an achievable goals. If designed an implemented properly, it could only lead to the betterment of Del Rio’s current and future needs. Those who are studying business can offer input in the cities fiscal and financial solutions. Students who study in the health career sector could offer ideas shared with the hospital board. The young minds who study law can work with leaders towards better contracts, law enforcement concerns, and legislative measures. In other words, current leaders are asking for the young mind input and investment towards their hometown. It gives them ownership and it gives all proper solutions. It strokes healthy egos, and re establishes community pride.
If the citizens of Del Rio truly desire a brighter future for our community, we must do something more than hand an 18 year old a few scholarships upon high school graduation and wish them the best. We loose 80 percent of future professionals to the outside world except for weddings, reunions, and Christmas visits. Isn’t it time that the elders start looking at some time consuming and creative resolutions that can insure this city’s future without merely hoping “if we build it, they will come ” ?
We need to forget about costly sports complexes, never ending studies of the potential need of a second bridge, and the bickering about proposed tax increases for much needed necessities, like fire engines and emergency management equipment when we don’t have the current budget funds due to past short comings. What we do need, are young minds that have Del Rio pride and desire a future back home. Let’s face it, currently there is not a long list of folks who desire to move to Del Rio, except those who were born and raised here. If we invest in these individuals now, with the community and family qualities that we already have, it can only be to their and our benefit.
It’s time to get back to the future, and quick.