No matter how much love there is for home, young people often hear the call of the world beyond that beckons and urges exploration. So, it’s not uncommon for people to leave Louisville either for college or a job opportunity. But for many of those who leave Louisville, the call of home summons them back at some point. Here is a look at some of those who traded in big city living to come back and make their homes in Louisville for a second time.
Having moved to Minnesota to attend Carlton College, it was a logical next step for Katie Claiborne to take her first job in Minneapolis. In addition to a good job with Target, Claiborne, 24, loved the park system, good restaurants and ease of getting around.
“It reminded me of a larger version of Louisville,” she says.
After a couple of years, Claiborne was ready for a job change, so she began considering her options. She looked for opportunities in Minneapolis, as well as options for moving elsewhere. And Louisville was on her list of places she considered.
“All of my family is in Kentucky,” she says. “I still felt connected to Louisville.”
Eventually, she got an opportunity to come and work at Rowdmap, a healthcare consulting startup.
But living in Louisville as an adult is different than growing up here, Claiborne says. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised and reassured that Louisville is a fun place to be a young person. I knew it was a good place to grow up, but it’s been good to know that it’s fun in my 20s, too.”
Rather than go back to Crescent Hill or St. Matthews where she lived growing up, Claiborne opted to move to an area near NuLu. “I like being a little closer in,” she says, which means she can walk more places, though she did buy a car when she moved back to Louisville. “I do miss the public transportation” of Minneapolis, she says.
Whether she will stay in Louisville forever is hard to predict for the 24-year-old, but “this feels like a good place to be right now,” she says. “I’m excited to watch the city continue to grow and to be part of that growth and change.”
New York City was the perfect place for Nick Zangari to start his career in finance, snagging a job with Morgan Stanley’s institutional lending group after graduating from Penn State University.
Zangari, 35, says living in Tribeca during his 20s with his wife, Lisa Buckley Zangari, offered them a fun lifestyle filled with good restaurants, good friends and opportunities for a fun social life. But last May, the couple decided to move to Louisville, returning to the place where Nick Zangari had grown up.
“We knew it was a city we liked in terms of size,” Zangari says. “Obviously, being close to family was important.”
After 12 years of living in New York City, the couple decided they wanted to live in a place where they could be more connected to the community. Nick was able to be the assistant coach for a high school girls’ basketball team. Lisa started volunteering with New Roots Inc.
Zangari is also finding that Louisville is giving him some entrepreneurial opportunities that he didn’t necessarily expect, adding that there are a lot of up-and-coming companies here. “It’s been easy to network because of that community effect, so that’s a definite positive.”
Buckley Zangari, who is originally from St. Louis, says she been really impressed with how the city embraces innovation and is trying to incorporate new ideas into government and the business community. “It makes me excited to live here,” says Buckley Zangari, who recently took a job with Leadership Louisville as the new Director of Learning.
When the Zangaris started thinking about leaving New York, Buckley Zangari was open to moving to Louisville, both for the family connection and because of the culture of the city. “The reason I was so open to Louisville is because it has so much character,” she says.
She even prepared herself for being considered an outsider. “I haven’t experienced that at all,” she says. “People are incredibly kind. I’ve found people to be very interested in learning about me.”
For Nick Zangari, it’s been great being home, though it does take some getting used to as well, he says. “You run into people you haven’t seen in quite some time and it’s different. I have a lot of good memories here. It’s a lot of reminders of people and places.”
Because they “weren’t quite ready for a 10-room house,” the couple moved into an apartment downtown. “It seemed like a good entry point for us coming from lower Manhattan.”
Downtown living has given the couple the chance bridge that urban lifestyle they had in New York with the experience Zangari had growing up in an east end neighborhood of Louisville. And they can explore some of the new restaurants and other cultural developments going on downtown, Zangari says.
“We have enough of a big city feel that we feel like we have a bit of the best of both worlds,” Zangari says.
When Alison Brotzge-Elder graduated from Assumption High School, she earned a good scholarship to Boston University and was ready to enter their communications program as the first step in getting out to see the world.
Though she came back to Kentucky for a short stint as a television producer in Lexington, she soon moved to Atlanta for a job with The Weather Channel. After spending three years there, she transferred to the New York City office.
When she got pregnant in 2014, Brotzge-Elder and her husband, Jacob, started thinking about moving out of the city. Since Jacob Elder is originally from Fancy Farm, Louisville seemed the perfect place.
“We missed our families,” she says. “I love Louisville. I have life-long friends and family here, and I love the culture. Plus, I wanted to own a house.”
Now the Communications Manager with Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), Brotzge-Elder says she couldn’t imagine paying a million dollars for a small condo in a questionable neighborhood, like in New York. Now the couple is moving into a home in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood, where she looks forward to walking to parks and restaurants.
While Brotzge-Elder says she does miss the thriving public transportation system of New York, she loves how accessible things are in Louisville. In Atlanta, she said, it wasn’t uncommon to be stuck in traffic.
Here “everything is just 20 minutes away,” she says. “People there think the traffic’s bad, but it’s not.”
Brotzge-Elder thinks Louisville’s reputation is getting better outside of this region, though there are still people who view Kentuckians as “very regressive and hicks. But I tell people we have an orchestra. We have a ballet company. It’s a surprisingly progressive place.”
Zac Caldwell grew up south of Louisville in Elizabethtown, but always considered the River City home because so many of his childhood adventures happened here.
After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University, Caldwell opted to leave the Commonwealth, not for the bright lights of a big city, but to work with youth and government programs in Harrisburg, Penn. and Fort Myers, Fla.
However, during a trip home in August 2014, Caldwell sat outside at a Waterfront Wednesday concert with a view of the lights on the Big Four Bridge and started dreaming of returning to Louisville. While the idea of being dazzled by the lights on the bridge might seem corny, Caldwell says it was “something that made me realize how invested this city is in making this a cool place to live.”
Though his career path had always involved youth programs and summer camps, Caldwell nursed another dream: opening his own business making jams and jellies. He’d spent a couple years in Florida playing around with recipes and experimenting with flavors.
“It was a hobby of mine,” says Caldwell, who said neither of his parents were much into cooking so he’d started early on learning to cook. “If I wanted something good, I had to make it myself,” he laughed.
To Caldwell, 28, Louisville seemed like the right place to come back and nurture his dream and launch his company, Caldwell’s Quirky Cookery. Not only does Louisville have a rich food and restaurant scene, but, Caldwell says there is a great sense of entrepreneurship that goes along with it.
He’s currently working out of Chef Space, a kitchen incubator in the Russell Neighborhood. Not only does Caldwell get kitchen space to work out of, Chef Space provides support to help him grow his business.
In fact, Caldwell said he’s developing products that focus on his Kentucky roots. “I can make it national with a local brand.” With shipping and technology businesses developing here, Caldwell says “there is nothing in my vision of my company that makes me think I have to go somewhere else.”
It’s that openness to nurturing and fostering innovation and business development that makes Louisville a perfect place to start a business. “Louisville wants to be the hub of America,” Caldwell says. And he (and many other returning young adults) believe Louisville is on the cusp of being the next national cultural hot spot.