Economic Development Series: 4 Insights on Attracting Young Professionals

The past three years, I’ve been actively involved in the creation of a young professionals networking group. One of the great things about being involved is that I have the opportunity to converse with a wide variety of young professionals, economic developers, community leaders, and politicians about what young professionals are looking for in a community and how to attract them to a community. The main conclusion from these discussions is that we are still trying to figure it out, but below are four insights that have come from those conversations.

1) We need to further segment the term “young professionals”

After giving a presentation on the young professionals group to our local Rotary Club, one Rotarian raised her hand and asked, “Do you notice that the group separates based on the two generations at your events?” She went on to expand on her question and explained that, as a 39 year old, it would seem odd to hang out with a 21 year old.

This one question made me think about the fact that, as a marketer, I usually recommend no larger than a ten year span for a target audience. But, for young professionals, we usually define them as being between 21 and 40 years old. That is a significant age gap and, it especially is given the number of significant life changes most people make during those years. Perhaps we need to further segment them by generations.

A young man and an older man sitting next to each other on the bus.
Probably a little extreme (I’m guessing the guy on the right is over 40, but nonetheless illustrates my point. Could you really see these two becoming each others best friend? Perhaps a mentoring relationship is more likely?.Photo from Flickr: Joi

2) Community first, job second

It seems ironic, but after reading the Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida and surveying a wide variety of young professionals, I found out that, even in this difficult economy, young professionals are usually choosing where they want to live FIRST, and then looking for a job second. This could be as broad as a “city over 1 million in the southwest” or as narrow as “Chicago.” This challenges traditional economic development thinking, I know, but here are two examples that illustrate the point:

Example 1:

One of my friends and her husband knew they wanted to move. So, they spent a few years researching the best communities for young professionals to live in, the best communities for their interests, etc. Then, they spent their vacation time traveling to each of the communities and ultimately made a decision which one to move to.

Example 2:

This example sounds unusual, but it isn’t. Two of my young professional friends wanted to move to New York City. They weren’t able to find jobs while in Michigan (perhaps because cutbacks in business’ budgets don’t allow them to pay interview travel expenses and moving expenses?), so they both saved their money, and eventually just quit their jobs and moved there. Both were able to find jobs in a few months.

3) Marital status and number of children determine benefits

“Battle Creek is so boring! There is no nightlife, there’s nothing to do here. It drives me crazy,” stated one of my friends. “Are you kidding me? Battle Creek is great! We’ve got safe neighborhoods, lots of parks, great schools, and a lot of stuff to do,” chimed in another.

Why the drastic difference in opinion about the same city? Both are young professionals and are about the same age, but one is single with no children and one is married with three children and a fourth on the way. They want different benefits from a community. The single young professional with no children wants entertainment and nightlife, the married with children young professional is looking for what’s best for his entire family.

It’s rare for a community to be able to fulfill what both are looking for. I truly believe communities need to play up whichever one they are stronger in and focus on that to be successful. “But if we can attract the young professionals with jobs, they will meet someone here, get married, and move into the second category, and we will keep them for a long time,” goes the argument for targeting both, but I think this argument is making two unproven assumptions:

  • Young professionals will come to a community for the jobs – See the Community First, Jobs Second portion of this posting.
  •  They will meet someone in the town and marry them – That is provided they stick around long enough to do so and that they don’t meet someone who lives somewhere else (a very likely possibility if they are traveling to get their entertainment fix or because of internet dating).
When young professionals begin having children, what is important to them in a community changes. And, they tend to move close to mom and dad. Photo from Flickr: Giena.It

4) Where are Mom and Dad?

Parents influence young professionals’ decisions as to where he/she/they will live because:

  • The up and coming generation has very strong relationships with their parents. They don’t have as much of a drive to forge their own path (although some still do).
  • Once a young professional has children, having grandparents nearby to create a strong support network and to create strong relationships with the children becomes important.
  • Many young professionals are still economically dependent on their parents or want their parents nearby in case they do need economic support (job loss, unexpected bills, etc.)

So there are my thoughts and that’s all they are, but hopefully they will take our conversations of attracting young professionals deeper and into new directions.

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