Central cities as talent magnets

What continues to worry me most about the future of Michigan is that our definition of what success looks like is grounded in the past. That we have not yet learned the lesson that what made us prosperous in the past, won’t in the future. A continuing vision of a factory-driven economy along with farming and tourism in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy. An education system focused on preparing our kids for 20th Century jobs in a long gone stable and predictable labor market. A 20th Century car dominant transportation system (and to make matters worse we no longer are willing to pay for even that).

Nowheres is this time warp more prevalent than our beliefs about central cities––particularly Detroit. That, at best, central cities are part of the past. That they are an economic liability where poor government-dependent people live. Think again!

Central cities are the engine of economic growth. They are a key ingredient to future economic success for regions and states. (Except for those few who can rely on high oil and natural gas prices.) And, maybe most importantly, they are where future talent increasingly wants to live in a talent-driven economy.

In preparing for our next report Don Grimes and I are collecting data on where college graduates by age choose to live and work. The differences between the location preferences of 25-34 year olds with a four year degree or more and older college graduates are amazing. We collected data for the 77 American cities with populations of 250,000 or more. For those with four year degrees or more 28 percent of 25-34 year olds live in one of those 77 cities compared to 18 percent for those 35-64 year old and 15 percent for those 65 and older.

There are 14 million Millennials with a bachelors degree. (The good news is they are more college educated than previous generations: 32.9% of 25-34 year olds compared to 30.5 percent for 35-64 year olds and 24.1% of those 65 and older). Of the 14 million, four million live in one of those 77 central cities.

Digging deeper you find an even greater concentration of young talent. Five percent (708,00) of all the 25-34 year olds with a four year degree or more live in one city: New York. Astonishing! 2 million (14 percent of the nation’s young professionals) live in eleven cities (at least 94,000 in each):

• New York • Chicago • Los Angeles • Houston • San Francisco • San Diego • Philadelphia • Washington D.C. • Seattle • Austin • Boston

In addition to those eleven there are eight others (counting Minneapolis and St. Paul as one) with at least 60,000 young professionals. Those 19 cities account for 2.6 million of the four million 25-34 year olds with a four year degree or more living in central cities.

Detroit is the only Michigan city with a population of 250,000 or more. It has 11,600 25-34 year olds with a bachelors degree. 67th out of the 77. And at 13.2 percent it has the lowest proportion of 25-34 year old residents with a four year degree or more. (The best: Washington D.C. at 71.1 percent).

In the 20th Century talent concentrated in the suburbs. Not in the 21st. College educated Millennials in very large numbers want to live in vibrant central cities. And where they concentrate prosperity will follow. Its a lesson Michigan needs to learn quick.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I know that Grand rapids still has a long way to go in attracting talented young adults, but I think the annual Art Prize event held downtown is a big step in the right direction.

    1. Agreed. But ultimately what really matters is folks living in the city, in addition to visiting occasionally. GR is making progress on that too, just not yet at the right scale. The BRT line and maybe a second is helpful too.

  2. Do you see any trend towards “reverse commuting” where young people live in the central city, but commute to job opportunities in suburban office parks? Do young people who have suburban knowledge jobs still prefer living in the central city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *