Big cities are where today’s college students want to live

Conventional wisdom has it that big cities are dead. This time the cause of their predicted demise is the pandemic. It is widely believed that since you can now work from home combined with a long-lasting fear of crowded places that big cities are toast.

There is one big problem with this theory. When asked where they want to live after college, post-pandemic college students say big cities. The renaissance of America’s big cities the last two decades was driven in large part by young professionals. Looks like the post-pandemic generation of young professionals have the same preference for big city living.

The 2022 Axios-Generation Lab “Next Cities Index” asked “Considering all factors that matter to you, where would you most like to live after college?” Who did they survey?

There’s a fixed slice of the graduating population that plans to live where they grew up. Then, there’s the “roving” bloc, which looks for fresh ground after getting degreed. Along with Axios, Generation Lab interviewed 1,072 of those “rovers” (from a representative sample of 2,109 students nationwide from 2-year and 4-year schools).

What did they find? The top 15 places in order where rovers want to live after college: • Seattle • New York • Los Angeles • Denver • Boston • Chicago • Washington D.C. • Phoenix • Colorado Springs • Austin • Portland • San Francisco • Minneapolis • Dallas • Atlanta

With the possible exception of Colorado Springs, all are big cities and all are current talent magnets. All offer high-density, high-amenity neighborhoods where you do not need to own a car. The core attributes that make big city living so attractive to young professionals before and after the pandemic.

The absence of any Michigan community on this list should be setting off alarm bells among Michigan economic development officials. This is an economy where talent––particularly young talent––attracts capital. Talent is mobile and increasingly where they go high-wage, knowledge-based enterprises follow. Talent is also entrepreneurial, so where it is concentrated increasingly are the places with the most high-wage business start-ups. So talent concentration is essential to high-wage job creation.

The Axios-Generation Lab “Next Cities Index” makes clear that to grow and attract high-wage employers Michigan needs vibrant central cities that are as in demand as Chicago and Minneapolis, even better competitive with national talent magnets like Seattle and New York City.

To be competitive with those talent magnets Michigan needs to understand that quality of place attracts talent. That a––if not the––economic development priority for the state is big cities that have the high-density, high-amenity, transit-rich neighborhoods that young professionals post pandemic are still flocking to.

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