Besides highlighting the surge in technology, manufacturing and energy, the annual Best Cities for Job Growth rankings has demographer Joel Kotkin channeling his inner John Mellencamp.
The small towns of which Mellencamp famously sang are becoming magnets for new jobs and investment. The 2012 ranking notes the phenomenal job growth in smaller cities such as Midland, Odessa and San Angelo TX, Lafayette LA, Columbus IN and Casper WY.
Now it isn’t difficult to figure out what’s creating jobs in many of these communities. Midland and Odessa are in the heart of the Texas oil patch, where red hot energy demand is fueling growth. Casper is part of Wyoming’s booming energy economy, which turns our 40 percent of the nation’s coal supply.
What has Kotkin’s sights on small towns beyond the boom-bust-boom cycle of industry segments are the convergence of a couple of developments that, at their heart, signify the importance that quality of place plays in economic development.
High-speed connectivity and continuing telecommunications innovation let business be conducted from anywhere, and beyond just letting it be conducted from lower-cost locales, it also brings in a range of lifestyle preferences – from culture and recreation opportunities to ease of commuting to wide open spaces.
Do quality of place factors alone make or break investment and job creation? No, but if you think they are not significant factors in a number of situations, think again. The appeal of place can and does drive job decisions, both from those seeking them and those creating them.
Kotkin also notes that two key demographic cohorts – millenials and Baby Boomers – are in greater numbers shying away from high-density urban areas to smaller communities with more elbow room. Why?
As Kotkin notes, in part the reasons “may lie in many mundane factors that are often too prosaic for urban theorists. They include things such as strong community institutions like churches and shorter commutes than can be had in New York, L.A., Boston or the Bay Area (except for those willing to pay sky-high prices to live in a box near downtown). Young families might be attracted to better schools in some areas .. .and the access to natural amenities common in many of these smaller communities.”
Kansas has made those type of distinctions one of its key selling points in attracting businesses and people. Wyoming has coupled its stout technology infrastructure with outdoor appeal and open spaces to offer a clear quality of place message (and recognition for one of the nation’s better business climates.)
We probably shouldn’t expect the sidewalks to be rolled up and the skyscrapers to be put back in their boxes in New York, L.A. or Boston anytime soon. Big cities will always find people and companies seeking the vibrancy and intellectual energy they offer. But small communities that can tap their diffentiators, exploit the technological capabilities and effectively integrate quality of place into their economic development strategy give site decision makers, entrepreneurs and job seekers a clear choice.
Whether you’re in a big town or a small town, what is your view on the influence quality of place plays in economic development decisions? What does quality of place mean to you in terms of economic development and how is it part of your strategy?