Downtown Makeover

Cities try to lure young, educated professionals back to urban areas.

by / February 23, 2006
With the labor market shifting from the baby boomers to post-Generation Xers, cities are now refocusing economic and community development to attract the 25- to 34-year-old demographic. Over the next decade, baby boomers will retire in substantial numbers, leaving a large employment vacancy needing to be filled. The challenge for communities is to figure out how to attract young people and root them into place.

"We have a lot of people that move here for a variety of reasons: region capital; quality of life," said Shawn McNamara, community development program manager in Raleigh, N.C. "We get people that quit a job, sell a house and move here taking whatever job they can get because they know they will eventually get the job they want -- and they do."

In the December 2005 study titled, The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy conducted by CEOs for Cities, Raleigh ranked third in the nation for having the largest young adult population between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2000.

One of the most striking results of the research indicates that today's young adults are more inclined to live in close-in neighborhoods than were young adults 10 or 20 years ago. Today's 25- to 34-year-olds are about one-third more likely to live in neighborhoods within three miles of a region's downtown than are other Americans, according to the study.

Developing Neighborhoods
In North Carolina, McNamara said, redevelopment state laws allow officials to condemn properties for revitalization. "We go in and clean up the neighborhood, and bring developers in to renovate dilapidated rentals," he said. "We're kind of gentrifying or yuppifying the neighborhood, but there's a lot of folks that are recent newlyweds or what have you, so they are first-time homebuyers. This way they can get a home near downtown."

Findings from this study suggest that urban leaders are making the "young and the restless" the focus of economic development by investing in topics that appeal to them, such as higher education, vibrant urban neighborhoods and cultural arts. And because women constitute a large part of the young demographics work force, promoting culturally diverse initiatives that will help them achieve their goals are beneficial.

For example, Raleigh has a popular neighborhood called Glenwood South that was created about 10 years ago, and attracts nightlife. "There's a sidewalk, trees and a new and improved bridge, connecting this area to the downtown," said McNamara, "There's been an investment in restaurants and bars. It's really taken off."

Desiring Youth
The study states that young workers are attractive to employers for a variety of reasons. "Today's 25- to 34-year-olds are more likely to have a college degree than their peers of one or two decades ago," according to the study, which also states that the rate of those with college degrees has gone from less than 10 percent of the population to more than 30 percent.

Even with the increase in those with degrees, the study says that it's actually difficult to overestimate the economic impact of college-educated young workers on the economic well-being of a metropolitan area."

The study also found that:

  • The cumulative earnings of college graduates in the 15 years between their 25th and 40th birthdays were 80 percent higher for men and more than twice as much for women than the comparable earnings of those with just a high-school diploma.
  • While they have less work experience than their older peers, young workers have what economists term "recent vintage human capital." Less of what they learned in school has been made obsolete by changes in markets and technologies. Compared to baby boomers, for example, today's recent college graduates have always had computers.
  • Wireless phones, globalization, and the Internet are all familiar concepts.
  • While they lack the long resum