Niagra Falls, New York teeters on the line between city and town—a classification that mean the difference between more or less federal funding. However, Emily DeRuy and Geneva Sands of Fusion report that the city/town has a plan to help its population grow above the 50,000 mark needed to secure that money: promise to pay-off a portion of student debt.

The population of Niagara Falls peaked in the 1960s at 102,000 residents and has since declined by half. But, in a move to boost numbers, Niagara Falls is offering a deal to graduates—saying it will pay off $7,000 in student loans over the course of two years. Seth Piccirillo, the city's Community Development Director, came up with the idea as a solution to the city's shrinking population and to the debt crisis students are facing. So, the deal comes with a caveat, graduates will have to live in a neighborhood near the boarded-up Main Street in Niagara Falls for two years. While the allure of paying off loans is certainly tempting, the city comes with its own challenges for students.

The program has five participants, according to Deruy and Sands—hardly the number needed to incur change. But it has brought people who would have never considered Niagara Falls as a destination after college. As to whether these five will stay is up to Niagara Fall's job market. However, Deruy and Sands report that the weekly wage in the area averages around $750—well below the $1,027 national average. Most of the participants have struggled to find work locally, instead, holding down jobs outside its limits in coffee shops, malls, and at various other part-time jobs.

Piccirillo knows these issues won't hold students after the two years are up, but he's optimistic about the future of the city's revival and this program's success. His vision for the future would be partnering with private companies to kick-start the program further. Perhaps partnering with employers to offer loan repayment perks if the students come to work for them.

As students race to the major metropolitan areas to find work, perhaps, programs like the one in Niagara Falls will help kick-start long-term, future progress for dwindling cities while also benefiting graduates. After all, you never know who might settle in and create the next Silicon Valley.

Read more at Fusion

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