Sunday, May 02, 2010

The "Back to the City" Movement: Has it Hit Downtown St. Louis?

The Harvard Business Journal ran a great piece in its May edition on the "back to the city" movement taking place around the country. The article cites United Airlines in Chicago and Quicken Loans in Detroit as two major companies that have recently moved their headquarters to their respective cities' central business districts from suburban locales.

According to the article, in the last U.S. census, almost two-thirds (64%) of college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds said they looked for a job after they chose the city where they wanted to live.


That is a remarkable figure, and one that speaks to the importance of making St. Louis as appealing as possible to this demographic.
That suggests that businesses like Quicken Loans are on to something: Move in and help build up urban neighborhoods, the argument goes, because that's what will draw the talent.
Unfortunately, while companies like Quicken Loans are investing in cities' urban cores in an effort to attract the best and brightest, here in St. Louis, we have firms like Centene and Armstrong Teasdale that instead choose the suburbs over downtown.
"Increasingly CEOs understand that without a vibrant central city, their region becomes less competitive," says (CEOs for Cities president Carol) Coletta. "Good CEOs care about the fate of their cities, because they have to question whether that is the place where they can attract the talent they need."
The good news is that downtown St. Louis does have a growing number of companies that understand this. Stifel Nicolaus, NSI, Lewis Rice and Thompson Coburn, for example, are all firms that could do business anywhere in the region, but they have chosen downtown not only because it makes good business sense, but to attract the best and the brightest employees as well. Downtown has also become more attractive to a growing number of smaller firms and start-ups, from Landshire (which recently moved to Laclede's Landing from Belleville) to IT firms Datotel and Xiolink, to creative firms like NGAGE/4ORCE and Antidote.

The sooner more of our region's CEOs figure out that investing in downtown will pay remarkable dividends in terms of St. Louis' ability to attract a young, educated, talented workforce, the better off our region will be.

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