Quality of life, affordability bring young people back to Somerset

 In News, Somerset County

[The following article was published in the Somerset Daily American on August 9, 2019, written by Micelle Ganassi.]

Despite having lived in Los Angeles and New York City, Danyelle Burkholder decided to start her own business back home.

So she started her natural skin care line, Coco Caffeinate, in Meyersdale.

“I feel like here there is so much possibility,” she said. “The community is really receptive to those ideas.”

Burkholder is not alone, while statistics show that young people are leaving rural areas, many are coming back to raise families and start businesses because of the area’s quality of life and community environment.

Emily Korns, owner of Uptown Works, lived in New Jersey for several years.

“It’s materialistic out there,” she said. “I cannot pinpoint it. It’s just a bit cutthroat. Here you don’t have to worry about being judged. You are surrounded by good people who want to accomplish the same thing.”

She said that she believes people come back to the area after age 32.

“You work really hard and you spend all of it to try to live in some city with all of the nightlife,” she said. “It’s great but you really don’t have a life. Ages 32 to 35 gain life experience and that is where we need to capture people.”

Left to right: Jose Otero, Ben Franklin Technology Partners; Danyelle Burkholder, Coco Caffeinate; Emily Koons, UpTown Works; Laura Bowser, UpTown Works; Debbie Prosser, SAP&DC; Joe Fetzer, Startup Alleghenies; and Josh Boland, Somerset County Economic Development Council.

José Otero, innovation coach and portfolio manager for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, has worked with several young people from Somerset County. He said that because Somerset is smaller, it is an open canvass for young entrepreneurs. Ben Franklin helps entrepreneurs expand their efforts.

“It is not overly crowded,” he said. “When a deal comes across my desk we can work on them.”

Otero said that as a person who has lived in the city and later moved to the region, he noticed it is attractive because here you can make a difference. He also said that since so many organizations work together, it helps to secure funding.

“That is what is unique,” he said. “We have these collaborative initiatives.”

Josh Boland, Somerset County Economic Development Council executive director, said that the county is poised for development.

“Right now it is finding that operator who wants to set up shop,” he said.

He attributed the synergy between all of the organizations working together to the youth in the region.

“There is a group of young-ish individuals collaborating, working together,” he said. “It is not just about big businesses. It is a grassroots movement to make this place better.”

Otero said that young people need to be educated about the advantages of the Somerset area.

Uptown Works community manager Laura Bowser said that affordability is also a selling point for Somerset. Since so many people are able to telecommute, some people have found that they are able to live in Somerset and work remotely. She said she met an individual from Colorado who was shocked at how affordable co-working space was in the area. Uptown Works is a co-working space in Uptown Somerset Borough.

“I feel like here there is so much possibility. The community is really receptive to those ideas.”

                 – Danyelle Burkholder, Coco Caffeinate

“He was paying $400 a month for the same thing in Colorado,” she said, adding that the person paid $50 here with the current discount the space is offering.

Debbi Prosser, Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission business development director, said that she doesn’t believe it is a bad thing that people leave for a little while.

“I think it is good,” she said. “Where you live, people start to take it for granted. This place is pretty special and when they come back they bring new, fresh ideas back, which is great, too.”

Regina Coughenour, Somerset Inc. executive director, lived in Chicago before returning home. She said that it is important for Somerset to recognize its shortcomings, but believes that small steps can make a big impact on the community. Prosser said that it also seems the Somerset area is more open to outside help than it has been in past years.

“The younger generation is more open to that help because we want to solve problems,” Coughenour said.

Joseph Fetzer, county entrepreneurship and innovation department director, said that in May there were 6,290 online job postings in the Southern Alleghenies region. He said that while the median home value nationwide is $226,000, in Somerset it is $90,500.

“This is a great region to live, work and play in,” he said. “We are close to major cities, Pittsburgh, D.C., New York City, those people come here on the weekend to escape.”