On the House: Phila. population jump tied to keeping millennials

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Karen Dougherty Buchholz hopes the new Comcast Center tower will "increase the city's appeal to millennials."

Among the topics that keep appearing on my radar screen are Philadelphia's efforts to attract younger, educated people, age 20 to 44.

Eleven years ago, as city officials continued to digest 2000 U.S. Census data that showed the fifth population drop since 1950, the Pennsylvania Economy League (now the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia) hosted a discussion of ways to reverse the trend.

The keynote speaker, as I recall, was the mayor of Austin, Texas, which had plenty of bright, upwardly mobile young things and could have sent Philadelphia its overflow. (As of this writing, Livability.com puts Austin's 25- to 34-year-old population at 171,000, with 30,000 high-paying jobs waiting to be filled.)

At the time, David Thornburgh, now in charge at Penn's Fels Institute but then executive director of the Economy League, noted that it doesn't often happen "that a city loses population and grows wealthier at the same time."

Things have changed. Philadelphia's population grew in the 2010 Census, especially in and around Center City, where I'd like to have a piece of the baby-stroller concession.

It appears that more graduates of local universities are staying here than a decade ago, when just 6 percent of Wharton MBAs remained in Philadelphia compared with 40 percent of their Harvard counterparts who hung in Boston.

At a recent meeting of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, Douglas E. Carney, senior vice president for facilities and construction management at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the hospital's commitment to the city is guaranteed by "our access to talent, especially the school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania."

At that meeting, Comcast senior vice president of administration Karen Dougherty Buchholz talked about the design of the new Comcast Innovation and Tech Center as one to "increase the city's appeal to millennials."

The amenities being offered in the new building sounded a lot like what I heard from developers of dot-com spaces in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood in the late 1990s: Rather than squeeze employees into cubicles in high-rises, they looked for buildings with open floor plans, windows that can be opened and closed, and high ceilings.

"We studied the space of others to find what would work best for our employees," said Buchholz, such as places for bikes and showers for bikers. She added that those requirements aren't just for high-tech workers, "but young workers."

The first Comcast building was designed for 800 workers, but there are more than 6,000 employees these days scattered throughout Center City and the region, she said.

It's obvious that there has been progress in creating an inflow of 20- to 40-year-olds in the last decade, but it hasn't put Philadelphia in the Top 10. Cambridge, Mass., is the No. 1 city for attracting recent college grads; its 600 companies have more than 57,000 jobs currently available, according to Indeed.com.

Livability.com says No. 2 Bellevue, Wash., has 37,000 high-paying jobs yet to be filled, and lists No. 3 to 10 as Austin; Bethesda, Md.; Minneapolis, Hoboken; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Fargo, N.D.; Naperville, Ill., and Mountainview, Calif.

Naperville is 30 miles from Chicago, but Fargo?

Nearly 80 percent of all jobs in Fargo are considered non-service jobs and come with high salaries when compared with other parts of the country. The unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds in Fargo is 3.5 percent.

Housing is cheap, too.

It makes sense.

 


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens