Many young people leave the North Coast, never to returnKatie Agalzoff has her arms full of boxes. Big boxes. Little boxes. Odd-shaped boxes, full of clothing and food.

She left Clatsop County for Willamette University Aug. 29, and doesn't plan to live in the North Coast again.

"I was always going to go to college - it just was never a question," Agalzoff said. "The idea of staying here isn't tempting to me."

Brad Dunkin is glued to a computer screen. It's a warm summer afternoon, but he's still wearing a heavy fleece jacket and thick socks. The Astoria teenager and recent high school graduate lives with his parents, and plans to get a job in the fall and probably attend community college.

He is not leaving.

"As long as I'm around a computer I'm pretty much a happy clam," said Dunkin, who wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life in his hometown.

Every year, many young adults like Agalzoff leave the county to go to college. But each year there are fewer people like Dunkin who stay in the area. Numbers from 2001, the most recent data available, show that 36 percent of Clatsop County graduating seniors left the area to attend an Oregon university or community college.

Statewide, U.S. Census figures, which track people in five-year age brackets, show that 13 percent of Oregon's 20- to 24-year-olds have come from other places. But in Clatsop County, 17 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds have moved away.

Richard Lycan, a senior research associate at the Portland State University population center, said regions like the North Coast can rarely support young adults well enough for them to all stay in the area.

"It's typical of smaller communities around the state," said Lycan, a researcher who tracks Census data statewide.

There aren't enough jobs to support most young adults. During the last six years, the number of people employed countywide has remained relatively constant. But the population has increased by 1,250 during the same period and so has the number of jobs in industries like agriculture and manufacturing.

The numbers point to a brain drain - a trend in which a community loses a chunk of its workforce to areas with a better economy or more favorable living conditions.

"Basically, the economy in Clatsop County has been really slow," said regional economist Alan Stoebig, who tracks job figures for the Oregon Employment Department. "Opportunities to find family-wage jobs are better in urban areas."

Many of the students go to school in Eugene or Portland - just to get away.

"I have no idea what I'm going to be, or what I'm going to be doing," said Joshua Prichard, who leaves for the University of Oregon this week. "But I don't think I'll move back here ... I just want to go where the jobs are, eventually."

And some of the people who stay in Clatsop County are only doing so temporarily.

Jared Loranger, a Longview, Wash., native interning in the human resources department at Georgia-Pacific's Wauna mill, said he'll be happy to finish his stay in the county as soon as the summer ends.

"It gives me good experience," he said. "I really like the big city, and it has a lot more opportunities than in a community like Longview or Astoria. There's more big business (in Portland.)"

There are exceptions to the trend.

Sean Johnson, who graduated high school in June, is starting off his education at Clatsop Community College.

"It's nearby. I don't have to pay for things like room and board," he said. "I've been hearing horror stories of friends who run out of money at a university and have to come back."

Johnson said he'll probably attend a four-year university once he completes his transfer degree. He has his eye on Virginia, or possibly California, as likely spots where he'll end up buying or building his own home once he settles down.

But his roots are in Astoria, and he might just end up staying.

"I really like the area here - there's lots of stuff I can do. I've got connections here, and it's not too hot, not too cold."

Those who stay, like Johnson, often attend Clatsop Community College. Full-time enrollment figures have been steadily increasing at the school for more than 10 years. Degree-seeking students are older than their peers at four-year institutions, but nearly half are enrolled in transfer programs that will give them a jump-start on a university degree if they leave the county to continue their education.

"We've offered new programs and we've hired new faculty," said college President John Wubben. "It's like any product, if people perceive there's good quality, they'll seek it out."

The students who leave may come back to the area years from now. Gregory Lum, a library media specialist at Astoria High School, didn't think he'd come back to the county when he left Astoria more than 20 years ago for Oregon State University. He then moved to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee for a graduate program in library science, but eventually returned to Clatsop County.

"When I left Astoria, I didn't know where I was going to be, but I didn't think I'd be coming back," said Lum, who returned to the area six years ago with his family. "But when I moved to Tennessee, I realized I missed the water."

Lum estimated that just several years ago, almost a quarter of the high school's faculty were Astoria alumni. He said many of the students he sees on an everyday basis are planning to leave the area.

"They want to see what's out there," he said. "Some people want to experience New York City. Some want to live in a foreign country. I don't think the majority come back."

If Katie Agalzoff gets her wish, she'll be one of the many who leave the county for good.

"I'll come back to visit my parents," she said. "But I want to live in a big city."

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