It’s the Neighborhood
Lots of comments on the Andy Basile email I wrote about in my last post. Most quite positive. A few pushed back. Let me lay out my thoughts on why I thought the email was so important and then give my take on some of the push back.
At the core Basile – a private sector knowledge-based employer – affirms two central beliefs of ours: 1. That it is talent – not taxes or big government – that matters most to enterprise success. 2. That talent is so important and in such short supply that knowledge-based employers will move to where the talent is rather than the other way around. Conventional wisdom is people move to where the jobs are. In a knowledge-based economy there is growing evidence that enterprises move to where talent is concentrated.
Unless we get thought leaders and policy makers to understand both we have little chance of getting our agenda debated, let alone enacted. And the best way to get them accepted is from employers. What is so unique about the Basile email is that he put what many employers have said to me over the years off the record in writing and then allowed me to distribute widely what he wrote.
That brings me to the push back. Two main items
1. The firm should be in Detroit. Obviously I would prefer that it be in the city. But I do not believe if it were that it would change their recruitment challenge. Are there a small number of young professionals that won’t take a job unless they can walk or bike to it, probably yes. But not at any scale. So I don’t think where a firm is located has much to do with the ability to attract talent. Before the Great Recession I heard the same story for years from knowledge-based enterprises in the city. Available jobs, not enough qualified applicants, applicants not wanting to live/work in the region. Microsoft, along with many Seattle knowledge-based employers are in the suburbs. The outbound commute in Seattle is as crowed as the inbound commute. The notion that the company has to be in the city (or walkable suburb) to be attractive to young professionals does not appear to be the pattern across the country. Central cities are increasingly the new bedroom suburbs where a segment of talent wants to live, not necessarily work. That is what is missing here – vibrant neighborhoods where talent wants to live, not work – plus the ability to commute by rail.
2. If they would market our assets better talent will come. This is the one critique I didn’t expect. That some of us believe that we have a competitive quality of place today. Should our firms do a better job selling the city/region to their recruits? Absolutely. I’m convinced most employers don’t know the assets to showcase. But if they did would it change at any scale talent’s willingness to move here? Highly unlikely. I agree with Basile when he writes “We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem.” We have a region, in Chris Leinberger’s terminology, which is dominated by driveable suburbanism, not walkable urbanism, in a market where an increasing proportion of mobile talent wants/demands walkable urbanism.