Talent, Place and Opportunity

Did you know that 58% of a city’s success is based on the percentage of the population with a college degree? According to CEOs for Cities, “each additional percentage point improvement in aggregate adult four-year college attainment is associated with a $763 increase in annual per capita income.”

With three colleges located in our downtown, Columbia is pretty consistently ranked among the nation’s smartest cities–but is that enough? If a city simply develops talent and then sends it away, it’s making the investment but losing out on the rewards. How then does a city keep these graduates?

There are plenty of good ideas out there (check out these great initiatives for recruiting and retaining interns) but Carol Coletta of Coletta and Company summed it up nicely at a recent International Downtown Association conference. Because cities live and die based on local talent, you need to make your city sticky. And you do that by creating both opportunity and a sense of place. People need access to jobs but they also want to “stumble onto the fun.”

What does this mean for downtowns?  We need to go beyond managing clean and safe programs and start aggressively working towards policy changes that will encourage entrepreneurship, increase density and create a strong sense of place. Once you start doing that, you’re well on your way to retaining all those talented graduates you’ve been investing in.