By Amy Holloway
Yesterday I read an article that lists places poised to attract millennials. Most of the regions would not have appeared among creative place-making rankings ten years ago. The list included Omaha, Jackson, Jersey City, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Albuquerque, San Antonio, and Houston.
The article resonated with me and echoed what we’re seeing in the field. Access to jobs and affordability really matters in this post-recession economy. Choosing your place based on quality of life amenities and hipster camaraderie is appealing of course, but not practical for most people.
Career availability and job transferability matters. A reasonable cost of living matters. Being able to afford to raise a family while still enjoying dinner and theater matters. Being able to start a business in a business friendly market filled with disposable incomes matters. Having community service opportunities without a feeling of exclusivity matters.
I can think of even more regions that would not have appeared on a list of creative hot spots ten years ago but are making sizable post-recession gains in talent attraction.
In my opinion, three attributes contribute to economic growth in today’s economy:
A region changes in response to the needs of its residents and businesses. It anticipates change. Adaptable regions are places that admit that growth is coming. They make investments in the community to accommodate that growth. They understand the needs of businesses large and small, they understand the far-reaching economic impact of those businesses, and they are willing to invest in meaningful change that can help those businesses thrive.
As much as I love living in Austin, the city didn’t invest in appropriate roadways and public transit when it needed to. Perhaps the original thought was that it would dissuade growth, which it hasn’t. Today it takes me 20 minutes to drive two miles from my home to my downtown office. And that’s on good days. One could say that Austin was not adaptable in the past and that has affected the quality of life. Not so much that it’s slowing our population super surge now, but it is a threat to continued expansion unless it is addressed.
On the other hand, my hometown of Houston has done the opposite. Houston has always adapted to change. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most adaptable metros in the country and also one of the most internationally diverse. How great! Entrepreneurs and companies can move to Greater Houston knowing that it will expand and change to accommodate their needs. A city without limits for businesses, entrepreneurialism, and personal growth is appealing. There are fewer limitations to expansion in Houston than in other mega-regions of the country.
The region is accessible in terms of training and education, mobility, affordability, job availability, and opportunities to live well on any budget. One can move to a region that is accessible and enjoy a wide range of lifestyle options without feeling constantly strapped for cash. Or without having a long-distance commute to access education, jobs, family, and fun.
I travel a lot for a living. In my 20 years as a traveling strategist, I’ve been in tremendous cities, buzzing and alive and entrancing. Every time I travel to places like Chicago, Lisbon, London, New York, San Francisco, or the beautiful coast of Mexico, I have thoughts as many of us do. What would it be like if I moved here? Then I put pen to paper. I’m a small business owner who is careful with finances. I simply can’t afford to enjoy the same quality of life that I have in Austin in those cities. Accessibility is of growing importance. I can’t imagine that’s just with me.
The region is open to new ideas and new people. It encourages a diversity of residents, industry, arts, and culture. It embraces newcomers and gives them opportunities to give back to the region.
I once served on a board of a high profile organization and sat next to a board member who was a new transplant from New York City. He told me that in New York they would never let young people like me serve on such a prominent board (I was 37 at the time). A city like New York has countless amenities, but this comment was eye opening to me. For millennials (especially) and other young-ish people, community service is extremely important. Living in a place that is open to involvement by all, that recognizes young leaders and encourages them to participate, is a deciding factor for people.
I’m writing this because I’m encouraged. Economic development potential no longer feels exclusive. No longer does the conversation have to be about how communities can compete with marquis creative meccas.
We interact with communities every day that still remain concerned that they aren’t as competitive when it comes to being creative places.
Strive to be adaptable. Have an open mind and accept the fact that growth could happen. Anticipate it and invest in infrastructure that accommodates it.
Strive to be accessible. Focus on ensuring job availability, good mobility, affordability, and expanding relevant training and education opportunities.
Lastly, strive to be accepting. Embrace the mentality that people who are new to your community, are young, who do not have experience (yet), and don’t look like everyone else in your region have an important role to play in your community’s progress. Make sure that they and their ideas are welcome in your region and are invited to the table.