How do we retain young people? Your feedback is helping

A couple of weeks ago, I shared our schedule of webinar topics for the rest of the year and asked for your feedback and stories. The most popular topic you wrote to me about was retaining our young people. 

Your answers sort of fell into two categories. On one hand, some of you suggested specific amenities or projects that would best retain young families. Things like rental housing, entertainment and public transportation. These are all good points, and I’m glad you shared what has worked in your areas. 

On the other hand, some of you mentioned changing attitudes, like making young people welcome, treating them as valued and including them in leadership. Now we’re down to the real issue. 

I could take the list of amenities that you mentioned and make that into a checklist of ideas that have worked in other towns. It’s tempting to do that because it’s practical and actionable. “Just do the things on this list, and you’ll be fine.” The first risk with that list is that those may not be the things that matter to younger people in your area.

The second risk with the checklist is that it doesn’t actually change anyone’s behavior. If we build all the amenities in the world, but the existing leadership won’t let any younger people get involved meaningfully, then we will drive away people just as fast as we can attract them. 

Based on your feedback, I’ve developed a theory that you’ll hear more about in our July webinar. Instead of giving officials lists of what they “should” do to attract or retain Millennials, we are smarter to help officials be open to working with Millennials to create the town they want together.

That’s a lot harder. But it is Idea Friendly, so you know where to start. 

And it leads to an important corollary to ponder: Millennials will end up building this town some time in the future, sooner than you think. You might as well start working with them now.  

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS –  You’ve heard “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” People use it like a club to beat up small towns that aren’t growing. Over at Strong Towns, Chuck Mahron decided it was time to take that myth apart. It’s well worth your time to read.