Is Your Community a Cool Community?
I love the term “cool community.” I wish I could say that I made it up, but I didn’t. An extraordinarily dynamic speaker at the national chamber conference I recently attended in Cleveland, Ohio used the term in an engaging lecture she gave at our last morning keynote session. Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, spoke to chamber executives from across the country on a subject we should all be very eager to learn more about: a clear strategy to attract and retain young talent in our communities.
She posed a very thought-provoking question to us: Is ours a cool community?
There are currently four generations in the workplace – a unique situation in America’s history. They are:
- Traditionalists (born between 1925-1942)
- Baby Boomers (born between 1943-1960)
- Generation X (born between 1961-1981)
- Millennials (born between 1982-2003)
College grads and the Gen X’ers (aged 20 to 40) – the restless and creative youth of this generation – are figuring out where they want to live before they figure out where they want to work. We need to view and evaluate our community through the lens of this “next generation.” To this end, Ryan conducted interviews and brain bumps (focus roups)
with over 6,500 young professionals to tract their career and community migration trends. The study resulted in the creation of her Cool Community Index, featuring seven ocal
points by which to assess the coolness of a community.
Does the community have dog parks, trails, recreation areas? Cultural and ethnic events, Pride festivals, community-wide wire-ups and extreme sporting events? What about the ease of living… traffic, pollution, crime?
Young people want multiple options and they want opportunities right out of college. They’re looking for flexibility in scheduling such as flex time, job sharing, telecommuting and compressed workweeks. Career enrichment programs are important. Gen X’ers tend to look for jobs in high tech, financial services, retail, health care and education. “This generation is not working at one company for 35 years in order to get the corner office and the gold watch,” says Ryan. “They take their free time very seriously.” Employers are smart to adjust and align in ways that will draw young people in – and keep them loyal.
Does the community value smart? “When I ride my bike to work, the streets smell so good, the people are so interesting, and there’s an endless cycle of big brains coming through town for public lectures,” says Ryan of Madison, Wisconsin, one of her favorite cool communities. (Nashville and Portland also top the Cool Community list.)
4. Social Capital
Of the seven focal points this one is the most important. Talent comes in all colors and ages, and Generation X wants diversity.
5. Cost of Lifestyle
Does the community offer affordable housing? Decent wages? Charge personal income tax? Can a young person afford to live in the community?
6. After Hours
What’s there to do after 5:00pm and weekends? What is the culture climate of the community? Are there farmers markets? Nightclubs? Natural food stores? Health clubs? Vibrant art galleries? Live music? Ryan says these things are as important to Gen X as salaries and job stability.
7. Around Town
What’s the infrastructure of the community? How easy is it to commute and get around? Is the community pedestrianfriendly? A chief challenge ahead for business leaders will be dealing with worldwide shortages of young workers. As Baby Boomers retire in droves over the next couple of decades, the next generation will have much fewer replacements to offer, and keeping young talent will be a supply and demand issue. There are 70 million employees of the baby boom generation and only 57 million Gen X’ers. The issue of attracting young talent will be hot until 2010. Today the number of workers between the ages 25 and 34 outnumber those between 45 and 54 by about a million, but by 2010 the older group will be 30% of the work force while the younger group will be 28%. We all want to live, work and play in a community that satisfies the things which are important to us. Rebecca Ryan’s lecture that morning on Cool Communites got me thinking about our community here in Panama City Beach, and the ways we can continue to evolve into a place that will attract generations to come.