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Keeping home-grown talent

When they packed up the car and headed west from Manhattan, Kasey Allen and his new wife Polly began a five-week, 9,000 mile journey in search of the ideal small town to settle into and raise a family.

After looking at small towns across the country, the newlyweds decided to return to Allen’s hometown, Grass Valley, where Allen is starting up a geographic consulting business.

“This place was one of the tops of the list,” Allen said. Others included the Hood River area of Oregon and coastal towns north of San Francisco.



Kasey is the son of Keoni Allen, owner of Sierra Foothill Construction. Like many local youth, Kasey Allen left the area shortly after graduating from Nevada Union High School in 1998 to attend college and find work elsewhere.

Young, smart and hankering for the quality of life found in Nevada County, Kasey fits an under-35 demographic of homegrown talent that the Economic Resource Council wants to tap into.




Still in its infancy, a new idea coined the “Bring Them Home Campaign” is targeting young people such as Allen to give the economy a long-term viable boost.

“I’ve come to realize we’re an aging community, and we need to bring young people into the mix,” said Keoni Allen, who is thrilled to have his son and new daughter-in-law living in the same town.

Earlier this month, the Nevada County Contractors Association hosted a gathering to help introduce young people to the business opportunities and benefits of living here.

The object of the ERC’s mission is to contact Nevada Union and Bear River high school graduates who have science and technology-based college degrees and are now looking to start their own businesses.

“When they make that decision, we want them to know Nevada County wants them,” said Gil Mathew, president of the ERC.

For years, the county has been a refuge for wealthy retirees offering little promise for employment beyond service jobs that cater to the tourism industry.

“I think that’s a huge reason why people leave and don’t come back. There aren’t that many job prospects,” Kasey Allen said.

A thriving technology sector of the economy attracts engineering and other high-paying jobs but is not geared toward recruiting locals.

“We know anecdotally that we’re losing young people,” Mathew said.

If young families are going to stick around, they are going to need affordable housing beyond the typical bungalow or flat, said Loma Rica Ranch developer Phil Carville.

His development concept trades in the traditional large family house built on a large lot in outlying areas for smaller, more affordable residences within walking distance of shopping, coffee houses and other community centers.

“There’s a whole demographic trend of people moving from the suburbs. Younger people want to be where the action is,” Carville said.

Attributes such as lifestyle, quality schools and a hospital – all attributes of this area – can entice adult children back home, Mathew said.

“They already know the value of this community,” Mathew said.

While existing job opportunities are slim, the possibilities for growth are as endless as the creative ideas and energy of the people living here, said Kasey Allen, who is optimistic that more young people will join his entrepreneurial spirit.

“I think there is a big opportunity for young people to do what they want here. I think it’s a rich environment for growth and success,” Allen said.

As they settle in, Polly has taken a historic preservation job in Davis, and Kasey says he will probably have to turn to projects in the Bay Area as a telecommuter while he builds a clientele base closer to home.

When Keoni Allen started his construction business in the late 1980s he made a similar commute to find work.

Even with the downturn in the economy, resources available to young business people are greater then they were in the 1980s, Keoni Allen said. Telecommuting from the computer at home offers opportunity that the elder Allen never had.

“I think it’s a big advantage our generation has,” Allen said.

Though still years away, Mathew foresees establishing a support network called an incubator to offer business, planning and financial expertise along with free or reduced rent for business space.

“It’s a nourishing environment for fledgling companies,” Allen said.

Mathew envisions having 1,000 to 2,000 former graduates in a data base a year from now. From there he hopes to narrow the search.

“Ten a year would be great, but we have to find them,” Mathew said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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