It’s a refrain employers don’t want to hear:
Should I stay or should I go?
With apologies to The Clash, it plays in the minds of hot talent on the edge about whether to commit to living and working in this region.
Make no mistake, the threat of losing creative professionals to other cities — not to mention failing to woo them here from other places — is real. This notion has been kicked around since the term “brain drain” created a sense of urgency when the results of the Northeast Wisconsin Economic Opportunity Study led to the formation of New North, Inc.
In our cover story, we take a hard look at this threat and the quest for a vibrant vision for the future. In early fall, we convened what we thought would be an intimate gathering at Insight to brainstorm an idea: How can we build a more creative economy in the New North? So many turned up, we had to move the meeting to a larger space.
Clearly, there’s interest. The common goal is to attract and retain the talent we need to grow a vibrant economy. It includes a desire to create interesting public spaces with plenty of art, music and cool things to do. It’s about ensuring that our communities and workplaces are welcoming to all people, because talent and the best ideas come out of diversity. And it’s about first impressions: What “wow” factors will put us on the radar screen for top talent?
Senior Associate Editor Sean Johnson researched the issue and talked especially with young professionals in Green Bay and Appleton. His findings include the results of a survey conducted by the Greater Green Bay Chamber’s young professionals group, Current.
It ranks what young professionals value and compares these attributes to how well Green Bay delivers. While “cost of lifestyle” comes out high, along with “around town,” meaning commutes are short and getting around is easy, many other attributes don’t come out so pretty.
“Earning,” including a broad choice of places to work and a place friendly to entrepreneurs, falls short for them, with a 41 percent variance. “Social capital,” referring to the desire to live in a diverse community, falls short by 45 percentage points, and “life after hours” is off by 37 percent. “Vitality,” meaning a “vibrant community where people are out and about,” falls short by 32 percent.
The survey was done in 2008, but Current manager Brian Johnson believes the results still hold, more or less. Green Bay is a unique community, but for the purposes of this article, we believe it’s not so different from Appleton or some other cities in the region.
The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and its young professionals group, Pulse, also has been exploring this issue. Our cover subject Adrienne Palm, who is the director of Pulse Young Professionals Network and has begun a lively dialogue with Johnson and Current, recently convened the first of what she expects will be many “world café” sessions, asking creative professionals to share their ideas for how to nurture a creative economy here: “Who can get things done? Where do we need to focus? What can we do?”
As a participant in the first session, I found the flurry of ideas exhilarating, full of “why not?” and very little “can’t happen” statements. For instance, why not enhance the entry points to our cities, including just outside our airports, including classy signage that people can hop out of their cars and take selfies in front of? Or, why not cut through the red tape and allow more spontaneity in our streets for musicians and food carts? And, why not embrace our winters, with more festivals?
There were short-term solutions and long-term ones, too. And while it’s true that our small cities in the New North will never compete side-by-side with major metropolitan areas, we quickly recognized we’ve already got a lot going for us.
At Insight, we expect to explore this topic throughout the coming year.
Should I stay …?
We’ll look at what communities, employers and downtown groups can do to ensure the answer is “Yes!”
Stay tuned as the conversation continues.