Attracting more educated talent to Houston
As the Greater Houston Partnership
develops Opportunity Houston v2.0, I hear more and more that Houston needs to not just attract jobs, but also well-educated talent to fill all those jobs
. Don't get me wrong - as Joel Kotkin has pointed out, plenty of college grads are moving to Houston
- but even that flow is having trouble keeping up with the massive numbers of jobs we're creating
. Although Houston's image has been improving with more and more national accolades, we're still not an obvious "go-to" destination for talent (like, say, Austin), especially recent college grads outside of Texas. I'm not sure any general image/advertising campaign can fix that, but I do think a targeted approach with a modest budget has a lot of potential.
: Identify target universities with graduates and alums we want
. It's really hard to pry people out of the coasts, but I think Midwestern and Southern graduates are more likely to consider Houston. I'd guess the best yield will be mostly from Big 10, Big 12, and SEC schools with strong engineering programs, plus a few high-quality extras like Tulane, Duke, Emory, Georgia Tech, U.Va, and Washington University in St. Louis.
: Help organize/support/sponsor alumni groups from those schools in Houston
. Help them create social media communities and networking events, especially around sports bar meetups for their school's games.
Step 3: Sponsor a big Houston tent at the annual homecoming football games for those schools. In addition to the usual food, beer, and marketing materials, make sure it has plenty of Houston-based alums at it to talk up both the city and their alumni community here. The message is "Your school has a vibrant alumni community in Houston that you will be welcomed into, and they love living in Houston." This is a double win because the message gets out to both alums and students. Also consider ads and articles in alumni magazines.
Step 4: Here's the clincher. The idea came from a story my Dad told me about northern college students driving down here for spring break mixing service at Habitat with Humanity with some fun. Evidently they really enjoyed Houston. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Houston has to offer for college students on spring break: reasonable driving distance (at least for a groups trading off driving shifts), great weather, beaches/Kemah/Pleasure Pier/Schlitterbahn, the Rodeo, NASA, arts/theater/museums, and of course tons of restaurants, bars, shopping, and nightlife. I've heard and read multiple anecdotes that today's college students are looking for more than just "get drunk on a beach for a week." They like the excitement and sophistication of a big city. They'd like to do a service project. Houston could offer an amazing spring break experience, and we can certainly handle the crowds far better than the small beach communities of Florida and with fewer drug violence concerns than Mexico. And if they want to mix in a little SXSW time in Austin or South Padre beach time during their week, that's fine too. The goal is to get them at least some exposure to all Houston has to offer, so when they're interviewing for jobs their senior year, we're an attractive option... "Man, I had a blast on spring break in Houston - I could definitely see myself taking a job and living there."
Of course we'd want to try and schedule a slate of events, including concerts and festivals, during these spring break weeks. And offer an array of service projects like Habitat for Humanity and others. We'd also want to have private events where the students can meet their local alumni group - for example, Houston-based Purdue alumni hosting Purdue students on spring break for an event at the Natural Science or Fine Arts museums. Finally, of course, we have to promote Spring Break Houston on their campuses.
Again, another double win, attracting both talent and tourism dollars. And when you consider the secondary value of all those college students talking up their Spring Break Houston trip on their social media accounts, it's really a triple win.
So that's my 4-step plan for attracting more college-educated talent to Houston with a modest marketing budget. I'm looking forward to your thoughts in the comments...
Labels: creative class, economic strategy, growth, talent, tourism