Employers, cities entice the young and the restless

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There's a simple reason recruiters are turning their attention to this group of college-educated 25- to 34-year-old workers: They are the high-value future of our economy.

This evolution in economic development thinking is likely to have cities competing against each other to land these in-demand workers.

So-called young knowledge workers - those who have good educations and up-to-date job skills - are more likely to be entrepreneurs and are more mobile than others in the work force, according to a study by economist Joseph Cortright. They also are likely to be among the most successful workers in the most successful companies.

"There's no question these are the people you want today," says Carol Coletta, president of Chicago-based CEOs for Cities, which commissioned the report. "But you're going to have to adjust your thinking about how to attract them."

Cortright's study found that as the baby boom generation begins to retire, the number of college graduates plateaus and the number of women entering the work force levels off, competition will be fierce for better educated, young workers who are more likely to relocate to new cities than other workers.

"Most economic development in the past has been about recruiting businesses to a region," Coletta says. "But we are entering new territory - where we will have to recruit people instead."

Cortright found that urban areas with attractive neighborhoods close to their downtowns will be the winners in this battle because they fit the lifestyles of these individuals.

"Just as railroads and interstate highways shaped development in the past, the migration of knowledge workers will shape prosperity in the future," Cortright says. "Cities that disregard this basic fact do so at their peril."

His study identifies cities such as Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston as the best situated to capitalize on the young and mobile knowledge workers.

In San Diego, economic development officials have already been looking at the region's work force needs and have been making efforts to reach out to potential knowledge workers.

"We're going about it a little bit differently," says Jane Signaigo-Cox, senior vice president of the San Diego Economic Development Corp. "We understand that cost of living makes getting people to relocate here difficult, so we want to make sure that students going to school here will stay once they graduate."

That's a goal not just aimed at college students, but at high school and junior high school students as well.

Coletta believes that cities that can offer vibrant residential neighborhoods close to downtowns will be more likely to attract the young and the restless than other cities.

"It's about matching up with their lifestyle and their expectations for how they will live," she says.

But it also means that companies that have established gender and ethnic equity in their work forces and management structure will have a broader labor pool available to them.

This new way of thinking about economic development will challenge civic leaders who are locked into tradition. Yet, in the wake of a shrinking labor pool and a work force that is changing, they will have little choice but to keep open minds.

© Copley News Service

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