Indianapolis shows up peer cities in attracting the young and educated

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When Nat King Cole crooned about falling in love, he sang, “Now is the time for it, while we are young.”

Regional economic development experts sing the same tune when it comes to attracting talented people. Cities must woo people while they’re young—in their 20s or early 30s—because after that age, people tend to hunker down.

The Indianapolis area apparently appeals to at least two key groups of young people—particularly those already married, according to a new study by researchers at IUPUI. The region doesn’t excite young, well-educated singles as much, but still fares better among that crowd than many of its Midwestern peers.

Those results bode well for the economic future of Indianapolis, said the study’s lead author, Drew Klacik, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, which is part of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Indianapolis.

“I’m excited because I now believe a little more strongly that my daughters are going to stay in Indianapolis,” said Klacik, sipping a frothy caramel latte while reclining at a table in the Mo’Joe Coffee House, a block from his downtown office. His daughters are 22 and 16, respectively.

Klacik plans follow-up studies to help Indianapolis and other cities do a better job of targeting their efforts to attract people. Just as cities once offered tax incentives to businesses indiscriminately but now focus incentives on key industries, Klacik hopes his research helps cities identify groups of people most important to their future growth and attract more of them.

Klacik’s research casts the Indianapolis area in a better light than some other rankings. For example, Richard Florida’s popular 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” ranked Indianapolis 68th of out 268 regions for its concentration of people in such “creative” occupations as musicians, computer programmers, lawyers, writers and others.

The research by Klacik and two colleagues breaks into 12 clusters the households of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. The dozen demographic groups are based not only on age, income and education, but also data on what kind of jobs people hold and what they like to do for fun.

The numbers come from California-based ESRI, a firm that uses U.S. Census Bureau data and proprietary surveys to help national retailers decide where to put stores and to assist many other businesses target their next advertising campaign.

Klacik and colleagues Seth Payton and John Ottensmann organized the numbers into clusters and gave them quirky names, such as “Solo Acts” and “Family Portraits.”

Solo Acts, for example, consists of singles that are college-educated or in college, and show a preference for city life, dining out, environmental causes and yoga.

Family Portraits represent the sequel to the Solo Acts, Klacik said. They are those college-educated singles after they’ve followed Cole’s advice: They fell in love. Then they got married, bought a house and had their first kid.

Not surprisingly, Indianapolis falls behind the national average on attracting Solo Acts households: The metro area lags the national metro average by 17 percent. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Denver trounce Indianapolis on attracting young singles.

But Indianapolis has more singles than such cities as Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Louisville; and Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

For luring Family Portraits households, Indianapolis exceeds the national average by 32 percent.

Indianapolis also attracts a high percentage of young people with less education. Indianapolis has double the national average of “High Hopes” households. That group includes both married and single households, most of them without a college degree, who are seeking the American dream—homeownership and rewarding jobs—and willing to move to a new city to do it.

The city’s strength might be in its appeal to the High Hopes and Family Portraits groups, said Anne Shane, vice president of BioCrossroads Inc., an Indianapolis life sciences business development group.

“They’re still young, they’re still very educated, and they’re still very creative,’ Shane said. “The more young professionals you have in your community, the greater the chance of economic success.”

Moving to Indy

Erik and Christine Johnson decided to move to Indianapolis from Chicago a few years after they got married.

The couple met at DePaul University and continued to live in the Windy City while Erik earned his law degree at the University of Chicago. But Christine hails from Indianapolis and her family is still here.

“That was a big debate for us, whether it would be Chicago or Indianapolis,” said Johnson, 28, who is now a business litigation attorney at Ice Miller LLP. He added, “I got some quizzical looks from people in Chicago when I said I was moving down here.”

Johnson acknowledged there were cons to the move. He and Christine miss Chicago’s extensive public transportation, its plethora of restaurants, and its higher salaries for attorneys.

“Some of the difference is offset by the housing prices, but not all of it,” Johnson said. “With my [school] debts, it’s hard.”

But he said his work-life balance is better in Indianapolis. The Johnsons had their first baby, Asher, 15 months ago. And two months ago, they bought their “dream home” in Irvington.

“I’ve got a house and a yard and a 10-minute commute. Try that in Chicago. You can’t,” Johnson said.
Daniel Friedman has similar sentiments. The 31-year-old from New York City moved to Indianapolis in October because he and his wife, who is from Indiana, decided it would be a better place to raise a family.

“If you’re a father, and you’re living in New Jersey, and you’re commuting to Manhattan an hour and half each way, you’re not going to make it to a single soccer game or a single dance recital” for your kids, said Friedman, a marketing and sales manager.

But Friedman also said Indianapolis could do a lot more to put itself on American’s radar screens.

