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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”