Akron looks to a cool future for Gen-Xers, in empowering ways

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 03/06/2005 - 23:29.

Ideastream's 03.06.05 Ideas program took an interesting look at economic development issues and opportunities in Akron, and how the city seeks to raise it's "cool" factor. They featured Elizabeth Sheeler, who returned home to Akron from Boston to work with the Akron Art Museum and ArtCetera because she feels she can have a bigger impact in her smaller home town than in a big city  she has started an after work arts party and networking scene in Akron - part of making the scene cooler there. The objective is to make Akron desirable to Gen-Xers  and the need is serious. Rebecca Ryan, an economic development consultant from Madison, WI, based Next Generation Consulting, has been hired to lead the Akron community to focus on their Gen-X quality of life  she notes only 4% of NEOs 18-24 have loyalty to this region vs. 25% nationwide, and only 35% of NEO residents in general feel there is good opportunity here for the young, vs. 69% nationwide. Gen-Xers are needed to replace Baby Boomers as they retire from the workforce, and Gen-Xers are the innovators needed to fuel the future of the economy, so not satisfying the Gen-Xers is very foolish.

But Gen-Xers put quality of life ahead of work-life, and look to live in "œcool"? (quality) places  Next Generation Consulting identifies the 15 star attraction cities as 1 San Francisco, CA, 2 Minneapolis, MN, 3 Seattle, WA, 4 Boston, MA, 5 Denver, CO, 6 Portland, OR, 7 Washington, DC, 8 Austin, TX, 9 Chicago, IL, 10 Milwaukee, WI, 11 New York, NY, 12 Nashville, TN, 13 Pittsburgh , PA, 14 Los Angeles, CA, 15 Atlanta, GA.

Their cool analysis is based on seven indexes, including factors of earning, learning, social capital, how involved and inclusive, and after-hours living (see list of factors below). Rebecca pointed out that outside Akron people have no opinion about Akron"¦ she says that is better than a negative impression, as it is easier to draw on blank canvas.

What she says makes Akron unique and well positioned for the future is their leaders are all saying they're open to young professionals and there is a sense young professionals want to invest and be part of solutions  all are involved and inclusive  she says seeing that type of human dynamic is what makes her work worthwhile. Considering that makes me think of Cleveland, where all leaders seem in constant conflict and so divided - that must change up here.

When asked if she feels there is a sense of positivity or negativity among people in Akron, she says the young believe "we can be so much more". She believes the community needs to shine light on all the opportunities  Akron is not failing in any index  for young professionals there is lots to do and a good future ahead.

She also points out in Akron young professionals spend more time on-line than watching TV  Akron needs to better package Akron quality of life on Internet.

As a last suggestion, she speaks of Madison, WI, as a great place to get around and that Akron needs to try and be more like that support bicycle paths, public transportation and human scale living.

I like what I heard from Elizabeth and Rebecca  I've heard the Creative Class pitch by Florida, and seen his work, and Next Generation Consulting seems more experiential and user-centric. I am also always impressed by what I hear about Akron's Mayor and other leadership - they work together, think smart, and lead smart. Now, as we see more drive for regionalization, it seems a good time for Akron's best practices to rub off on the rest of the region, and for us to learn from each other  all together. The next learning opportunity with Next Generation Consulting is at Rebecca's presentation on her findings to date, March 16th at the Greater Akron Chamber's Annual Meeting.

To learn more about what Next Generation Consulting finds matters to Gen-Xers, and how they determine that, read on:

To find the coolest communities for young talent, we started with 221 U.S. cities whose percentage of under-40 folks matched or exceeded the national average. Next, we solicited Gen X'ers (b. 1961-1981) for their ideas on what makes a community cool. [Result: 171 brilliant ideas.] We narrowed it to 43 variables in three categories: diversity; amenities; and health & environmental factors.

    * Air and Water Quality
    * Recycling Rates
    * Car Pools, Commute Times
    * Traffic
    * Public Parks, Trails, and Recreation Areas
    * Sunny Days
    * Farmers Markets
    * Natural Foods Stores
    * Fitness Centers
    * Vegetarian Restaurants
    * Rates of Crime
    * Rates of Cancer
    * Heart Disease
    * Obesity
    * Smoking
    * Life Expectancy
    * Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
    * Work Sick Days
    * Rates of Depression
    * High Blood Pressure
    * Unemployment
    * Charitable Donations
    * Cost of living
    * Poverty
    * Concentration of Designers, Artists, Authors, Musicians, Actors and similar Professionals
    * Percentage of Community Under 40
    * Population Diversity (ethic, religious, sexual orientation)
    * Number of Bars, Nightclubs and similar per capita
    * Number of Art Galleries, Museums, and similar per capita

In addition to these measurements, they're adding the following to determine hot jobs:

    * Paid Time Off (PTO)
    * Flextime, Job-Sharing, Telecommuting
    * Career Pathways and/or Career Enrichment
    * Ratio of Managers 40 Years and Younger
    * Churn Rate
    * Review Periods
    * Green Factor
    * Boomerang Rate
    * Commitment to Technology