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Geelong Advertiser Opinion Piece - Millennials

Attracting and retaining well-educated 'millennials' has become a key aim of almost every global city and business. Generally labelled the 'me' generation, millennials are born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s and have been described as caring strongly for the environment, arts and culture, and wanting a strong work-life balance.

As evidenced by the Committee for Geelong's (CfG) international research,Winning from Second: what Geelong can learn from International Second Cities, second cities - like Geelong - are recognising and investing in lifestyle and cultural amenities to attract young, creative and skilled millennials. One example is Richmond in Virginia, USA, which has a strategy that is specifically focussed on marketing to millennials.  Policies include partial exemption from real estate taxes for improvements on old properties, which has attracted young people to Richmond's city centre, making the most of tax benefits and turning old buildings into new hubs for social interaction and economic activity.

Similarly, Denver in Colorado, USA, located just east of the Rocky Mountains, has a fairly young community with millennials making up more than 20% of the population (which grew by more than 18% over a decade from 2004).  Aside from its nearby natural attractions of forests, wilderness areas and rivers - which offer mountain hiking trails, skiing, snowboarding and fishing - Denver also has a relatively low cost of living compared to Los Angeles or New York and a vibrant cultural scene.

Denver was recently named as the number one place to live in the USA - and the best place for business and careers.  So there may be some elements of Denver's success that businesses and government in Geelong could consider.  Attributes such as the cost of living, employment opportunities, commute times, quality of life and its growing technology and telecommunications industries have all been factors cited for success.  However, according to the Colorado Economic Development Guide, millennials are also attracted to not having to drive to work, not having to choose jobs based solely on money, the importance of a creative scene and wanting to "work for companies that spark creative interests and give back to the communities they are in."

Of course, Denver's success hasn't happened overnight. The city faced a major recession in the 1980s, when a national downturn affected its main industries of gas and oil production.  With plummeting oil and gas prices, drilling in the Rocky Mountain region was reduced and the oil shale industry collapsed.

While changes over the following two decades included an urban growth boundary to limit sprawl, better air quality controls, a new airport, a downtown baseball stadium and the saving of many historic buildings from demolition; three standout ideas have been the main drivers of Denver's recovery. Firstly, innovative land use planning; secondly, new mass transit lines, and thirdly, the establishment of public benefit corporations - known as B Corporations (B Corp).

Colorado has welcomed B Corps, which have legal protection from shareholders when a social responsibility agenda is pursued, as opposed to only the pursuit of profits. These companies must provide a public benefit such as support for artistic, charitable, cultural, economic, educational, environmental or literary efforts. There are now over 60 B Corporations in Colorado, with over 1,600 established worldwide. 

The lesson here is that government and business collaborated to make it easy for millennials to choose the companies they want to work for in Denver.  In Geelong, legal firm Harwood Andrews has made a great start as an accredited B Corp - and winning the B Corp "Rookie of the Year" award in Philadelphia.  And since October this year, Geelong has made a giant leap forward, joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network after being recognised as a UNESCO city of design.

The ideas from Richmond and Denver demonstrate how millennial talent can be attracted to a city which already has many of the opportunities that rate favourably in their hierarchy of needs.  As Victoria's second city transforms, businesses and organisations in Geelong might consider developing millennial strategies of their own.  This may further contribute to the growing opportunities available in our clever and creative city-region.

- Published in the Geelong Advertiser, 22/11/2017



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