I read an article called “American Dream Fades for Generation Y Professionals” on Bloomberg.com a couple months ago, and there’s a paragraph from the article that’s been haunting me ever since:
I graduated college in 2006, and while I have been extremely lucky to have been consistently employed full-time in my chosen field, the majority of my friends have not fared as well. Yet all of us must deal with the same college debt, whether we are paying them off with money from dynamic chosen careers, or from a less desirable alternative. The search for a good job remains as competitive as ever for the Millennials, despite our slowly improving economy. Meanwhile, communities across the nation are struggling to attract new businesses and diversify their economies. “Economic development” is arguably at the top of most political agendas at every level of government, but abundant question marks remain on how to achieve it, particularly for small, rural communities. [caption id="attachment_852" align="alignleft" width="300"] Glenwood Springs is one of several communities in the Rocky Mountain West that has the natural amenities that can make its community more desirable to Gen Y and the creative class.[/caption] Smaller communities are cherished places, with smaller workforces, and generally speaking they’re not likely to attract (or want to attract) the next big corporation. Still, they seek to become economically-sustainable communities that offer opportunity for their younger generations to stay and make a living. The single greatest asset I think many of these communities possess is authenticity, something we all know the coveted Creative Class values greatly. Richard Florida, in a recent UrbanLand article, describes this well: “Real buildings, real people, real history—is key. A place that’s full of chain stores, chain restaurants, and chain nightclubs is seen as inauthentic. Not only do those venues look pretty much the same everywhere, but they also offer the same experiences you could have anywhere.” Small towns are often full of history, boasting beautiful older structures and wonderful, gridded, small-block street networks, which all provide unique opportunities for revitalization. There seems to be a natural connection between a younger generation that is struggling to find work they are passionate about, and small communities that are searching for creative economic development strategies. There are great examples of young people being drawn to these places to make a lasting difference. Transition Lab in Montrose, Colorado was established to train Millennials in organic neighborhood farming and elder care after recognizing the desire of an aging population to employ helpers that could assist them with food production and other needs. The Epicenter is a community resource center in Green River, Utah that was founded by three Millennials who wanted to make a real impact by nurturing local businesses, entrepreneurs, and ideas. The Rural Learning Center in Howard, South Dakota, stemmed from an idea of thirteen high school students who wanted to reverse the population decline in their hometown and broaden opportunities for long-time residents. Communities that allow themselves to think outside of the traditional economic development box will foster a culture of creativity, a commitment to authenticity, and a renewed dedication to place-making. All this, in turn, leads to lasting economic development, which has been shown time and again to happen when the authenticity of a community is respected and nurtured. These are the kinds of communities that Generation Y is so attracted to, and pursuing a "real" community is a mission I believe they can truly help along. Rural places do offer real opportunity, and in a time when opportunity is so desperately needed by our younger generation, they could become a new home to much of our creative class.