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The parallels between New Jersey and Northwest Indiana are strong. That’s why One Region selected New Jersey for a group trip, starting with Hoboken and Jersey City, once industrial and now residential and commercial cities drawing millennials.

We visited places like Asbury Park, where a distressed downtown is now thriving due to the arts community; Newark, where anchor institutions worked together to foster investments; and Trenton, where surrounding communities are pulling together to support their urban core as young professionals are looking to live in urban centers. Last, we met with people who are passionate about overcoming negative perceptions.

This all came to be as One Region embarked on a Benchmark Research Initiative that partnered with economists at Valparaiso University, Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University Northwest and the Center of Workforce Innovations to assess places across the country with a turnaround story in attracting millennials.

Based on research, we selected:

  • New Jersey, because of its bi-state relationship with New York City. Hoboken and Jersey City have one of the highest concentrations of millennials in the country.
  • Pittsburgh, because of its history in steel manufacturing. Pittsburgh’s millennial population grew by 7 percent over the last five years.
  • Denver, because of its investments in infrastructure and redevelopment. Denver attracted an average of 12,000 millennials per year over the last five years.

The research culminated in a One Region-led educational tour to each location. This year we visited New Jersey, and following years will be Pittsburgh and Denver. Our delegation included about 27 business and community leaders as well as elected officials from across our three-county region. The group visited five cities (Jersey City, Hoboken, Newark, Asbury Park and Trenton), and in each place we learned about successes and challenges.

In each place, we saw examples of leveraging and transforming underutilized assets into attractive features drawing people to live there. For example, the Hahne’s Building was a former department store in downtown Newark that sat vacant for over 30 years. Today the building has apartments as well as a Whole Foods and is home to Express Newark with Rutgers University Newark. This happened due to strong community and corporate partnerships.

How does change happen? We found many catalysts. We heard grassroots stories of those stepping up to make change, leadership from elected officials championing efforts and attracting business through charisma, and strong corporate citizenship making investments in an effort to attract and retain talent.

The visit also allowed our delegation to form and strengthen relationships fostering a collegial atmosphere, ultimately helping our region work across sectors and boundaries. This was a lesson New Jersey learned from us.

Leah Konrady is president and CEO of One Region. The opinions are the writer's.

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