Attracting talent

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a column for the Financial Times makes the case that talent is what matters most to economic growth. And that place –– particularly vibrant central cities –– is the key to attracting talent. The column is entitled “Cities must be cool, creative and in control”.  Worth reading!

Bloomberg writes: “Many newly successful cities on the global stage – such as Shenzhen and Dubai – have sought to make themselves attractive to businesses based on price and infrastructure subsidies. Those competitive advantages can work in the short term, but they tend to be transitory. For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent. I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively and consistently than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities. A city that wants to attract creators must offer a fertile breeding ground for new ideas and innovations. In this respect, part of what sets cities such as New York and London apart cannot be captured by rankings. Recent college graduates are flocking to Brooklyn not merely because of employment opportunities, but because it is where some of the most exciting things in the world are happening – in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.”

Place attracts talent. Talent = economic growth. Hard lessons for Michigan policymakers to learn. But if we want a prosperous Michigan we had better learn them quick.

One Michigan elected official who gets it is Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje. In a recent speech to the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce covered by “One of the gaps weʼve had in Ann Arbor for years and years is we have University of Michigan students who are here but then leave town and then we have people 40 and over raising families,” Hieftje said. “But we need to attract young families and people who are starting their careers here in town.” He goes on to talk about the importance of transit and downtown living to attracting young talent.

The good news is that Ann Arbor is starting to get it. That attracting young talent matters. The not so good news is that Ann Arbor is still uncomfortable with creating high density neighborhoods. In his speech Hieftje expresses this continuing ambivalence Ann Arbor has about higher density. A key to creating the kind of neighborhoods that young professionals –– particularly before they have kids –– want to live in. As I have written before unless Ann Arbor gets over its opposition to high density neighborhoods –– in more than just the downtown –– it is going to continue to struggle to attract young talent at any scale. And as Mayor Bloomberg makes clear, that means less economic growth.

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