Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young

The city of Atlanta pulled off a coup on the PR front recently. The New York Times ran an article on how well they're attracting young, college-educated professionals, and the lengths other cities are also going to attract that desired demographic. It looks like the article was sparked by a recent report released by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, with the breathless press release title, "Atlanta Leads the Nation in Attracting Most Coveted Demographic in the Country".

So I dig into this study a bit, where I'm stunned to find that almost all the assertions are based on comparing the 2000 census to the 1990 census. Did anybody notice that it's almost 2007? Hello, editors at the New York Times? This data is ancient history, and all about the dot-com boom. The economy and relative attractions of cities have shifted quite radically since then, especially as housing costs have skyrocketed on the coasts. This would be like Houston releasing a study in 1990 based on 1982 data talking about how hot Houston's economic growth is - when everybody knows the bottom dropped out of the oil economy in 1983. Atlanta hasn't been hurt that bad in the recent recession, but they're certainly not doing as well as in the 1990s. Not only are they struggling with one of the highest downtown office vacancy rates in the country, and condos are having to be auctioned off from overbuilding, but here's another recent summary:
The news that US Airways is making a run at Atlanta's own Delta Air Lines is causing chills of anxiety over the possibility that the metro area will lose another major corporate headquarters.

It's been a tough 12 months.

Georgia-Pacific gets bought out by privately owned Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan. BellSouth is being acquired by San Antonio-based AT&T. Scientific Atlanta has been purchased by San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems. Atlanta's Internet Security Systems has been acquired by IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y.

Our two U.S. auto plants announced they will close, and one already has. And two of our military bases also are set to close.

So the whole report has a slight air of insecure desperation to me - "Uh, yeah, we're having a little trouble now, but boy weren't the 90s great!" (don't forget the '96 Olympics). Don't get me wrong - Atlanta is a healthy, growing metro that is still attracting plenty of young professionals (as is Houston now, with the boost of the oil boom) - but it takes some chutzpah to tout seven-year-old data.

So, getting back to the NYT article, some interesting excerpts:

These measures reflect a hard demographic reality: Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.

Cities have long competed over job growth, struggling to revive their downtowns and improve their image. But the latest population trends have forced them to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future.

Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade.


They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.


Studies like Atlanta’s are common these days. From Milwaukee to Tampa Bay, consultants have been hired to score such nebulous indexes as “social capital,” “after hours” and “vitality.” Relocation videos have begun to feature dreadlocks and mosh pits instead of sunsets and duck ponds. In the governor’s race in Michigan this fall, the candidates repeatedly sparred over how best to combat “brain drain.”

But determining exactly what works is not easy. In Atlanta, focus group participants liked the low cost of living, an airport hub that allowed easy travel and what they perceived as a diverse and open culture (Houston: check, check, check).

And Atlanta has some strong advantages, of course. There are some 45 colleges and universities in the metro area. The Cartoon Network is based here, as are scores of companies in the technology and entertainment sectors. The music industry is another draw for the creative class. And the city has large international and gay populations, considered strong indicators for popularity with the young and restless.

Elsewhere in the article, they list some of the other hot cities from the dot-com '90s, like San Francisco and Austin. If you're curious, you might open the report and search on the word "Houston" to find our relevant stats. It was the 90s, so we did ok (or in some cases, a bit below ok), but nowhere near as well as now, especially compared to the rest of the country. I haven't seen hard numbers, but my perception is that we're attracting this demographic in droves now based on affordability, no housing crash, and the oil boom, partially fueling the inner-loop townhome frenzy. If you have anecdotes or data, I'd love to hear it in the comments.


At 9:33 PM, November 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:42 AM, December 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon says

"atlanta" link to other website.

There are neighborhoods like that in houston. I lived in one like it while going to school and even though I live in a much safer one now, I still have my machete right next to my bed and would probably be shot by the cops if they came through my door on a no knock raid.

At 7:18 AM, December 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consider myself in the desired demographic. I am 32 and my wife is 28. Both of us have advanced degrees from UT. I moved to Houston 2 years ago from Austin. I swore would only be in Houston until a position opened back up in Austin. Since then i have really grown to love Houston and have no plans on leaving. Houston's not perfect but i really like thedirection the city is heading.

At 3:44 PM, December 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never ascribe to maliciousness what could be explained by simple laziness and incompetance.

I suspect they grabbed the Census data becuase it was the most recent, credible data they could get their hands on.

At 4:30 PM, December 01, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I wouldn't say "malicious" - just "conveniently easy". If they had wanted to do the work, they could have dug through the data from the 2005 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau.


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