Whether it’s to attract new visitors or new talent, Millennials are top of mind for cities today. At 74 million strong, Americans aged 18-34 are the largest demographic in the U.S., and many of them are on the move – just not to the places you might think.
To find out what’s most important to Millennials when considering a city to visit or live, Resonance interviewed more than 1,200 “mobile” Millennials – those that had traveled at least once in the past year – and found that their responses highlighted three key areas that motivate mobile Millennials today: Opportunity, Quality of Place and Affordability.
A New Definition of Opportunity
While Safety (1) and Affordability (2) are paramount, and Job Opportunities ranks 3rd, Average Wages and Income is much farther down the list, coming in a surprising 9th. Conventional thinking would suggest that a city’s average income would be more important than say, Scenery and Nature (4), Quality of Restaurants (7) and Recreation (8), but this isn’t the case with Millennials.
One of the reasons that opportunity ranks so high is that this young cohort of movers is more interested in entrepreneurialism than generations before them, and are more likely to work in a start up, with its inherent risks and excitement. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54% of Millennials either want to start a business or have already started one. And as a result, “opportunity” is going through a major face lift.
“Millennials’ definition of opportunity is evolving”, explains Steven Pedigo, NYU professor of economic development and the director for the Initiative for Creativity and Innovation in Cities. “It is shifting from solely ‘economic opportunity’ to one that also values ‘social opportunity’ too, with many Millennials choosing to work in an environment that favors social cohesion and a connection with community over strictly economic growth.”
This focus on opportunity instead of wages also explains why Millennials place a high value on experiences, even when considering employment – all of which questions the assumption that Millennials are entitled and lazy, a stereotype that David Manshoort, CEO of AssetAvenue, disagrees with.
He told entreprenuer.com that most Millennials he’s encountered are highly motivated – “just not strictly by cash,” and favor a more dynamic working atmosphere over the traditional 9-5.
“Millennials seek to learn and be creative, and are highly interested in personal and professional development,” he says. “That can work in a startup’s favor when you have plenty of opportunity but not necessarily large salaries to offer.”
Housing Affordability (2) Signals an Eye for the Future
Millennials don’t differ from other generations when it comes to housing prices – as our researchshows, affordability is important. But they aren’t putting down roots just yet.
Two San Antonio-headquartered companies were recently named to the list of “100 Best Workplaces for Millennials” based on the collaborative report by Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine. NuStar Energy LP and USAA earned spots on the list for reasons ranging from company culture to stand-out benefits programs. And for what it’s worth, San Antonio also has the lowest grocery prices in the country, noted by the Council for Community and Economic Research, a Virginia based think tank which studies cost of living issues. Cheap rent and a surge in new businesses – there’s that opportunity again – are the main contributors to strong Millennial growth.
A New Focus on Quality of Place
Quality of Place relates to a city’s quality of experience, which plays directly into the mindset of today’s creative and innately curious Millennial. Scenery and Nature (4), Favorable Climate (5), Commute to Work (6) and Restaurants (7) are all ranked higher than Average Wage and Income (9) suggesting that Millennials consider a city’s software to be just as important as its hardware.
“Millennials want to live where it’s easy to have fun with friends and family, whether in the suburbs or closer in,” says M. Leanne Lachman of the Urban Land Institute.
“This is a generation that places a high value on work-life balance and flexibility. They will switch housing and jobs as frequently as necessary to improve their quality of life.”
And the ingredients for this ‘quality of life’ don’t change even when Millennials visit or travel to a city; the same Qualities of Place resurface. While we had their attention, we asked the same 1,200 Millennials what they look for before visiting a city.
In our 2015 Portrait of the Millennial Traveler report, we found that Millennials cited Favorable Climate as the 3rd most important factor in choosing a city, with 46 percent listing it as either very or extremely important; Scenery and Nature is also considered an important factor at 41 percent. And compared to other travelers, Millennials seek out Attractions and Experiences at a much higher rate while on vacation (51% vs. 40%).
Where the Future is Moving Today
For the first time since the 1920’s, growth in U.S. cities is outpacing growth outside of them, Nielsen research tells us. But Millennials’ desire for opportunity, affordability and quality of place explains why cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago haven’t seen as much growth in the number of twenty-somethings over the past decade.
In fact, the cities that gained the most 20-29 year olds between 2010-2013 were San Antonio, Houston, Seattle and Miami. These cities also also placed highly in Resonance’s 2015 U.S. Place Equity Index- a new measure to benchmark the relative strength and competitive identity of one city to the next based on many of the experiential qualities that Millennials consider important. In our analysis, Miami ranks 8th overall, Houston 10th, Seattle 16th and San Antonio 26th.
The combination of Opportunity, Affordability and Quality of Place is attracting Millennials in search of a more balanced quality of life. And it’s this shift that’s blurring the definition of suburb and city, according to Steven Pedigo.
“Our suburban and urban areas are now sharing more similar characteristics than ever before: walkability, transit-oriented development, improved schools, authenticity, unique restaurants, and entertainment venues”, he says.
“The future of U.S. communities, in many respects, depends on where these Millennials ultimately decide to put down their roots. And at the moment, the communities that offer the perfect blend of what Millennials are looking for are winning out.”