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GUEST COMMENTARY: Welcoming, retaining talent key to our future
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Welcoming, retaining talent key to our future

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Our Region is on the right path to attract and retain talent and grow population, but we continue losing population in Lake and LaPorte counties.

We are losing talent, which starts when high school graduates leave the Region for college. If they return, it’s usually not until a decade or two has passed when the primary motivation is to raise or care for a family. It’s a boomerang effect, and all too often the boomerangs don’t come back.

I understand. It’s the story of my life. When I thought about returning to my hometown, Michigan City, my checklist included: a vibrant downtown with good stores and restaurants, peers engaged in the community, outdoor recreation space and a city government that cared about making investments and improvements. I could find cities and towns that met my criteria throughout Northwest Indiana, but the only box I couldn’t immediately check was “job options.” However, I wasn’t worried with Chicago just around the bend. I’ve heard similar stories frequently from my friends who live here and those who don’t.

Research shows millennials and young professionals are looking for the amenities of a city with diverse career opportunities when they’re ready to make a move. They seek a place where their engagement is welcome, a place they can make as their own and a place that has activities and fun lifestyle outside of work.

A hot spot today is Denver, Colorado. As the New York Times reported, a Brookings Institution analysis from 2009-2014 showed Denver had a net annual migration of 12,682 people ages 25-34. Denver attracts this demographic because of its proximity to outdoor recreation, its progressive mind-set and its walkability.

Denver took bold leaps in making neighborhoods throughout the city more accessible through FasTracks, its light rail system, which recently expanded to reach the airport.

The city has a growing entrepreneurial scene, including Denver Startup Week with 5,000 people engaged in 125 events. The train, central downtown, outdoor recreation, accessibility across the city, walkability and forward thinking has attracted millennials.

Places like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are working hard to attract and retain talent. The Cincinnati Regional Chamber created a yearlong professional development program that allowed for ideation and, above all else, building relationships. Two recent participants in the leadership program created a partnership and jointly won a construction bid together for a streetcar project.

A nonprofit in Pittsburgh, Innovation Works, fosters startups and innovation. With a rising entrepreneurial scene, Pittsburgh is attracting talent. The city’s population of 20- to 34-year-olds grew by 7 percent during the last five years.

In our Region, examples of young professional groups include the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce’s Lakefront Career Network and the United Way of Porter County Young Leaders group. The South Shore Leadership Center also is creating opportunities and programs for leadership training. Similar to Cincinnati, business partnerships have formed as a result of young professional networking. Meyers-Glaros Group is an example.

Similar to Denver, we are making investments in our transportation through the South Shore Line, which will strengthen our connectivity and accessibility across and beyond our Region from Chicago to South Bend. We have a variety of ingredients, and it’s a matter of pulling it all together.

In order to attract and retain talent, as a region, we must continue on the path we’re on by making investments in our quality of place and life. We must be open-minded and welcoming to new ideas and ways of thinking to create a place where future generations want to live and work.

These investments and culture will attract people to live here and ultimately attract companies to locate here as their talent lives here.

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

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