Con­fer­ence speaker: Build a city to at­tract peo­ple

Dorchester Star - - Regional - By VIC­TO­RIA WIN­GATE vwingate@ches­pub.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ vic­to­ri­adorstar and on In­sta­gram @dorch­ester.star.

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.

BY VIC­TO­RIA WIN­GATE/VWINGATE@CHES­PUB.COM

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.

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