On March 25, 2014, I wrote the City Council of Houston a three part letter that included my thoughts on improving the city’s transportation, health, and economics. This is part three of that letter.
“The rent price goes up $200 per month”
My realtor and I worked hard and we found a place that was “semi-walkable” by my definition but that would allow me to walk to work. When I first toured the complex, it was $1,260 for a 700 sq. ft. one bedroom. A week later, when I went back to sign the lease, they informed me that they would only allow me to sign a six month lease at that rate. “What happens after that?” I asked. “The rent price goes to $1,460 per month,” the leasing agent replied.
One of the key selling points for young professionals to move to Houston (and, often, to accept a lower salary in doing so) is that it’s an inexpensive city to live in compared to the North. This isn’t true. Housing prices are rising steeply and quickly because of limited supply and increased demand.
Skyrocketing housing prices and stagnant salaries mean less money to donate, to spend at restaurants and during social activities, to invest, etc. and that doesn’t bode well for the city overall. If this balance isn’t changed, it’s going to be much harder to attract people to come and live/work in the City of Houston and those of us who do live here will spend less due to being “rent poor.”
I applaud your efforts thus far, but wanted to write you to encourage you to do more. We need commuter rail, we need more living areas that are permanently walkable, and we need housing options that are affordable relevant to our salaries.
I will also be publishing this letter to my blog, not as a means of social pressure, but in hopes of gaining additional thoughts on the subject.
The Book of Mormon is coming to Houston and I am so excited! I’ve heard rave reviews from my friends about it and I really want to go. Now the fun part…I have to find someone to go with me or go by myself and I have to plan that far ahead (it’s April, the show is in September).
This example highlights two main areas that present challenges to the arts: Singleness and timing.
Normally people buy tickets to shows and performances as couples or in groups. This presents multiple challenges to young professionals:
Young professionals might be dating someone, but, unless it’s a very serious relationship, purchasing tickets 6-9 months out with that person is more than likely a gamble they are not willing to take. What if the relationship doesn’t last? Who gets the tickets?
Because of the two bullets above, young professionals usually try to find a friend that will go with them. This can present a unique challenge on its own. First, someone else has to be interested enough to want to go. Second, they have to want to go badly enough to pay whatever the cost is to go. I sent a message to all of my friends to go with me to The Book of Mormon. So far, no yes responses.
The final solution is to go alone. I personally don’t mind going alone to things, but some do. And, I’ll admit, usually it’s more fun with someone else.
Timing can also present a unique challenge:
In such an instant-gratification society, purchasing $200 tickets 6-9 months before a performance may prove difficult because patrons don’t see an instant reward.
Young professionals are very mobile. Will they be in that same city in 9 months? Will they get a transfer at work? Will they have a different opportunity in another city? I had a rather unique issue similar to this a little over a year ago when I moved to Houston. Madonna was coming to Houston in October, but I had to purchase the ticket in March. I didn’t know anyone in Houston yet, so I bought a $250 ticket and went by myself in October. By October, of course, I found friends who might have gone, but I didn’t know them back when I had to purchase the ticket.
They don’t plan ahead that far. What are they doing 6 months from now on a Saturday night? They have no idea. So they can just block it out, right? Maybe, but they might also get a better offer. For example, I bought tickets to see The Lion King, but ended up getting an offer from a friend (and an inexpensive $470 flight) to Austria for an extended weekend. I handed my tickets to a friend and set-off for Austria instead.
The arts know that young professionals are important to them. Young professionals have discretionary income and are future donors, but it’s a challenge to engage them in a way that works. Some organizations have set-up young professional organizations such as the Houston Symphony’s Young Professionals Backstage that have the potential to remove the “singleness” argument. I applaud these efforts, but the timing issue is still there.
How would you recommend the arts evolve to meet the needs of today’s 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.
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:
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.
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).
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.