Our Urban Challenge: The Big Disconnect

Joel Kotkin, writing on the NewGeography site, says that America’s biggest brain magnets are not the big coastal cities: “Indeed, college graduates, for the most part, are heading not to the big cities on the coasts, but to smaller, less dense and quite often Sun Belt cities.”

His conclusion might seem written with Springfield in mind:

Meanwhile, the best strategy for attracting graduates lies in creating jobs, as well as in offering both affordable housing and a range of housing options, including both reasonably priced urban and lower-density living. Generally speaking an area that is economically vital as well as physically or culturally appealing will do best. In the next decade advantages will also fall to family-friendly regions, particularly as the current crop of millennial-generation graduates starts entering en masse their family-forming years. These factors, more than hipness or dense urbanity, may well be more influential in determining which regions do best in the ongoing war for talent.

I’ve argued in this series that we need density and urban amenities to attract young people. I’m certainly not suggesting that jobs and affordable housing are not important. We need the whole package.

But what are we really working with? When I say “might seem written with Springfield in mind” I mean to indicate the illusion of Springfield. Certainly the low housing costs, low cost of living, and family-friendliness (of a certain kind) are very real.

Recently, the Ozarks News Journal published an interesting list of the top jobs Springfield is creating for young people:

  1. Dental Assistants
  2. Physical therapy
  3. Dental hygienists
  4. Network systems and data communication analysts
  5. Physician assistants
  6. Physical therapy assistants
  7. Architects
  8. Surveying and mapping technicians
  9. Database administration
  10. Compensation, benefits, job analysis specialists

That’s a mixed bag. Note how many of these jobs require only a 2-year certificate beyond High School. That’s not a list of jobs for an area serious about attracting “brains” — a periphrasis for well-educated, creative, high-earning, professionals.

But, then, we need to wonder if Missouri is a state serious about attracting the kinds of employers that attract “brains.” Consider this from a story about law-makers in Missouri amending voter-approved laws; it deals with the minimum wage:

“We have to make sure our state is competitive,” House Speaker Steven Tilley said while explaining his support for capping the state’s minimum wage. “When you have a (cost of living adjustment) on there, it could lead to a point where our state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, which I think puts us at a competitive disadvantage for jobs.”

I have no idea about the actual policy outcome (as I suspect is true for most who would bloviate on the topic). I’m wondering instead about the unspoken assumption: We want to compete for minimum wage jobs?

There is some hope. Missouri State University’s IDEA Commons holds some promise, and it is located in the heart of downtown.

That’s a bit more like it. The promise: High-paying, high-tech jobs in an urban core brownfield development. It’s green. It’s hip. It’s the future.

But I’m wondering: How successful can this be considering the city’s demographic profile (something n0 one ever seems to want to discuss)? According to the current U.S. Census Bureau Community Survey: 1) in education, about 65 percent of Springfieldians have less than an associate’s degree (i.e. unprepared for even the low-skill jobs on the list above), and 2) in income, 20.3 percent of individuals have incomes below the poverty level.

Eager to move here? Eager to move your high-tech business here?

Why my suggestion to provide urban amenities now (the kind young professionals say they want) is still the best way to go: We need to keep the brains we have — i.e. our own college students — especially the ones who grew up in the Ozarks — so that they will build brain-ready businesses of their own and build the kind of community that will attract business and brains from outside. Can you say The Network?

Our Urban Challenge Series:


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Comments 8

  1. Robert wrote:


    Sounds like what people like you and me want to have happen so badly (young people moving to denser areas) and what’s actually happening are two different things. No doubt hipsters are but hipsters are not the majority of college educated people.

    For example, STL officials were convinced that they had turned that city around only to find out that in the last decade they lost another 8% of their population to the suburbs.

    I suppose that college tuition has a lot to do with this. With tuition rising at 3 times the rate of inflation it’s hard to want to (or be able to) pay $1200 a month for a 400 square foot apartment.

    My wife (27 years old) has a D.V.M. and a M.S., I’m 30 years old with a B.S. so I feel like we are probably in that demographic. We live in the suburbs. The reason is that her job is headquartered in the suburbs so it just makes sense. However, we purposely chose to live in a condo and in a town that is bikable/walkable and has a train into the City.

    However, having lived both in the heart of Chicago and out here I will say that it is nice to not constantly be asked for money and the victim of repeated crime.

    The last time we were in downtown Chicago my wife’s wallet was stolen out of her purse. I’m assuming at the same time that a homeless guy was begging me to buy him lunch and then arguing with me about why I wouldn’t. Point is: it isn’t all fun and games in the inner city regardless of how cool it looked on Seinfeld and Friends.

    Many of my hip friends would hate the town that I currently live in because it’s definitely not a mixed income neighborhood but then again, people do not even lock their bicycles here. The biggest crime around here are things like ponzi schemes.

    I do not know why anyone would move to Kansas City. Every aspect of that place seems unappealing to me. Anywhere that places their sports parks 30 miles from town off of an interstate and has no train service at all obviously wasnt thinking “livability” when they were growing.

    However, it’s on the list of places that smart young people move to! go figure.

    Posted 28 Feb 2011 at 1:37 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Sounds like you’re a perfect fit for Springfield once the Commons is finished 😉 But, yes, what I want and what’s happening are moving in two different directions 🙁

    Posted 28 Feb 2011 at 3:02 pm
  3. Robert wrote:

    Id move to Springfield in one second if I could. I would have loved to of been at JQH last Saturday. Who knows, maybe someday.

    Posted 28 Feb 2011 at 3:51 pm
  4. Jason C wrote:

    Those are some depressing Census Bureau data. Clearly, Springfield’s future prospects would benefit greatly by the retention of our college students (and for that matter, the return of locally raised kids who are attending college elsewhere). It isn’t just a question of high-paying jobs, but too the local challenges that lie ahead which will be best dealt with given an ample supply of sharp minds. Perhaps this IDEA Commons is just the thing to help draw these well-educated young people to call Springfield home.

    House Speaker Tilley’s statement shouldn’t be too surprising. He’s won awards from the MO Chamber of Commerce, the St Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association and the MO Restaurant Association. He’s a four term Republican whose three reelection campaigns went unchallenged. He’s a pro-business guy for whom the phrase “race to the bottom” likely rings hollow.

    Posted 28 Feb 2011 at 4:17 pm
  5. Keri wrote:

    Well, if it will make you feel better, I’ll send you the Legacy 2002 Sustainability Indicator Report from Orlando. At least you have low housing cost with your low incomes.

    Posted 28 Feb 2011 at 11:11 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Keri… The 2 lows are often used here as an excuse to defend the status quo.

    Posted 01 Mar 2011 at 12:35 pm
  7. Michael wrote:

    “When you have a (cost of living adjustment) on there, it could lead to a point where our state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, which I think puts us at a competitive disadvantage for jobs.”

    That’s a load of crap. I’m in Washington State, which has the highest minimum wage in the nation and we’re doing way better than MO up here.

    Our minimum wage is tied to cost of living and whenever it goes up we lose a few agricultural jobs, but the increased spending that comes with the increase in the minimum wage creates more jobs than we lose.

    Posted 01 Mar 2011 at 1:10 pm
  8. Andy Cline wrote:

    Michael… Yes. But the crap feeds a particular orthodoxy. It is easy to see why MO is winning the race to the bottom. New state bird: The Walmart Greeter.

    Posted 01 Mar 2011 at 1:21 pm