11/15/2006

Can Great Falls be a "Cool Community?"

I was fortunate enough to attend the presentation by Rebecca Ryan yesterday. The focus of her talk was recruiting of younger people, both to our community and our organizations. It was very well done and enlightening.

Before I discuss what she had to say, I need to preface my remarks with some kudos. Lord knows I give the City of Great Falls enough crap on this site, so it's only fair that when they do something good they need to be recognized. Thank you to Mark Willmarth for identifying this need in our community, and acting to put this whole thing together. And, good job to all City of Great Falls staff for supporting Mark and supporting the event, as well as all the other sponsors. It was a good thing.

Ms. Ryan is an economist who has interviewed over 12,000 young men and women between the ages of 24 and 34. Her research has led her to conclude that there are certain 'indexes' upon which different communities can be rated for 'coolness' by the younger set. She has found that communities with higher ratings tend to attract and retain the best talent. The 7 Indexes she has identified are as follows:

Vitality: Are people outside doing things? Are they out and about? This is probably a strength of ours. She said 80% of the people want to live near water and mountains and we have both. She likes our weather. We have the trail, and the river, and parks, etc.

Earning: What job opportunities are there? How are entrepreneurs supported? Do people go to the new, local restaurant in favor of the chain?

Learning: Young people today think in terms of lifelong learning opportunities, and not just traditional learning either. Do we have opportunities for people to expand their horizons beyond what they do on a day to day basis?

Social Capital: Do we have diversity in our community? Do we add different voices to the decision-making roles, or is it all the usual suspects making all the decisions? Groupthink happens.

Cost of Lifestyle: Can people afford to move to Great Falls? Can they live here and pay off their student loans?

After Hours: Are there things for them to do after 5:00? If there are such things, are they communicated to the right audience?

Around Town: How easy is it to get around, and out of, town?

I think that some of our strengths and weaknesses are easy to spot. We have strengths in vitality, learning, cost of lifestyle, and around town. The rest, as Ms. Ryan would say, not so much.

The trick, then, is to market ourselves in terms of our strengths rather than, as Ms. Ryan said, staring at our shoes and apologizing to everyone because we're not Missoula. How about video of people hiking on the Front Range, wakeboarding on the Missouri, watching foxes on the River's Edge Trail? How about promoting the fact that you can buy a real house here for $150,000.00, unlike Missoula or Bozeman? We're never going to be those towns, and we need to face that. We don't have the Universities. But that does not mean we shouldn't even try to compete.

People like it here. It is a good place to live. And all those 24 year olds graduating from college? They'll be 34 with kids in school before they know it (just ask me!).

How about some ideas? I had some. Let's support some alternative media: underground newspapers and websites. Play on our demographics. Do we have more men than women? More women than men? Market to the other.

How about term limits for our local governments, both appointed and elected. Let's get turnover, hire younger people. How about creating one 'city commissioner' who is really a team of three people under 40, but votes as one? Doesn't it seem like we have the "usual suspects" making all the decisions?

How about we create a nonprofit, funded by private dollars, to hold an annual contest at our local high schools for entrepreneurial ideas. The ideas are judged by a panel of local businessmen, and if they find one they think will work, we fund it? Create a business, half owned by the nonprofit, half owned by the kids. If it works, where do you think those kids will move after college?

There are a ton of ideas. I think we can promote this community. I think there is going to be a big piece on this in Sunday's Tribune, so if you want to help out, pay attention and volunteer!

5 comments:

david said...

Oh, this is good stuff...I would LOVE to be involved in some of these activities...

a-fire-fly said...

We are cool. I think we have a core that realizes that, we just need to motivate everyone else to get things done.
I don't want to be any other city, there is nothing wrong with this one. And it is a good place to raise kids. Good ideas.
By the way, there's some stuff for kids getting rolling at Westgate Mall parents should get behind too.

SallyT said...

geeguy said
"How about we create a nonprofit, funded by private dollars, to hold an annual contest at our local high schools for entrepreneurial ideas. The ideas are judged by a panel of local businessmen, and if they find one they think will work, we fund it? Create a business, half owned by the nonprofit, half owned by the kids. If it works, where do you think those kids will move after college?"

You should be an advisor for SIFE over at UGF--now that would be a winning project for all involved.
:-)

GeeGuy said...

What is SIFE?

a-fire-fly said...

http://www.sife.org/
http://sife.sofastweb.net/ws/home.php
students in free enterprise