Jul 2, 2013
Bill McMeekin
Bill McMeekin
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The Impact of Place on Job Creation

Seattle waterfront

Several years ago, marketing consultant Alf Nucifora noted how in the rapidly evolving digital age, young people were “uninventing” things at an unprecedented rate. The music store, the travel agency and the daily print edition of the local paper were endangered species. Alf was right as it turned out, and perhaps those principals are at work helping to uninvent traditional economic development and job creation strategies.

It’s not hard to see that people tend to move to places where there are good job prospects. Texas, for example, has been a job creation juggernaut, adding 1.4 million jobs over the past decade, a period during which its population also grew by 25 percent. But what does it say, then, that California, a place where the economy has been, charitably, less than robust in most places for quite some time, still saw a double-digit increase in population over the last decade.

It would suggest that place very much matters, and where the jobs are is as important as what the jobs are. And that is a critical distinction that communities will need to embrace in the economic new world order.

Ed Burghard, CEO of the Burghard Group and former Procter & Gamble marketing executive, framed the definition of place branding perfectly in a recent article in the Cincinnati Business Courier:

“Creating a logo is not branding. A brand is a promise that sets an expectation of an experience. In the case of a community, it sets an expectation of what it will be like to live and work in that community.”

Yes, people will always migrate to places where there are jobs. But factoring heavily into that migration decision is what that place where the job is can offer as a place to live.

Job Creation, Talent Recruitment and Quality of Place

Recruiting talent is becoming as important as recruiting companies. Knowledge industries like life sciences, information technology and clean energy rely as heavily on highly skilled human capital as they do on facilities, transportation infrastructure and energy. The low-skill jobs in manufacturing continue to disappear and the jobs creation in the sector is increasingly technologically oriented.

The simple math is that there are fewer large-scale, massive job creating projects to chase, and the communities that can build a case as places that attract talent have an edge over places that don’t. That’s where Burghard’s promise comes in. Economic development strategists, he argues, should focus less on job creation and more on the conditions in their communities that influence people’s feelings about living there.

Nashville gets it. Talent recruitment is a key objective of the region’s economic development strategy, and leveraging its “cool place to live” aspect is a major part of that.

“Quality of place is essential in the battle for talent – and thus jobs – in America today,” says Janet Miller, chief economic development and marketing officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and its Partnership 2020 effort, which promotes economic development in the 10-county Nashville area. “Fifty years ago, people picked the company that they were going to work for, with little consideration of where that company was located. I cannot tell you how many bright, young managers I have hired in the past five years who picked Nashville first, then thought about getting a job here. If you don’t have a place where people want to be, you will not be successful in economic development today.”

Wyoming gets it, too. Work Where You Want to Live is more than a slogan. It marries the state’s highly developed technology backbone with its spectacular natural assets and wide open spaces to appeal to entrepreneurs who are making a clear choice about location based on a particular lifestyle appeal.

And so does Washington state, where the cosmopolitan vibe of a Seattle, the diversity of cultures and the state’s reputation as a mecca for those who love outdoor recreation are touchstones in its recruitment strategy. Over the last decade, the state’s population has grown 14 percent.

Does your community have a brand promise and how is it integrated into your economic development strategy? Should the focus be on job creation or creating a favorable environment to attract talent? Where do you weigh in? Share your thoughts.



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