By Phil D'Amico, Director of Business Development
Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending an economic development conference in Elkhart, Indiana on what elements are involved in helping to create and develop inclusive, vibrant communities. I, too, had the pleasure of being a panelist with some very engaged, talented and creative individuals from the Elkhart area who are doing amazing work for their community, in helping to create a city whose residents are excited by the opportunity to live, work and play in that region. The panel, as well as the breakout sessions, focused on all areas that affect a city’s vibrancy; including talent attraction, talent retention, quality of life, business attraction, and inclusiveness.
During my regular travels around the state, I have met with many economic development professionals and private industries and one of the main discussion topics always seems to be initiatives to help attract and retain the millennial generation of the workforce. Many believe that relying solely on a strategy offering “cool” downtown multifamily housing options will be enough for an inclusive community, and a community that attracts a generational workforce. The “if you build it, they will come,” model is a very difficult one to gamble on, however; especially with many of these multifamily building projects running in excess of $30 Million.
What do millennials want?
- Transformational housing options including walkable cities and quality of life amenities such as a variety of restaurants, arts and entertainment, live music options, brewpubs, workout facilities, etc.
- A recent survey of millennials found that 86% want to live in a city that does not require a car.
- I spoke to a group of Notre Dame MBA students about 5 years ago, who all expressed the desire to live where no car is required and all modes of public transportation (bus, rail, train) were available to them.
- Downtown housing and work options are not complete unless you have a downtown grocery, as well as other shopping options.
- You can’t have a downtown multifamily option without having a mixed-use retail and commercial component.
- A separate survey found that 69% of millennials would leave a city that did not have the items listed above, to go to a more progressive city that did have those key quality of life issues that will drive growth.
One thing we do know for sure, is that those born between 1982 and 2001 (millennials) are a growing force and need to be paid attention to, as they account for approximately 80 million Americans.
Attracting Baby Boomers
You know who else accounts for nearly 80 million Americans? The baby boomers; those born between 1945 and 1964.
Why do they matter in a downtown strategy?
- A recent Gallup survey showed that nearly 50% of baby boomers wanted to live in a city that is walkable at some point in their lifetime, and more than likely when they retired.
- These are the individuals who are retiring, becoming “empty nesters”; packing up leaving their suburbs and moving downtown closer to all the options we spoke about.
- They too want the quality of life options that make them more mobile.
- The new buzz word and practice is that of becoming a minimalist, or shedding oneself of materialistic things that take up space.
- Examples of this are popping up all over as “baby boomers” are exiting the “burbs” and moving back downtown to enjoy the flexibility that allows them to do weekend escapes to the mountains or locations on water.
Why Create an Inclusive Community?
There are many regions throughout the country whose sole focus has been creating inclusive communities to better enhance their quality of life, talent attraction and talent retention issues. This is part of a very effective economic development model on how successful communities have something for every demographic sector and socio-economic class. There are many site selectors who feel that an inclusive city is a vibrant, thriving city.
What makes an Inclusive Community?
- Much of the development and building strategies have been centered around market rate multifamily housing projects that offer living arrangements for individuals across all socio-economic sectors.
- These developments also offer downtown mixed-use with retail and shopping close by, so individuals can walk or use public transportation.
- All downtown strategies include grocery stores and amenities that help the everyday quality of life of its citizens, with bike paths, walkable streetscapes and sidewalks, in additional to pet friendly communities with parks, and recreation options for everyone.
- It cannot be stressed enough that inclusive communities are more than just buildings and bike lines.
- The focus of an inclusive city also must include a strategy that is dedicated on talent attraction and talent retention; which also includes diversity across all demographics.
- The cities that have seen the most success include those that are welcoming and have much to offer to all individuals, no matter their education level or wallet size.
Are Inclusive Communities the wave of future?
While I know some of this sounds like a Norman Rockwell mural, it is in fact what drives Directors of Economic Development to create strategies that will satisfy all citizens. The development and building projects taking place in almost every city try to offer just that. There is, however, a long way to go and our cities and towns have just started to scratch the surface on making transformational changes to their communities. Let’s just say with the new direction of building inclusive communities, I am as they say… ”ALL IN.”