“My family, these are diehard New Yorkers. They sound like a roomful of Fran Dreschers,” said Friedman, referring to the TV actress with the famously nasal Queens accent. “They said, ‘Indiana? What’s in Indiana?’ But slowly but surely, they’ve seen this evolution in me and seen me find this balance of work and life.”

Human cluster strategy

Klacik’s goal for his research is to create a tool that leaders of Indianapolis and other cities can use to develop strategies to attract talented people, including the young and college-educated.

He and his colleagues are now working to see which of the 12 clusters they have identified are most important for economic growth in central Indiana.

Klacik’s 12 clusters encompass the entire population, not just young people. The other categories include “Global Roots,” which are immigrants and expatriates, “High Society,” which are the wealthiest households, “American Quilt,” which are older households in small towns or rural areas, and even “Scholars and Patriots,” which includes students and military personnel.

Ron Gifford sees great potential for having Klacik’s data to work with. The CEO of the Indy Partnership, the group responsible for marketing Indianapolis as a good place to do business, said having data could help Indianapolis leaders decide on the biggest bang-for-the-buck investments it can make in city amenities.

“To the extent that it would allow us to be more targeted in our recruiting, I think it would be a positive,” Gifford said. He added, “With limited resources, you could know which dials to turn to maximum effect.”

Cities have not been so smart, Klacik said, when they tried to chase the “creative class” Florida identified. Florida, who is now a professor at the University of Toronto, suggested that “creative” people gravitated to cities with hip, bohemian neighborhoods that were tolerant and diverse.

So groups in several cities, including Indianapolis, cited Florida’s “creative class” theory in pushing for an ordinance against discrimination against gays, or making investments in cultural neighborhoods or encouraging the opening of more coffee shops and nightspots.

In a summary of his research, Klacik wrote, “… many cities and regions have repeated history and entered into a competition for the creative class, whomever they may be, encouraging the development of coffee shops and other ‘creative class amenities’ in much the same way they previously competed for industries using tax abatements and other incentives.”

Since the late 1990s, cities have begun to focus tax incentives on industries in which they already have strengths—such as the life sciences or advanced manufacturing—while letting other opportunities go. Klacik hopes that by identifying human clusters, cities can make a similar advance in their efforts to woo talented people.

“If we really want to support life sciences, how do we offer more of the amenities that tend to attract those kinds of people?” Klacik asked rhetorically. He hopes his research can provide an answer.

But Shane, the vice president of BioCrossroads, thinks Klacik’s focus on wooing people in order to attract jobs—which echoes Florida’s research—might be a bit out of order. She contends that, because Indianapolis lacks a big reputation, jobs are still the key things that bring young people to the area.

“We can’t compete head-to-head with a Chicago, with a San Francisco, with a New York, with a Denver. We can do a good job, but we’re just not in the same class,” said Shane, who used to be chief of staff for former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith. “We probably have to focus more on having the great-paying job here and then get people to the city so they understand that it’s also a good place to live.”



  • Echo this sentiment
    After spending ~7 years in New York City with both my husband and I working in investment banking, we couldn't wait to move to the Indianapolis-area. We surveyed many cities and landed a beautiful home in northern Zionsville and two great jobs. The quality of life, work-life balance and space outweighed our love for the city. Good-bye hussle and bussle - for good.
  • Midwestern Cities
    Having traveled extensively my entire career I've always felt the big second tier cities have a bit of an inferiority complex. Quality of life is important, but jobs in growth industries, which attract the brightest young minds will always be the most important component for secondary markets. The Indianapolis metropolitan area is a great place to live, but it lacks the high profile draw for many young professionals. In my experience in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, suburban based cities, with little mass transit have a difficult building a connection with their urban offerings. To alter the overall image some of that will need to change.
  • Quality of life
    I lived in Indy for several years, moved to Tucson, Az and currently visit Phoenix, LA and San Diego quite often. All four of these southwestern cities are hyped as wonderful places to work and live but in many ways fall short of the hype. When you consider the increased cost of living, the traffic congestion and the anti-business climate of these four cities, living in Indianapolis looks pretty good and none of these cities have the friendliness of Indianapolis or many other Midwestern cities. The Arizona weather is another attribute that is supposed to make living here so attractive, but eventually the lack of seasons and the four to five months, each year, of temperatures of 100 degrees or above becomes tiresome. This may be a personal thing but I have known many native Tucsonans who dread summer the same way Midwesterners dislike winter and as one Tucson gentleman of my acquaintance put it; “It takes more than a nice climate to create a good quality of life”.
  • lable
    How does one title anothers creation,work of art,passion of music and the certianty of true scientist.I expect more from you in the road ahead.Don "i am not that important" Harris
  • excellent
    I greatly enjoyed reading it, as someone who long ago knew that factors like what these researchers looked at are future economic ones that will determine what cities will prosper, or stumble decades from now.

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