Economy & Jobs

How Cities Entice Mobile Millennials to Move In

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Millennials are a restless bunch. According to recent research from City Observatory, adults aged 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher are increasingly moving to cities with healthy job prospects. Without mortgages to tie them down, many of these young professionals are free to move when and where they want.

At one extreme are digital nomads such as Stephanie Yoder, the blogger behind Twenty-Something Travel. Stephanie quit her job in 2010 to travel the world, picking up freelance writing assignments along the way to cover her costs. At the other end are more conservative but equally mobile young workers simply looking for the best place to settle.

Unorthodox Millennials Are Untethered to Tradition

Millennials are still not quite ready to buy homes. Although recent data suggests the national employment rate for young adults is the highest it’s been since 2008, wage growth has not kept pace with rising home prices. The average Millennial therefore continues to rent, putting off home ownership much longer than previous generations did. Meanwhile, they’re looking for job opportunities that will lead to financial stability. Since so many Millennials rent, they have the freedom and flexibility to move when the right opportunity comes along.

Millennials Are Moving to Healthy Cities

But where are those just-right jobs located? Based on where young professionals are moving, the best opportunities are within three miles of a metropolitan center’s business district, according to City Observatory. “Millennials are attracted to markets with good job prospects and low unemployment,” notes Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan region tops the list for this criteria, as a RealtyTrac analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data spanning from 2007 to 2013 shows. Arlington County and Alexandria City, which have low unemployment rates of 3.2 and 3.6 percent, respectively, saw huge influxes of Millennials during those years: an 82 percent increase in Arlington, and an 81 percent increase in Alexandria. The New Orleans metropolitan area comes next on the list, with a Gen Y population influx of 71 percent. Other cities with low unemployment rates have experienced similar growth as well, such as Montgomery County, Tennessee, located just north of Nashville, which saw its Millennial population grow by 46 percent.

Cleveland, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh all saw their overall populations decline over the past decade, but their populations of young professionals with degrees have increased. Talented young workers are a measure of a city’s health: If they want to move in, the city must hold promise. And because Millennials, who are in the prime of their working years, are the largest customer segment since the Baby Boomers, cities with a large population of Millennials may see higher economic growth relative to other cities.

Cities Are Enticing Millennials With Incentives

City officials across the nation are beginning to capitalize on Millennials’s mobility. Instead of waiting for young professionals to make the move, many localities are putting incentive plans in place to lure and retain them. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, city officials launched LifeinCBus, a campaign begun in 2014 to cultivate an image of Columbus as a desirable place for young professionals. With one million young adults moving each year, according to City Observatory research, a well-defined marketing campaign could be the difference between a stagnant city and one with a large potential for growth.

In Philadelphia, the nonprofit organization Campus Philly aims to connect young adults with internships and jobs and grow a vibrant local community. The initiative seems to be working: a 2014 report notes that 51 percent of out-of-towners stay in the city after graduation, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mobile Millennials are willing to move for the right opportunity, and city officials have taken note. As more Millennials start establishing careers, these incentives might just draw that young talent in—and get them to stay.