Millennials, those tech-loving kids born between 1981 and 1997, are the largest living generation in the United States right now and will comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, several studies are predicting a global labor crunch to come into effect between 2020 and 2030 when baby boomers retire. Local governments are painfully aware of the fact that they need to attract and retain the millennial generation if they want a sustainable workforce and a strong economy.
Small Areas are Hardest Hit
Small metropolitan areas with an urban core of 10,000 to 49,999 people, known as micropolitans, have been suffering from a declining youth population for decades because educated young residents leave in favor of the big city. Micropolitans are now set to lose even more young people since millennials have a much stronger preference for urban living than the previous generations. It’s not just small towns that are concerned. Metropolitan areas like Hartford and Philadelphia also recognize that millennial exodus is a problem that must be solved if they want to boost their stagnating economy. Attraction young is crucial for economic growth and urban revitalization of any area. According to the City Observatory, the presence of this demographic group is an indicator of the economic health and appeal of a metropolitan area. With 1 million young adults moving every year, smaller towns and cities need to roll out the welcome mat if they want this migratory generation to head their way and stick around.
How Can a Place Attract and Keep Millennials?
Researchers are learning that the traditional strategy of recruiting companies into an area won’t work when it comes to connecting with millennials. What millennials want to see is more of investment in the quality of life. They want parks, access to healthy food and safe, walkable neighborhoods. According to a study by the Transportation Research Board, nearly two-thirds of millennials say they prefer mixed-use communities: areas that have an intentional mix of residential, business and commercial uses, preferably near public transit. It would be wise for the policymakers to consider the preferences of this generation during the infrastructure planning process if they hope to tame the outward flow of their young and educated workforce. This generation strongly prefers urban settings. Millennials say they want to live in a place where shops, restaurants and other amenities are within walking distance. In fact, only eight percent of millennials say they’d prefer to live in a suburb that would require a car to get around, according to one survey. Does that mean small towns are out of luck when it comes to attracting this age group? Not at all. The oldest millennials are reaching their 30’s and looking to settle down. Since buying property in the largest metropolitan areas is out of the reach for most, smaller towns will start to look more attractive to this segment of the millennial population dubbed “transitionals.”
Create a Dense City Center
The American Planning Association encourages local planners to create density in their towns that mimics a city center in order to build a stronger economy and a strong community. That includes keeping neighborhoods walkable with a traditional town center. According to polls, 56 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a walkable community someday, regardless of whether it’s an urban, suburban or small town location. Millennials would like to see new public transportation options, including access to the services made available by the growing sharing community.
A Success Story
One city that’s succeeding in drawing the educated millennial workforce by developing a mixed-use city center is Kansas City, Missouri. The number of people residing in its central business district grew by about 50 percent between the years 2000 and 2014. The city attributes much of that growth to the millennial generations’ preference for urban living. Interestingly, employers are following workers and services into the city center, instead of the traditional cycle of employers needing to be set in place first. That jibes with what the American Planning Association finds in its surveys. They report that 74 percent of millennials think that investing in education, transportation options and walkable neighborhoods is the best way to boost the economy, not the old strategy of recruiting new companies. One thing seems apparent: the more ways millennials have to get around in a place, be it by light rail, Uber or on foot, the more likely they are to stay there.