This opinion piece first appeared at News-Leader.com
When an expert on economic trends visited our community recently, he had some good news for business leaders: Springfield has a chance to win big in the future.
That expert, Joel Kotkin, said trends show older millennials (like folks in their late 20s to mid-30s) are leaving the coast and major metro areas because the cost of living is outpacing income.
As they start having families and consider buying homes, they’re looking for a better deal, and small metro areas — like Springfield — offer that better deal.
But there are many small metros around the country. There will be competition for those older millennials.
“There’s a fundamental shift in the way site selectors and employers are evaluating the communities in which they may expand or locate,” said Matt Morrow, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “Not only are they looking at available workforce and skills, they see ‘quality of place’ investments as a long-term strategy for building a skilled and talented workforce.
“They ask — what is your plan to ensure this is a vibrant, thriving place where more people will want to live? In light of this coming demographic shift, Kotkin’s point is that the communities who have a well-researched and definitive answer to that question will be the ones that win the intense competition to grow jobs, wages and their regional economy.”
Millennials are one of three groups Kotkin said Springfield should be trying to attract.
For many years, Springfield — home to several universities — has worried about the “brain drain.” Young people with the potential to boost our economy leave for opportunities elsewhere. Kotkin said we might want to re-think that problem.
Young adults, fresh out of college, aren’t really what we need — at least not in their current form. We really want them when they’re ready to buy a house, when their earning potential is better and they’re paying more taxes and spending more money at local businesses.
Millennials really don’t like to haggle
If you’re a millennial who gets nauseous just thinking about haggling for a better price, well you’re not alone.
Previously, the idea was that we needed to get them right after college and keep them. The new thinking is a little more efficient — let them explore the world (including those fancy coastal metro areas) and make sure there’s an excellent place for them to return to when they’re ready for that better deal. If students have good experiences while studying in Springfield, this may be an ideal place for them to return after that exploration stage.
A lot of research has been done at the local level to find out exactly what it is that attracts millennials. We’ve already got the relatively low cost of living. Last year, the city sent a “Millennial SWAT Team” across the country to thriving cities in search of features that make them attractive.
Among the suggestions from that group was creating an artsy, high-tech and “Instagram-worthy” downtown, as well as building a convention center and daylighting Jordan Creek.
This oxymoron means people who have recently retired or are nearing retirement age. As people live longer and healthier lives, they’re still very active and involved in their communities, even for a decade or two after retirement.
They too are often looking for a new place to call home, and Springfield can leverage its amenities and low cost of living to make it a prime destination.
Even after they’ve left the workforce, they’re still valuable contributors to the community and economy.
The third group that represents an opportunity for growth brings with it some political baggage, especially in a community like Springfield.
Individual people don’t necessarily have to change their political beliefs on the broader issue of immigration. We can continue to allow elected leaders to debate laws and procedures.
But for the people who are country agrees are safe to come to America, we can make them feel welcome in Springfield.
More and more, immigrant families are looking to buy homes, and as we’ve said many times already, big cities don’t really make that possible. They too can look to smaller metros in Middle America to put down new roots and build a life.
In the coming years, we’ll need to study just what features can make Springfield attractive, but the numbers show us the opportunity is here. Some communities will win, and others will be left behind.
By knowing whom we’re trying to attract, we can get started on the path to winning.
This editorial is the view of the News-Leader Editorial Board.
Allen Jones, President
Cheryl Whitsitt, News Director
Stephen Herzog, Engagement Editor
Originally Published 11:45 a.m. PDT May 26, 2018