This news release on some landmark research by CEOs For Cities seems especially pertinent today, with Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton saying that our city has to keep giving away tax freezes to counter the exodus of people from Memphis. We don’t know how he connected those dots, except for the anecdotal evidence given to him by real estate developers on whom he seems to place such reliance for economic development advice. Hopefully, he’ll actually ask some of the people on the move, because their responses could be instructive to him as the city’s chief executive.

Surely, it goes without saying that people moving out of Memphis don’t really have top of mind the tax freezes handed out by the IDB as a consideration in their move, except as a negative, since they cause the tax rate to climb and create a disincentive for anyone to stay inside the city limits. As a true believer in tax freezes, Mayor Herenton can double the number of them given out, but they’ll have no effect on the movement of people from Memphis if nothing else changes. Rather than giving away money, city government needs to be making Memphis to create a better, safer, more competitive commmunity, because, as shown by this definitive research, the returns on these investments are crucial to the city’s future.

Rather than concentrating on tax freezes, we can only hope that Mayor Herenton will take the time to read all of the reliable research about why people are moving and what he could be doing about it. All that the give-away program of the IDB does is give city government less to spend on basic services like police and law enforcement, and those are the things that have people voting with their feet. Meanwhile, we mindlessly dole out tax freezes as entitlements to low-wage employers who institutionalize our workforce development weaknesses. Now that’s what our mayor should really be working to correct, and a first step is to reform and revamp the self-defeating PILOT program that is now in place.

Here’s the release:

– Job opportunities are secondary, but cities must get the “basics” right –

Chicago — Two-thirds of highly mobile 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees say that they will decide where they live first, then look for a job, according to a new survey commissioned by CEOs for Cities and conducted by The Segmentation Company, a division of marketing consultancy Yankelovich Inc.

The survey follows the December 2005 report by CEOs for Cities titled The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy, which warned urban leaders to attract and retain college-educated workers to compete in the knowledge economy. A city’s best chance to attract these workers, the report said, is to focus on the most mobile of the group, those 25 to 34 years old.

The survey marks the first time that the preferences of this highly coveted group have been quantified. The results are based on online surveys of 1,000 25- to 34-year-old college-educated men and women from diverse backgrounds and geographic locations conducted March 3-11, 2006.

“The December report confirmed that college-educated 25 to 34 year-olds are critical to the success of cities,” said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders. “These new data tell us what they value and how they make decisions about where they choose to live.

“When you look at trends, such as the influence of women in the workforce, the fact that technology advances allow people to stay connected from virtually anywhere and that people are less loyal to companies, these numbers make perfect sense,” Coletta added. “This freedom has made place much more prominent.”

Key findings included:

• Two-thirds of college-educated 25 to 34 year-olds choose place before job, and this preference was true across all life stages and genders (male, female, single, married, with children, without children).

• Women place greater emphasis on the location decision than do men, although a majority of men also say they choose place before job.

• Basic quality of life issues (clean and attractive, can live the life I want to lead, safe streets and neighborhoods, can afford to buy a home, lots of parks and green space) ranked highest among attributes that young people looked for in a city.

• A place that feels welcoming, offers professional opportunities, has reasonable commute times, access to excellent schools, is a great place to raise children, is a place people are proud to say they live in were among attributes young people looked for in a city.

• Lifestyle attributes are also important to this demographic. They prefer places where they can connect with others and have meaningful social interactions; that are interesting and diverse; and are environmentally responsible.

• Young adults have a strong inclination to live downtown or close to downtown.

• Knowledge of city attributes is limited. When asked where they would like to live, respondents were quick to answer. But when asked why, their reasons were vague.

• Young adults rely most heavily on personal stories from friends and family to form their perceptions about a place. They also use the Internet and personal visits to shape their opinions.

“The good news for urban leaders is that these findings point to actions that they can take to make their cities more desirable to this demographic,” said Meredith Gilfeather, who directed the survey for Yankelovich.

Opportunities for urban leaders to attract and retain this desirable demographic include:

• Take care of the basics – Make sure your city is clean, green, safe and inviting. The basic functions of government such as trash collection and keeping parks maintained and litter off the streets will go a long way to bringing and keeping people. While it is not the only factor, a city that doesn’t take care of the basics will likely be dismissed or overlooked by this demographic.

• Make it easy for young people to reach their aspirations and goals – Young people are the most entrepreneurial in America, so foster their want for personal and professional success by, for instance, naming a talent czar who guides entrepreneurs through the process of starting a new business in the city. The aura of opportunity is very powerful.

• Highlight your downtown and close-in neighborhoods – Young people are 30 percent more likely than other Americans to live within three miles of a city’s center. This percentage has been increasing since 1980 (and dramatically since 1990) in each of the top 50 metro areas in the U.S.

• Develop a compelling narrative about your city. Because young people have only vague notions of what a city is like, this poses an opportunity for a city to define and brand itself and market that image to young people. But don’t promise something that can’t be delivered. And don’t settle for a tagline, logo or slogan to do the job.

• Work with local stakeholders to build a dynamic web presence that is appealing to tech and design-savvy young people and that accurately portrays your city’s narrative.

About CEOs for Cities
Dynamic cities drive America’s global economic competitiveness. That’s why CEOs for Cities was founded. It’s a network of mayors, corporate CEOs, university presidents, foundation officials and business and civic leaders from the nation’s leading cities. With research and its urban innovation consortium, CEOs for Cities provides its members with special insight into the challenges that matter to the success of cities and the new partnerships and thinking required to find innovative responses.

About Yankelovich Inc. and The Segmentation Company (TSC)
Yankelovich delivers measurable breakthroughs in marketing productivity for its clients. For more than 30 years, The Yankelovich MONITOR¨ has tracked and forecasted consumer value and lifestyle trends. Our Insights Integrationsm solutions directly link our key research findings on why people buy to databases of customers and prospects.

The Segmentation Company is a full-service custom research and consulting firm that helps clients precisely target their customers through segmentation and brand equity and positioning work. Yankelovich and TSC are headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC.