The Importance of the M Factor

February 8, 2019Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

You know how every now and then there’s news about a community being ranked as the number one place in America for, say, I don’t know, dog parks?

It seems like just about every week there is a story by some obscure media source about the best place to retire. The best place for entrepreneurs. The best place for whatever you can imagine.

There is one “best place” category that I find myself thinking about often. It’s tied to just about every community’s number one economic development challenge – the availability of skilled workers.

Without available skilled workers, communities struggle to attract and land new jobs and capital investment.  And without those two things, local economies struggle.  Want enough tax base to fix streets? Want public investment in the things that matter to all of us? It all starts with jobs. And to get ‘em, we need the workforce.

Make sense?

That’s what makes this study I’ve been pouring over so compelling. We’ve known for years that Baby Boomers were aging out of the workforce, and that’s leaving a void in many skilled trades. With the vacancy that comes with those retirements, we must backfill the labor pool.  Getting to know, building relationships with, supporting and encouraging workforce evolution in our city.

The trend report, commissioned by Livability.com in conjunction with Ipsos, is called “All the Right Moves.” In it, we learn about “Five Key Insights into the Present and Future of Millennial Talent Attraction.”  I see it as “the importance of ‘M’.”

To ask the $200 billion question (that’s the collective spending power of Millennials in 2017, according to Forbes who also suggests that in 2018 Millennials had the most combined spending power of any generation), what do our Millennials want, and how do we attract and retain that talent segment that will help us to build our economy for the benefit of all of us?

According to the Livability.com report, it comes down to these five factors:

  1. Affordability. We can make that happen. One of my favorite resources to use when I try to assess our community’s competition is Sterling’s Best Places. Not familiar?  Go to www.bestplaces.net and type in Abilene, Texas. There, you’ll find that Abilene’s overall cost of living is 84, based on a U.S. average baseline of 100.  That means that Abilene, Texas, is a full 16 percent less expensive to live based on the cost of housing, food and groceries, transportation, utilities, health care and miscellaneous expenses such as clothing, services and entertainment. One might argue that our local tax burden makes up for any savings. That isn’t necessarily true. According to several published reports, Texas overall is considered “tax friendly” when compared to other states.
  2. Women go to places they can afford. Again, Abilene is positioned well in this category. The report tells us that a whopping 42 percent of women base their choice for relocation based on where they can afford to live. What we learn with this point is that Millennial women will not relocate for a job; quality of life elements like arts, culture and recreational opportunities; climate or any other factor if they believe they can’t afford it. Overall, 39 percent of all respondents noted that outdoor attractions and the arts and culture vibe were considerable influencers.
  3. Opportunity. The good news is that Abilene has tremendously low unemployment. The bad news is that Abilene has tremendously low unemployment. That good news/bad news situation creates the challenge, which forces our community to consider making enhancements to the “product” we’re selling to employers and employees. Regardless, Millennials considering relocation want to know that they can find a job when they get to the other end.
  4. Diversity. This is a big one, and it impacts far more than the Millennial segment. I chose Abilene because it’s diverse, among other factors. I didn’t want my children growing up with a narrow view of life. I want them to have the broad perspective that together, we’re better.  Regardless of race, religion, nation of origin, income level or sexual orientation, a full 88 percent of Livability.com’s non white respondents noted that they’re more likely to move to a place they perceived as diverse and inclusive.
  5. Quality of Life. This is an area we find many communities focused as they work to attract talent. According to the Livability.com survey, Millennials have said that they would comprise pay of up to $7,600 for a better work/life balance. Mobility matters – easy commutes, airport access, walkability and bike friendliness was ranked as the top three factors in relocation decisions by 40 percent of those participating in the survey. On the other hand, 41 percent of those participating with incomes over $50k said bad traffic conditions would prevent them from relocating, even with the promise of a good job.

I had the opportunity to attend an economic development leadership summit a couple of weeks ago. Communities of all shapes and sizes were represented, along with some of the nation’s preeminent players in community development and site selection. The buzz was, as it has been for some time now, the importance of “product” in the sales process. Quality of place is as important to those making site selection (which should actually be called site elimination) decisions as is available workforce.

Abilene, Texas, is a unique and lovable community not only because of our history and heritage, but because of the contributions each of you make every day to help build that better “product.” But we cannot rest on our laurels and assume they’ll come. There is an extremely heated competition among communities everywhere to attract the talent needed to build an economy, and things are changing rapidly, right down to how communities are measuring their economic development success.

There are a slew of factors I don’t mention here – a safe and clean community, harmony, great schools, access to affordable healthcare…they all matter. In short, our community must celebrate those among us who will serve our great city in the future, WHILE we work collaboratively to build the product that they’ll continue to buy (Abilene).  And to answer the question of what they want more thoroughly, we’ve asked them. The Millennial demographic is a hugely significant segment of our Chamber.  And most certainly our community.

Here’s the point of this article: for the last several years, the Chamber has seen the dynamic growth of our Abilene Young Professionals (AYP), rising in numbers to an unbelievable number of 570 members. In that same period, we’ve worked with our friends at the Abilene Reporter-News in recognizing the best among this important demographic in our community. This year’s 20 Under 40 celebration will be no exception. Click here to view the class of 2019 and for information regarding the reception. I hope you’ll join the Chamber, our AYP, the Reporter News and the community at-large as we celebrate their contributions to our great city.

Be sure to check back in for a future article where I discuss measurement, a process of great importance to your Chamber. I think you’ll find it compelling.

In the meantime, thank you for everything you do to make our region shine, from serving as a champion for our great community to the time and treasure you invest in the effort to make Abilene, Texas, good for all of us.

Onward!
Doug

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