Best Practices

SoMNSourceLink: Community Vibrancy: What is the magic formula fordrawing young people?

Published Jun 12, 2013 by

Seeking an answer to a question, what can a community do to draw young people to relocate and live in their community, I did some research.  Though it is not comprehensively exhaustive, I did find some clues:

Kiplinger, in its April 2013 publication,  10 great cities for new grads, enlightens us that the best places to live and work after college often share certain traits, chief among them good-paying jobs, an affordable lifestyle and an active social scene.

Forbes, in its article of March 19th, relays that college grads are entering the workforce facing  higher unemployment rates coupled with lower starting wages and higher student loan debt.  With those challenging statistics in mind, data shows in some cities it is easier for new college grads to find both a job and affordable rental housing.  A new ranking from Rent.com, a rental housing listing site, looks at the top 25 markets with the most rental listings, and then compares figures for unemployment, cost of living and annual mean wages. The research relies on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and Rent.com’s own apartment rental database.  From those numbers, Rent.com came up with a list of ten cities where young grads would be most likely to find housing, work and a reasonable paycheck.

Cleveland-based urbanism blog Rustwire recently ran a post which suggested cities simply ask their young people what they want.  Civic campaigns designed by marketers and consultants may miss the mark entirely; it’s not glitz, campaign slogans or sterile skyways that young people desire.  Rather, historic character, walkable living and entertainment venues, variety in food and music, and basically, healthy living at reasonable prices is the main draw. 

As the blog states, “There is not a secret formula. The places that are succeeding aren't making a riddle of their methods. They are working very hard to make their environments hospitable to young people. How are they doing that? Through a whole movement called "livability."

What is livability? Well it incorporates a whole bunch of things: bustling sidewalks, community spaces. But if I had to summarize it succinctly, I would say it is the freedom to get around and lead a fulfilling life without a car. This is exactly what New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and a handful of other cities that are winning the young-people-attracting game are focused on…. a dense, walkable downtown -- not a car repository for suburbanites.

Portland State University researchers recently investigated why Portland is a magnet for the young and college educated from across the country, even though a disproportionate share of them are working part-time or holding jobs that don’t require a degree.  Findings were people are drawn by a relatively low cost of living, a vibrant arts scene and a collegial, laid-back atmosphere. With abundant public transit, a vibrant bicycle culture and many walkable neighborhoods, there’s no need for a car.

What if that young person doesn’t seek traditional employment in corporate America?  Or is among the almost 9% of college grads or the 18% of high school grads not finding jobs?  How can cities or communities attract someone who wants to chart their own future course, and build their own business?

Brad Feld in his book, Start Up Communities, adds additional ingredients to the secret sauce of a vibrant start-up ecosystem.  He states that entrepreneurial community leaders must be the entrepreneurs themselves.  He says, “They have no idea what they are going to get out of providing leadership, but they expect it will be more than they invest.  In some cases, the results are tangible and immediate; in other cases the results are vague and take a long time to materialize.”  Personal sacrifice, giving before getting, is the mindset.

Universities, contributing eager graduates, research programs, technology transfer programs and so on are mentioned, as are investors, mentors, service providers, and large companies, all contributing support and resources for start-ups.

While Brad mentions the role of government, he points out that the cadence of government, operating on short time cycles, is out of sync with the long term view of entrepreneurs.  Further, employees may not understand the entrepreneurial mindset.  So his best suggestion is for government support the entrepreneurs by asking them what they need, and providing it if possible.

If you are a leader, either on the entrepreneur side or the supporting side, the message is, roll up your sleeves and get working.  Find the entrepreneurs, they’re out there, and support them with reasonable rents, places to meet, green spaces, pedestrian/bicycle friendly streets and paths, mentorship and investments.  NO SLOGANS, PLEASE!

Content contributed by Maria Brown, SoMNSourceLink.

SoMNSourceLink is a proud affiliate of U.S.SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.