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Best in Class

Earlier this year, Forbes reported its ranking of the best places for business and careers. While the report did not go into great detail, for me it raised questions regarding how cities and counties can transform themselves into places like those mentioned.

In Who’s Your City, Richard Florida cites several characteristics that tend to attract the best and brightest people, along with their inclination to innovate, start businesses (and spend money on various ventures), and participate in community activities. It would appear that the cities listed by Forbes might have many of the characteristics listed by Florida – a welcoming community atmosphere, reasonable living costs, an acceptance of new concepts and perspectives, tax incentives, sensible real estate prices, good schools, local colleges and universities, good transportation, and a mix of creative, artistic and innovative organizations. Certainly, it is helpful if the locale is in a beautiful setting, but some of the cities listed by Forbes might not be on the list of the most beautiful places in America. The top ten were:

  1. Raleigh, NC
  2. Fort Collins, CO
  3. Durham, NC
  4. Fayetteville, AR
  5. Lincoln, NE
  6. Asheville, NC
  7. Des Moines, IA
  8. Austin, TX
  9. Boise, ID
  10. Colorado Springs, CO

As local communities struggle to balance budgets and seek creative means of growing their economies, it seems wise to assess what attributes these cities have that make them so magnetic. Each has its own idiosyncrasies but there appear to be inherent common themes. Cities that are mobilizing to broaden their economic platforms would do well to determine what magic the listed cities possess.

Bright, innovative people who are prone to taking risks prefer to do so where that risk can be moderated. North Carolina boasts four metro areas with the lowest business costs. But it is more than cost of doing business or living that attracts commerce. People who work hard want to live where they can have a ‘life,’ which means short commutes, a vibrant downtown, a collaborative community spirit, parks, good schools and plenty of recreational options. Anyone who has lived with long commutes, high costs, and a feeling of disconnection are delighted with Boise, Lincoln, Colorado Springs, and Austin.  Mostly, it is the feeling one gets when visiting and working in these communities. The cities are well managed and the people are warm and gracious. In Florida’s words, they are nice “places to be.”

As economic struggles continue and a broad re-centering occurs, cities and counties must break old patterns. They must boldly transform into communities with attributes that people want and are attracted to. Many are now seeking new locales that re-center their families much like our grandparents and great grandparents did when leaving Europe or the eastern U.S. 80 or 100 years ago. What are they seeking? What can your community provide?

If Boise had a rainy, stormy climate, would the development of a new public transit system make it more attractive? No. Lincoln’s StarTran public transportation system is well managed, practical and very community oriented. If it had three times as many routes would it make Lincoln a better place to live and grow a business? No. For both cities, it is the mix of attributes that make them attractive. I continue to encourage economic development professionals to shed old thought patterns and embrace broader perspectives when formulating community development programs. Understand the mix of ‘attractors’ and assess what is already available and others that can easily be developed. Many take little new money but require budget reallocation and THAT can become a challenge. Remember, for decision makers, the central questions always come down to, “What future do you prefer?” and “What constitutes the kind of community people want and businesses need?”

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.  www.futurescorp.com  (public futures)

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