Saturday, August 9, 2008

Job #1: Keeping Our Young People Here

Both today and yesterday, I spoke to groups of talented, ambitious high schoolers and college kids about what may, in the end, be the most important topic of all the ones that come up -- how do we keep them here?

Amid all the issues that come up day to day in our meetings, on our television sets, in our newspapers, none will make a bigger difference to our community's future than answering that question correctly, and proactively.

We know that today's economy is all about educated and talented people. Don't get me wrong: having a stable of large companies here is an enormous asset and competitive advantage. But the days where that is enough for a community to succeed are over.

Today's rapidly evolving economy is all about talented, educated, cutting edge workers. Companies will start in, and companies will move to, the places where that talent wants to be. If you are a place that produces, attracts and keeps that talent, you will grow economically. If you are not, you will not.

It's no secret, we are not doing nearly as well as we should on this score in recent decades. Too many are moving East and West--not short term, but forever. This is an Ohio problem, and it is a Greater Cincinnati problem. If it continues, we will not succeed on any measure.

What do we do to fix it? Too much to amplify in one entry, but to me, here are five basics:

GENERATE THE TALENT.

1) Education, education, education!! Without an education system generating legions of home-grown talent (from all parts of the community), you will fail. Enough said.

ATTRACT/KEEP THE TALENT.

2) Create a physical space in which young people can live, work and play: the reason why revitalizing our entire downtown basin between the river (Kentucky side and "The Banks") to Clifton, including OTR, is so important, is that if we do our job right, the entire basin is our best "neighborhood" to compete with the Bostons, New Yorks and Chicagos of the world. It is urban cores that look and feel like these that are cleaning our clock when it comes to creating the dynamism and excitement that draws young people to the heart of cities. A safe Over the Rhine, and a completed Banks, will give us the very types of urban neighborhoods teeming with young, diverse residents that we have not had before. Together, these communities can create the type of organic, dynamic, 24/7 environment where people easily socialize beyond their narrow office social circle, or their old friends from growing up. Or where they walk to work . . . or to go out, or just hang out. This is the exact environment that people are flocking to in these other cities. The good news is we're moving forward to create the same type of space here.

3) "Sell" the area while the audience is here.

a) For all those who are raised and being educated in Cininnati, we have 18 years to make the pitch. Stay here. Or if you leave to college, or go see the world a little in your 20s (which is what I did), come back here when you're done and are looking for a permanent home. We want you, the education and passion we gave you while you were here, and all your talents, to be right here in Cincinnati, applied to make our community better. Making this sales pitch means we have to get far more organized in speaking to our young people, educating them about our entire community and its opportunities, helping them build networks amongst themselves and across our many boundaries so they know one another as they get older, and making this a fun enough place to have grown up so they have a reason to stay or come back later. A lot of work to do here.

b) For those who come here to college, or to work at P&G or other companies that drew them here from somewhere else, we have an even shorter time frame to get them to stay. So we have to get to work right away. Trivia question--what do Scott Case (founder of AOL), Meg Whitman (former CEO of Ebay), Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) all have in common? They all lived in Cincinnati in their 20s (unfortunately, they all left to find long-term success elsewhere). We need to do all we can to reach out and make these folks feel like this is their home, and that we want them here. That if they get antsy and want to start their own business, they should do so here. We are lucky that talented people are passing through our community, but we need to work harder to tap into that stream of talent while it's flowing through. And we need the cooperation of employers if we are to succeed at this (ie. not suggesting they rent a place in Mason, when most young people would prefer an urban setting). The Chamber and other organizations are doing good work in this area.

4) We need a diversified, enterpreneurial economy. This is somewhat of a chicken and an egg issue. But we need to provide a breadth and depth of job opportunities so that we have a place for young people who want to pursue all sorts of economic opportunities, including creatively going out on their own. If they feel they have to leave Cincinnati to pursue the job opportunities they want, we will lose.

5) Finally, we need a social/political environment that is and feels open. That celebrates diversity. That is tolerant of others. That allows people to thrive whatever their age or background. For many younger people, such an environment is a basic requrement as to where they choose to live. A stifling environment will drive them away. The good news is we are making progress in this area on many fronts.

This is a lot to do, and clearly something that is less about government policy than the broader direction of the community and all of its players. But in terms of long-term competitiveness and viability, nothing is more important than achieving this overall goal.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this . . . .

4 comments:

AMDG said...

agreed david. great thoughts! part of creating a liveable, pedestrian friendly city is to get this street car going in a strategic, timely fashion. besides, gas at $4 a gallon is going to strangle our economy if we don't do something.

here's an example of how our very own Krogers, though well intentioned, is actually hurting our ability to attract and retain young professionals...

http://www.building-cincinnati.com/2008/08/corryville-homeowner-says-kroger.html

Anonymous said...

As someone who left at 22 and came back at 42, I can say that it was job opportunities more than anything that made me leave and kept me away. Cities like Washington, Chicago, New York and even Columbus, offer much more in terms of interesting and well-paying jobs for talented professionals. I came back anyway and have struggled now for 8 years to find something interesting, stimulating with growth potential and a good salary here. A good education isn't as valued here as other places, and the only folks making real money are those transferred in by the big companies. I don't know how we fix this problem, but it is very real.

Todd Lippincott said...

Great post, I really hope leadership in all areas begins to understand this and maximize the potential of Cincinnati.

I myself am one of the young people who has left and relocated to New York City after college. I know I'd be happy coming back to Cincy but there just isn't the same opportunities at the moment.

Righteous Crusader said...

I am having the same problem here in Michigan. All of my friends from college have left the midwest for work. The only one left is here due to child custody 100 miles laws due to his divorce.

#1 Problem) Old people are not retiring, at all. They have 30-40 years of experience. The rigor of the academic programs when they were a kid is a joke compared to ours.

2) Problem - Lack of respect and acknowledgement of our intelligence and capability.

I will not work a service job with a 130k BA for the old people. That is an insult. I would rather be dirt poor that subject myself 30 rungs down on the ladder. This deprives companies of my skills and makes them less competitive.

I don't give a rats behind what people say. You older people had it VERY easy and employers are now used to people with 30 years or 40 years experience and blah blah blah. Most of that extra stuff is a joke.

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