City identity and attracting educated youthSteve recently pointed me to a potentially disturbing report by CEOs for Cities titled "The Young and Restless in the Knowledge Economy." The gist of the report is that educated 25-34 year olds are the long-term lifeblood of a city, because they usually don't move after that age, so if you can attract them during that time, you can probably keep them long-term. Conclusions from their executive summary:
- Young educated people are the most mobile people in the U.S. population.
- Young educated people are an indicator of a city's economic vitality, but they are also a key contributor to economic vitality.
- People in the 25 to 34 year-old group are the most entrepreneurial in our society.
- For the first time, women in this age group are better educated than men, making them key to developing a base of talent.
- Place matters: young educated people are being disproportionately drawn to certain cities, and once in them, they are more likely to choose vibrant, close-in neighborhoods than other Americans.
Another problem I have is simply the age of the data, which is based on changes between the 1990 and 2000 Census. That is way-old news - we've been through an Internet boom and bust since then (artificially pumping up all the tech city rankings in the report) - and recently inflated a massive housing price bubble on the East and West coasts which dramatically reduces the attractiveness of those cities to young people. As an example, Boston considers itself in crisis because it has such an incredibly rich higher education environment, but holds on to so few of them after graduation - with most fingers pointing at outrageous housing costs. When housing supply is constrained, a young single or married couple simply can't compete with a baby boomer in their peak earning years for housing.
One additional stat: about a third of our 25-34 population is Hispanic, 4th out of 50 top metros in the nation and substantially ahead of the 10% national average, but well behind San Antonio, LA, and Miami - and comparable to San Diego.
Although I consider the report a clear wake-up call that we need to do better on higher education rates, I am heartened by their final recommendations, which seem to fit Houston pretty well:
Competing for Talent
- Make people the focus of economic development
- Become a city where women and ethnically diverse young people can achieve their goals
- Openness and engagement are key to rooting talent in place (a Houston strength)
- Investing in higher education is important, but it won't solve the problem (must attract and retain or they will simply move elsewhere)
- Vibrant urban neighborhoods are an economic asset
- The economic importance of being different
I found the last couple of paragraphs, which elaborate on that sixth recommendation above, extremely inspirational:
Although we identified some common elements that were attractive to many well-educated young adults, we would not say that there is one single ideal community. An important element of authenticity is distinctiveness. We live in a nation (and a world, thanks to globalization) where culture has become increasingly homogenized, where one suburban community, strip mall, freeway exit looks exactly like every other. But a reaction is brewing, emerging from the ground up. Many people want choices and a sense of place that moves past the bland of the national brand.On a superficial level to the temporary visitor, Houston may not seem very distinctive, but those who have been here longer know better. We have a lot of loyalty by locals, as evidenced in the Houston Area Survey. The lack of zoning alone creates an eclectic feel that is not found in a lot of other, more-controlled cities - not to mention a constant dynamic renewal that gives us an energetic atmosphere (and some of those vibrant, close-in neighborhoods cited above). We do have a distinct identity, although I think people sometimes have a hard time articulating it. I made my best attempt right here a couple days ago, summing up our friendliness, hospitality, entrepreneurial energy, minimal regulations (including no zoning), open-mindedness, diversity, affordability, social mobility, optimism, and charity as "Open City, USA" - or, for a little more detailed articulation/branding, "Texas' Open City of Global Opportunity." I think it's a distinctive identity we could really rally around to sell ourselves to businesses and talent around the world, not to mention building up our own local pride so we help sell ourselves to friends, relatives, and associates who live elsewhere.
The essence of this notion is that every community will have to find its own unique identity. Just as quality of life means different things to different people, so too does sense of place. We know tastes differ regarding climate. Many people will find the quality of life eroded by "bad" weather. Some will think Minnesota too cold, Portland to wet or Phoenix too hot. Just as there are many dimensions of climate, there are many dimensions of community. No city can offer the best quality of life to everyone. The challenge is to find one's niche. The Twin Cities, for example, can't be cheaper than Mississippi, or sunnier than Phoenix or more aggressively entrepreneurial than Silicon Valley, but they can offer their own distinctive combination of attributes that a significant set of knowledge workers will find attractive. As Michael Porter reminds us, strategy is about being different: What do you choose to be or to offer that is different than others? (Porter, 1996) This notion stands in stark contrast to our traditional view of economic development, which has asked simply whether one place was cheaper than another. The challenge for every community is to decide what kind of place it wants to be.
How about it? Comments on our identity? Alternate proposals?