November 25, 2006

Metro Areas Fight to Attract 25- to 34-year-olds

Cities are trying to attract college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, "a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future," the New York Times says today.

"Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, 'the young and restless,' as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade. . . .

"They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication."

As a 40-something, I typically greet such youth-obsessed marketing with an eye roll. TV, movies, retail ... they all battle for the young 'uns, even though in many cases, older consumers have significantly more money to spend on the actual products these companies are pitching. A lot of times this demographic snobbishness is self-defeating.

But in the case of cities, it makes a certain amount of sense. If people do tend to move around less at 35+, it's important to snare them just before they're ready to set down roots, if you want to replenish your workforce as Baby Boomers retire, and bring a new infusion of creativity, energy and entrepreneurship. By 2010, the Times story notes, "the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains."

Locally, Framingham has a state college, and an urban-type downtown that, if rejuvenated, could appeal to college graduates not either interested or yet ready to settle down in a typical suburban setting. But I haven't seen much attempt to integrate Framingham State physically into the larger community, by offering an attractive and appealing streetscape from campus to downtown. Nor have I heard much discussion about downtown revitalization trying to attract this critical demographic - or what specific demographic the town is hoping to attract at all, other than the old refrains about tax-paying businesses, tamping down the expanion of tax-exempt social services, and immigration issues.

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