This article from today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports on research that began as part of our work at Coletta & Company (now Smart City Consulting) with economist Joe Cortright for Philadelphia, Atlanta, Portland, Richmond, Providence and Tampa. CEOs for Cities has now taken it to a national platform:

Cities that attract college educated 25- to 34-year-olds will prosper in the next decade while other urban areas will suffer, according to a study released by CEOs for Cities, a national non-partisan organization of mayors, corporate CEOs, university presidents, foundation officials and civic leaders.

The report, “The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy” and written by Oregon-based economist Joseph Cortright, uncovers a number of emerging trends that suggest an urgent need for cities to focus their efforts on attracting and retaining college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds.

“This is a watershed moment for cities and city leaders,” Cortright said. “Just as railroads and interstate highways shaped development in the past, the migration of knowledge workers will shape prosperity in the future. Cities that disregard this basic fact do so at their peril.”

The report forecasts several impending factors that require a shift in urban economic development to avoid a labor shortage and meet the increased competition for human capital in the near future:

*The retiring baby boomer generation.

*Plateaus in college attainment levels.

*The leveling number of women entering the work force.

According to Cortright and CEOs for Cities, college-educated workers 25 to 34 years old are in a unique position to meet these challenges because they are the most entrepreneurial.

They also are the most mobile. Data show that 39 percent of people with a college degree will move across state lines compared to just 19 percent of high school graduates.

Additionally, 45 percent of those with advanced degrees will move across state lines. These numbers drop precipitously as people age.

“The U.S. is on the verge of a seismic shift in labor markets, and fault lines will emerge to threaten a city’s economic future unless it succeeds in understanding and attracting the young, college-educated workers who propel today’s knowledge-based economy,” Cortright writes.

Cities with the most attractive close-in neighborhoods will fare better in attracting the “Young and Restless.”

Young adults tend to be disproportionately located in the center of metro areas, and this pattern will continue to intensify. According to the report, the cities currently with the most attractive close-in neighborhoods include Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Boston.

Another key to future urban success will be the ability to attract young, educated women, because they are now — for the first time in U.S. history — more likely to have a college degree than their male counterparts.

Today, young women are about 20 percent more likely to have a four-year degree than men. In 2004, the college attainment rate for women ages 25 to 34 was 31.4 percent compared with 26.1 percent for men.

“Increasingly, we live in a world where cities compete for people, and businesses follow,” said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities.

“This trend has largely been ignored by many cities, which are still focused on business climate and tax incentives,” she said. “But I think the big question businesses will ask in the years to come is going to be ‘Can I hire talented people in this city?’ Cities need to be able to answer ‘yes’ to succeed.”