So much for living in the country.
Top tech workers and young professionals want the hustle and bustle of the major metro areas and companies are leaving small towns to go to where the workers are found.
Writes Jonathan O’Connell in Sunday’s Washington Post:
Leafy environs are considered a liability. Locked in a battle with companies of all stripes to woo top tech workers and young professionals.
McDonald’s put its headquarters up for sale in the village of Oak Park, Ill. last year and is moving its operations, where 80,000 people have been trained as fast food managers to the West Loop of Chicago.
Food giant Kraft Heinz, telecommunications conglomerate Motorola and farming supplier ADM are heading for the Windy City as well because that’s where they can use the young professionals knowledgeable in e-commerce, software analytics, digital engineering, marketing and finance.
Aetna is relocating from Hartford, Conn. to Manhattan. General Electric, once a top employer in Roanoke, is setting up a new global headquarters in Boston.
Building experts say the urban pool of the young can also be found in top-level positions in corporate offices and they prefer urban locales.
“It used to be the IT divisions was in a back office somewhere,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Post. “The IT division and software, computer and data mining, et cetera, is now next to the CEO. Otherwise, that company is gone.”
Floyd County Economic Director Lydeana Martin ago told the Board of Supervisors a couple of years that the county faces a “résumé” problem when it comes to attracting companies and employers to their area.
Companies want locations with four-lane highways, an easily available hospital and other amenities that urban locations offer. Floyd County does not offer such things and that lack hurts efforts to bring business to the area.
Caterpillar is leaving the rural environment of Peoria, Illinois, to Deerfield, which is closer to Chicago. The company had planned a new 3,200 employee corporate headquarters in Peoria’s downtown but cancelled it.
Two years ago, Doug Oberhelman, then CEO of Caterpillar proclaimed “We’re here in Peoria to stay.” Now Oberhelman is gone and so are plans for the new HQ. The company is walking away from the community where most residents have worked for the company for three generations.
Why? Because the new place will be close to Caterpillar’s digital hub operations in downtown Chicago.
Cities have been my home for most of my time on this earth. I was born in Tampa, Florida, and lived my first five years in the suburb of Gibsonton, just south of the city. Wife Amy was born in the St. Louis metro area and lived much of her childhood in Belleville, Illinois, just across the state line from St. Louis. She later worked in St. Louis as the resident heroine on the Goldenrod Showboat, a vaudeville dinner theater on the Mississippi River.
Roanoke was home for four years for me after graduating from Floyd County High School in 1965 before moving the St. Louis metro area in 1969.
During my 12 years with The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois also across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, I spent a bit of time in Chicago covering meetings of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and other events. It is a vibrant city, particularly in the Loop, the downtown area.
Later, as vice president for political programs for The National Association of Realtors office in Washington, I flew to Chicago on an average of once a month to the group’s national headquarters, also on the Loop. The city has a lot to offer. Amy and I spent the first night of our honeymoon in Chicago before catching a train down to New Orléans.
We lived in Arlington for 23 years while my offices where I worked were in the District of Columbia. Before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we considered the city home with a variety of restaurants, museums and many other attractions. When Amy worked on projects in Manhattan, she lived in Greenwich Village on South Charles Street.
When we’re asked if we miss living in the National Capital Region, we often note that “we miss the restaurants.”
We also spent a lot of time at the museums and in the National Mall, Potomac Park and other nice places to visit. We left Arlington and moved to Floyd in part to take care of my mother, whose health was failing.
As I approach 70 later this year, I’m no longer a “young professional” and we prefer the more laid-back atmosphere of Floyd, but the younger residents must go where the jobs and opportunities are found. If I were still in my 20s or 30s, I would probably be in Washington. It’s where the best opportunities are, particularly in media, and we had a good life there.
It is ironic, perhaps, that the technology that promises an ability to work at home, even from remote locations, is now also credit as the reason that businesses and corporations are leaving rural areas for the urban environments of the cities.
Floyd County’s resident population is getting older. In 2010, the Federal Department of Census reports, 17.6 percent of the population was 65 or older. In 2016, it was 21.7 percent. Younger residents are leaving. Those who work, drive an average of 31.9 miles each way to get to a job and earn just $23,885 a year.
Of the county’s 15,731 residents, only 2,138 work within the county and most the county’s school system employs most of them.
In this new fiscal year, which began on July 1, the county board of supervisors is investing $2.5 million in expansion at the Economic Development Authority’s efforts at the local industrial park.
They hope to reverse the numbers when it comes to employment. Companies have expressed an interest in coming to Floyd County. While larger companies and corporations are moving to city centers, there are others who could consider Floyd as a new location for expansion.
One key will be using our educational system to train potential employees. Another is a sound infrastructure to support business development and expansion.
Floyd is not alone among rural communities seeking ways to expand the business and employment base that is necessary for growth. It faces a competitive market and will need a lot of support from within the community.