Your city’s 10-point checklist for talent attraction - Resonance Consultancy
Nashville mural | PHOTO Katy Belcher

Your city’s 10-point checklist for talent attraction

Words—Steven Pedigo

The rules of talent attraction are changing quickly. Fortunately, Resonance VP, Strategy Steven Pedigo has the following 10 tips to help your city refine and focus its strategies for attracting, and keeping future leaders.

Much ado has been made about the relationship between talent attraction and economic development. In recent years, cities have undertaken significant efforts to lure artists, techies, and other members of the creative class in hopes of spurring development in their downtown cores. Often, these efforts involve incentivizing (to put it euphemistically) major companies like Amazon or unveiling a host of cultural amenities that cater to young, Millennial workers. But the rules of talent attraction are not so simple. The following tips can help cities refine and focus their strategies for attracting, and keeping, their future leaders.

1. Build quality of place

It used to be that location decisions were made based on where your family lived or where you could find a good job. But, as today’s workers become increasingly mobile, quality of place has become a key determinant of where people choose to live. Even cities with a wealth of employment opportunities cannot thrive if residents are not given access to unique aesthetic, cultural, or demographic offerings. This is made evident by the growing popularity of cities like Nashville, Austin, Denver, and Charleston, which provide an authentic environment for working, living, and socializing. As cities become preferred destinations for citizens of all backgrounds, they must consider how to attract more than Millennials or college graduates. Places like Nashville, for instance, have become havens for families and boomerang talent (people who return to the area where they once lived).

Many small communities have yet to identify their strengths.
Many small communities have yet to identify their strengths.

2. Find what makes you unique

While cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York have little trouble communicating their value to the rest of the world, many small communities have yet to identify their strengths. In order to appeal to new residents, emerging cities must pinpoint their target sectors, which consist of unique resources and skill sets. With this information at hand, they can invest in local assets and market their strengths to specific companies and workers.

3. Tell your story

After identifying their unique qualities, cities must craft a compelling narrative about who they are as a community. In any city (particularly those without a long-established brand), it is important to find new, innovative ways to highlight local assets. In its work with Tulsa, for instance, Resonance developed a brand mantra called “Tulsa Inspires,” which captures the region’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. This campaign was rolled out across multiple platforms, including social media and billboards throughout the city.

To attract new residents, cities must craft a narrative, like Tulsa did with the help of Resonance.
To attract new residents, cities must craft a narrative, like Tulsa did with the help of Resonance.

4. Make your community “sticky”

Talent retention is an often-overlooked component of talent attraction. To increase their global competitiveness, cities must develop a community in which citizens are fully invested and engaged. In particular, cities should focus on tapping into the expertise of local workers. For nearly two decades, the Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh funded initiatives that sparked civic change, helping to improve their community while supporting local residents. This creates a “sticky” environment that encourages existing talent to stay and new talent to arrive.

5. Think of students as an asset

For cities with a large number of college students, it’s tempting to see them as a drain on local resources. In addition to snagging a fair share of urban housing, students are often temporary residents who disappear in the summer and return in the fall. But college students also bring an energy and vitality to cities that cannot be underestimated.

On top of that, they are key sources of talent that are easy to retain with the proper investments. In Philadelphia, for instance, the organization Campus Philly has partnered with regional universities to engage college students and help them find work after graduation. As a result, 67% of its college students say they want to stay in Philadelphia after graduating.

Students are key sources of talent that are easy to retain with the proper investments.
Students are key sources of talent that are easy to retain with the proper investments.

6. Promote equity

Research has shown that equity and inclusion have a positive impact on local economic development. Whether it’s instituting a consumption tax to help fund affordable housing or unveiling a job-training program for minority workers, cities must position themselves as inclusive destinations that cater to all citizens.

Most recently, New York’s Citi Bike program agreed to offer discounted, $5 monthly memberships to SNAP recipients (low-income residents who receive nutrition assistance). This kind of outreach is especially important to Millennial talent, which values openness and inclusivity.

7. Reach out to employers

Jobs matter a great deal to talent attraction. To appeal to new residents, cities and companies must work together to promote their unique market opportunities. While cities can develop and advertise relationships with local employers, companies can also form initiatives for attracting residents and building more inclusive communities.

In Louisville, for instance, the city’s public health department partnered with Humana, a major health insurance company, to reduce environmental factors that threaten residents’ well-being.

Cities and companies must work together to promote their unique market opportunities.
Cities and companies must work together to promote their unique market opportunities.

8. Appoint community ambassadors

Just as economic developers campaign for local businesses through media and television, so too can citizens share the story of their community with the rest of the world. At Florida State, for instance, the university developed a Global Ambassadors Program consisting of international students, faculty, and scholars, who promote their respective countries through speaking engagements at nearby organizations, K-12 schools, and FSU classes. These kind of engagements lend an authenticity to a city’s message, while fostering a sense of loyalty to one’s community.

9. Create innovative housing models

The cost of housing plays a key role in where people choose to locate. While today’s urban revival has made cities contested areas for space, there are ways to innovative around this problem. By prioritizing co-living spaces or modular construction, cities can make the most of their existing housing stock.

Emerging property tech like AI appraisals can also make real estate transactions more affordable and efficient. Still, this does not eliminate the need for more affordable housing, which is critical to building inclusive cities.

10. Incubate businesses

Talent attraction strategies must cater to the needs of the innovation economy, which prioritizes start-ups and freelancers. In recent years, cities have unveiled numerous co-working spaces that target young, mobile professionals.

At the same time, they have invested in business incubators that allow budding companies to grow. In Asheville, North Carolina, for instance, Blue Ridge Food Ventures is committed to helping food entrepreneurs launch their small businesses. And in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Cambridge Innovation Center develops entrepreneurial networks through weekly meetups and shared work spaces.