5 Ways to Attract People to Your City

People and business are two clear drivers of economic development in the public sector - but which comes first?

People go where the jobs are, according to conventional wisdom, but in reality, it’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” situation.  Sure, businesses are still attracted through financial incentives, and yes, people naturally follow.  On the other hand, look at GE’s move to Boston: small businesses and large corporations alike are relocating based almost exclusively on the people already present in a given area.  Access to skilled labor is now the #1 drawing factor in a company’s location decision, according to Area Development Magazine.  When you factor in the rise of the sharing economy and the cross-industry shift towards services, people are our strongest asset.

So if business goes where the people go, how do you attract people?


5 Strategies

1) Market Your Strengths

Every municipality is different, so cater to your strengths!  Identify what is unique to you and your area, and be sure to communicate that effectively.

Indianapolis, for example, didn’t become the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World” on accident.  In a recent Governing magazine contribution, Stephen Goldsmith, current director of Harvard’s Innovation in American Government Program and a former Indianapolis mayor, recounts how his predecessor, Bill Hudnut, inspired a collective vision for Indy and carried it through into operations. Those amateur sports operations “pumped $1.05 billion into the local economy”  from 1977-1991.

With an eye to the present, Sunny Isles Beach, Florida is executing expansive technology initiatives as part of Mayor George “Bud” Scholl’s plans for Sunny Isles Beach to be an innovative adopter of new technologies and conveniences.  These modernizations - which are helping people connect to technology, to each other, and to their community in Sunny Isles Beach - are not only bolstering quality of life for residents, but are complementing the City’s strong tourism initiatives (they recently ranked #1 U.S. Destination by Trip Advisor's TravelCast). Sunny Isles Beach has both identified an area of focus and communicated it effectively - their efforts to market the Mayor’s Technology Initiatives have turned out their highest social media engagement yet.


2) Offer Educational Opportunities

Education is a broad spectrum - make sure you have it fully covered:


3) Provide Flexible Housing

Life isn’t constant, so why should housing be?  Make sure you have affordable and flexible options available for all.

People move for a variety of reasons.  You’ll undoubtedly see first time buyers, empty nesters, upgrades, downgrades and more.   Laura Mcholm and her team at NorthStar Moving in Los Angeles put together an infographic view into the reasons why people move:

4) Make Mobility a Priority

Ensure your residents and visitors can easily move from place to place.  

Options are key here, as are safety and ease of use -- Complete Streets agendas are evidence of that.  What are complete streets? Fully-integrated streets for everyone:

  • Pedestrians: Improving your walkability has health, financial, environmental, and community benefits.

  • Bikes:  Biking is faster than driving in some cities, and with companies like Motivate partnering with cities to offer bike sharing programs, accessibility is growing.

  • Vehicles:  Traditional ownership and taxi companies are now being complemented by the likes of Lyft, Uber, ZipCar and others.

  • Public transit:  Public subways and commuter rails offer efficient transportation and extend your reach as an economic center.

For the more innovative, Complete Streets are being taken a step further by integrating technology into the streetscape - things like smart sensors, connected vehicles, and self-driving car -- as seen in the USDOT’s Smart City Challenge.


5) Create a Sense of “Place”

People on the move are looking for great places.  So, create a Great Civic Space.  This works on a macro and a micro scale.  You could look at your municipality as a whole or tailor in on one corner of a single neighborhood.  Building a livable, connected community,  expands your city’s identity, creates a setting for cultural and community activities, and brings people together.

A Place Value study by Community Builders, a non-profit dedicated to helping local leaders create livable communities, uncovered some staggering facts (also presented as an infographic):  

  • 83% of respondents would rather live in an ideal community with a lesser salary

  • 39% identify community as more important than jobs, compared to 17% who value jobs over community. (The remainder favor both).

  • 60% of business owners cite employee attraction and retention as an important factor in choosing their business location

What's your take on attracting people to your area? Where do you focus?

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