Conference speaker: Build a city to attract people
CAMBRIDGE — Author, vice president of Journal Communications and editor of livability.com Matt Carmichael served as the keynote speaker on the final day of the Mar yland Economic Development Association conference, Tuesday, May 3.
Dorchester County Economic Development sponsored this portion of the conference. Business Development Manager Susan Banks described Carmichael as a specialist on demographics and consumer trends. His website, livability.com, is focused on what makes small and mid-sized cities great places to live and work.
Carmichael spoke to the attendees about how to attract the best talent, particularly young talent, to their cities using marketing and planning that resonates with 20-somethings and millennials. To understand what draws young talent, Carmichael stressed the importance of using the wealth of data available.
Examples include data on income, housing, education, age, race, ethnicity, economy, consumer spending and more. He first pointed out that the “traditional” American family practically no longer exists.
“The number of married couples with children is fewer than one in five. Those households make up fewer than half of households. Babies are now more likely to be born nonwhite than white. They’re more likely to be born into nontraditional families than traditional ones,” he said. “We’re getting our driver’s licenses later; we’re getting married later; we’re having kids later; we’re buying homes and cars later.”
Carmichael said cities need to use this sort of data to improve their marketing message.
“You have to be out there telling your story because, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you,” he said.
On top of improving their message, Carmichael encouraged economic development professionals to use the data to improve their product, which in this case is their city.
Improving cities with data involves ensuring that public services such as transit, safety measures, parking and other such things are designed to be efficient and effective based on how people use them. One example of how to collect such data, Carmichael said, is by using an app like Foursquare, which people use to track their movements and share that information with friends.
With all of this in mind, Carmichael encouraged attendees to ask themselves if their cities had what they needed to attract their target demographic.
Using his hometown as an illustration, Carmichael said, “We didn’t have what we needed to attract the people that we wanted to attract, so we decided to go out and build it.”
In Oak Park, Ill., they thought about what they had to offer: subway transportation, commuter rail, highways, downtown connectivity. The downside they found was that the housing available was primarily older singlefamily homes. To attract the kind of fresh talent they wanted, they changed the zoning code and are currently working on a 21-story transit-oriented one- and two-bedroom condo building, Carmichael said.
At livability.com, Carmichael and his team look at dozens of data factors to determine what makes a city one of the Top 100 Best Places to Live. He used an acronym — LIVE — to briefly explain what they consider when compiling the list each year.
L stands for level, as in a level playing field. Everyone should be able to afford and be able to take part in what makes the city great.
I stands for inclusive, meaning that people of all races, ethnicities, ages, incomes and education levels should be able to take advantage of what the city has to offer.
V stands for variety. Carmichael said marketers have figured out what people want and they want choices. A top 100 city will have many choices in education, health care, housing, restaurants, activities and other amenities, he said.
E stands for engagement. To have a great city, he said, the people must be engaged in the community through shopping, dining, volunteering and more.
“A lot of things you can do to make a community great don’t have to be massive projects. They can be cheap, quick and easy. It’s part of the whole philosophy of the place-making movement. Lighter, quicker and cheaper,” Carmichael said. “Here is your secret short cut to making a great place: Any time you have the chance, design for people. It’s easy, simple stuff. Think about people and how they will use it, how they will live in that space.”
MEDA hosts the conference each year, inviting economic development professionals from across the state to come and learn strategies for attracting businesses, residents and visitors to their cities and counties. This year was the 55th year for the conference.
Vice President of Journal Communications and editor of Livability.com Matt Carmichael spoke at the 2016 Maryland Economic Development Association annual conference, held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay.