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May 1st, 2014 at 10:23 am

‘Post college towns’ teem with college-educated young adults, jobs

Marian Square

Young adults spend leisurely time at Marion Square in Charleston, SC.

Jessica Duggan grew up in this starchy historic city in the 1990′s. She remembers field trips with her mother to the historic Battery neighborhood, watching tourists “doing the horse thing and the market thing.” She dreamed of staying here as an adult. But she had to admit that her hometown was hopelessly uncool.

 

 

Fast-forward more than a decade and you’d hardly recognize the place. A booming tech start-up economy and a thriving arts and restaurant scene have helped this old Civil War tourist magnet do something that places across the USA have been trying to do for decades: attract young, college-educated workers and keep them there as they start families. The mild weather and easy access to nearly 200 miles of beaches don’t exactly hurt.

“I always knew I wanted to end up here,” says Duggan, 23. “It becoming cooler is a plus.”

Charleston now teems with college-educated young people, 20- and 30-somethings who have come for the jobs and stayed for the lifestyle. New bars and restaurants seem to open weekly. Average commute times hover around 10 minutes. At the gas station on the way home, you can fill your growler with craft-brewed beer.

This is a new kind of city, born of deep demographic shifts and the power of technology. Where traditional college towns have long attracted young people who get an education and then leave, another kind of town is emerging: the post-college town.

Charleston is one of the smaller cities in this emerging brand of urban center. It joins larger ones such as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. They’re 20-something magnets that don’t just survive but thrive. Among those with the highest ratio, several are old-fashioned cities such as Charleston, and Alexandria, Va., places designed before automobiles arrived. Several of the most popular cities have become an important part of New Urbanism, which models development around mixed-use development and pedestrian-friendly spaces.

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“These places seem to be built for people, not for automobiles,” says University of Nevada-Las Vegas demographer Robert Lang. “And the 20-somethings love the people, not the automobile.”

Using recent U.S. Census data, USA TODAY has identified 289 cities that have more 20-somethings than teens — in the case of Charleston and about a dozen other cities, it’s 2-to-1 or higher.

The higher the ratio, the stronger the local pull for young adults. That’s key, because city residents who are ages 10 to 19 mostly grew up there. But those who are 20 to 29 are much more likely to have moved to a city to attend college, follow a boyfriend or girlfriend, get married or relocate for a job. A high ratio is also an indicator that many young people simply never left.

MILLENNIAL MAGNETS

Some cities have become strong magnets for young adults. For cities over 100,000 people, ratio shows the number of people ages 20 to 29 for every 100 teens. U.S. ratio = 103 to 100.

NAME TOTAL POP., 2012 PEOPLE 20-29 PER 100 TEENS
Arlington, Va. 209,077 344
Cambridge, Mass. 105,026 303
Alexandria, Va. 140,337 284
Gainesville, Fla. 124,981 241
San Francisco 807,755 239
Seattle 612,916 232
Provo, Utah 113,105 223
Boston 619,662 214
Fargo, N.D. 106,005 210
Madison, Wisc. 234,586 210
Tallahassee 181,821 209
Tempe, Ariz. 164,139 207
Norfolk, Va. 243,056 203
Charleston, S.C. 120,903 197
Knoxville, Tenn. 179,973 195
Minneapolis 385,023 195
Orlando 240,185 192
Richmond, Va. 205,348 192
Washington 605,759 191
Springfield, Mo. 160,246 188
Austin 799,939 186
Columbia, Mo. 109,008 185
Berkeley, Calif. 112,662 183
Denver 604,356 181
Salt Lake City 186,740 181
Ann Arbor, Mich. 114,725 180
Atlanta 425,931 177
Pittsburgh 306,430 176
Jersey City 248,435 175
Portland, Ore. 585,888 175
Athens-Clarke County, Ga. 116,353 171
Everett, Wash. 103,135 171
Fort Collins, Colo. 144,329 171
Murfreesboro, Tenn. 109,172 171
Lansing, Mich. 114,537 170
Columbus, Ohio 790,168 167
Norman, Okla. 111,753 165
Nashville-Davidson, Tenn. 605,859 164
Costa Mesa, Calif. 110,322 160
Denton, Texas 115,098 160
Killeen, Texas 127,995 160
Lincoln, Neb. 259,218 156
Lubbock, Texas 229,428 156
Columbia, S.C. 129,757 155
Eugene, Ore. 156,222 155
Savannah, Ga. 137,690 155
Wilmington, N.C. 107,116 155
Honolulu 341,727 154
Cincinnati 297,314 153
Fayetteville, N.C. 200,439 153
Lexington-Fayette, Ky. 296,766 153
Abilene, Texas 118,484 152
Enterprise, Nev. 113,150 152
Miami, Fla. 401,927 152
Durham, N.C. 229,963 151
Pasadena, Calif. 137,316 151
San Diego 1,308,619 151
Spring Valley CDP, Nev. 178,673 151
St. Louis 318,527 151
Sunnyvale, Calif. 141,123 150
Baton Rouge 229,174 149
Clarksville, Tenn. 133,583 149
New Haven, Conn. 129,898 148
New Orleans 341,407 146
Metairie, La. 138,369 145
Sioux Falls, S.D. 154,526 145
Grand Rapids, Mich. 189,340 144
Chicago 2,702,471 143
Baltimore 620,644 142
Daly City, Calif. 101,538 142
Spokane, Wash. 208,701 142
Evansville, Ind. 119,226 141
Lafayette, La. 120,757 140
Raleigh, N.C. 405,007 140
Paradise CDP, Nev. 220,202 139
Birmingham, Ala. 213,180 138
Dallas 1,207,202 138
Fort Lauderdale 167,370 138
New York 8,199,221 138
Santa Clara, Calif. 116,301 138
Bellevue, Wash. 122,873 137
Newport News, Va. 180,831 136
Philadelphia 1,525,811 136
Little Rock 193,691 135
Rochester, N.Y. 210,967 135
St. Paul 286,171 135
Oakland 392,890 134
Chattanooga, Tenn. 167,869 133
Hayward, Calif. 145,165 133
Irving, Texas 217,021 132
Reno 226,305 132
Stamford, Conn. 122,878 132
Wichita Falls, Texas 104,152 132
Boise 208,332 131
Manchester, N.H. 109,786 131
Waco, Texas 124,843 131
Greensboro, N.C. 270,619 130
Houston 2,107,449 130
Lakewood, Colo. 143,496 130
Rochester, Minn. 106,903 130
Tucson 521,695 130
Kansas City, Mo. 459,772 128
Sacramento 467,467 128
Brandon, Fla. 102,555 127
Los Angeles 3,804,503 127
Oklahoma City 581,094 127
Augusta-Richmond County, Ga. 195,646 126
Des Moines 204,362 126
Lowell, Mass. 106,739 126
Providence 178,185 126
Albuquerque 545,083 124
Buffalo 261,955 124
Charlotte 740,931 124
Elizabeth, N.J. 124,795 124
Fullerton, Calif. 135,419 124
Hampton, Va. 137,471 124
Huntsville, Ala. 179,855 124
Independence, Mo. 116,513 124
Clearwater, Fla. 108,138 123
Syracuse, N.Y. 144,703 123
Billings, Montana 104,374 122
Indianapolis 822,006 122
Tacoma, Wash. 200,013 122
Worcester, Mass. 181,473 122
Anchorage 291,470 121
Green Bay, Wisc. 104,226 121
Jacksonville 823,652 121
Oceanside, Calif. 167,799 121
Omaha 412,689 121
Tampa 339,391 121
Tulsa 391,486 121
Virginia Beach, Va. 439,528 121
Glendale, Calif. 192,537 120
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 126,921 119
Peoria, Ill. 114,754 119
Pompano Beach, Fla. 100,819 119
Richardson, Texas 100,057 119
Westminster, Colo. 106,750 119
Concord, Calif. 122,683 118
Erie, Pa. 101,454 117
Milwaukee 594,328 117
Toledo, Ohio 287,487 117
Newark 276,478 116
Orange, Calif. 136,891 116
Salem, Ore. 154,835 116
Shreveport, La. 200,099 116
Springfield, Ill. 115,982 116
Topeka 127,312 116
Bridgeport, Conn. 144,446 115
Richmond, Calif. 104,225 115
Vancouver, Wash. 162,699 115
Wichita, Kansas 381,176 115
Hialeah, Fla. 226,837 114
Memphis, Tenn. 651,050 114
Mobile, Ala. 195,239 114
St. Petersburg, Fla. 245,363 114
Akron, Ohio 199,955 113
Colorado Springs 417,534 113
Fairfield, Calif. 105,407 113
Long Beach 463,589 113
Montgomery, Ala. 205,516 113
Aurora, Colo. 326,249 112
Burbank, Calif. 103,420 112
Huntington Beach, Calif. 191,403 112
San Jose 954,379 112
Santa Rosa, Calif. 167,207 112
Irvine, Calif. 213,880 111
Paterson, N.J. 145,655 111
Mesa, Ariz. 443,875 110
Midland, Texas 112,618 110
Scottsdale, Ariz. 219,867 110
Winston-Salem, N.C. 230,030 110
Yonkers, N.Y. 196,459 110
Arlington, Texas 367,154 109
Beaumont, Texas 117,769 109
Dayton, Ohio 142,670 109
Gresham, Ore. 105,612 109
Oxnard, Calif. 197,456 109
San Antonio 1,335,287 109
Allentown, Pa. 117,942 108
El Monte, Calif. 114,032 108
Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky. 597,231 108
Fresno, Calif. 495,777 107
Odessa, Texas 101,545 107
South Bend, Ind. 101,282 107
West Valley City, Utah 129,123 107
Hollywood, Fla. 142,060 106
Jackson, Miss. 174,382 106
Santa Ana, Calif. 326,608 106
Amarillo, Texas 191,118 105
Fort Worth, Texas 743,865 105
Sterling Heights, Mich. 129,887 105
Vallejo, Calif. 116,417 105
Escondido, Calif. 144,311 104
Corpus Christi, Texas 305,427 103
Hartford, Conn. 124,879 103
Kansas City, Kansas 145,605 103
Riverside, Calif. 306,128 103
Anaheim, Calif. 337,471 102
Cleveland, Ohio 397,972 102
Columbus, Ga. 191,278 102
Phoenix 1,462,368 102
San Buenaventura (Ventura), Calif. 106,273 102
Chandler, Ariz. 237,456 101
Las Vegas 587,699 101
Pueblo, Colo. 106,944 101
Thornton, Colo. 118,747 101
East Los Angeles, Calif. 126,751 100
Fort Wayne, Ind. 253,617 100
Glendale, Ariz. 229,331 100
Inglewood, Calif. 110,225 100
Kent, Wash. 108,700 100
Rockford, Ill. 152,948 100
Columbia, Md. 100,735 99
Miami Gardens, Fla. 107,884 99
Garden Grove, Calif. 171,377 98
Salinas, Calif. 150,634 98
Waterbury, Conn. 110,074 98
Carrollton, Texas 120,727 97
Modesto, Calif. 201,986 97
Overland Park, Kansas 174,503 97
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. 165,775 97
Pomona, Calif. 149,431 96
Sunrise Manor, Nev. 190,931 96
West Covina, Calif. 106,290 96
Fremont, Calif. 215,188 95
Round Rock, Texas 100,764 95
Warren, Mich. 134,550 95
Bakersfield, Calif. 347,091 94
Elgin, Ill. 109,513 94
Flint, Mich. 103,263 94
Springfield, Mass. 153,278 93
Visalia, Calif. 123,905 93
Ontario, Calif. 165,260 92
West Jordan, Utah 103,846 92
Grand Prairie, Texas 174,631 91
Norwalk, Calif. 105,603 91
Henderson, Nev. 258,270 90
Pasadena, Texas 149,506 90
Stockton, Calif. 292,262 90
Antioch, Calif. 102,575 89
Aurora, Ill. 196,569 89
Carlsbad, Calif. 105,097 89
El Paso 650,778 89
Olathe, Kansas 125,902 89
Arvada, Colo. 106,965 88
Downey, Calif. 111,807 88
Pembroke Pines, Fla. 155,578 88
Torrance, Calif. 145,443 88
Chesapeake, Va. 223,233 87
Roseville, Calif. 119,537 87
Fontana, Calif. 196,129 86
Garland, Texas 227,641 86
Miramar, Fla. 121,447 86
Chula Vista, Calif. 242,499 85
Joliet, Ill. 147,098 85
McAllen, Texas 130,297 85
Detroit 721,459 84
Lancaster, Calif. 155,496 84
Mesquite, Texas 139,615 84
Plano, Texas 263,122 84
Simi Valley, Calif. 123,942 84
North Las Vegas, Nev. 215,762 83
Rialto, Calif. 100,009 83
San Bernardino, Calif. 210,624 83
High Point, N.C. 104,394 82
Moreno Valley, Calif. 193,758 82
Corona, Calif. 153,644 81
Peoria, Ariz. 154,566 81
Santa Clarita, Calif. 175,922 81
Cary, N.C. 136,627 78
Laredo, Texas 236,063 77
Palm Bay, Fla. 102,814 77
Port St. Lucie, Fla. 163,748 77
Palmdale, Calif. 151,841 75
Victorville, Calif. 115,069 73
Cape Coral, Fla. 155,405 72
Brownsville, Texas 175,210 71
McKinney, Texas 131,882 71
Coral Springs, Fla. 122,219 70
Gilbert, Ariz. 208,850 70
Surprise, Ariz. 115,007 70
Murrieta, Calif. 102,345 69
Temecula, Calif. 100,621 69
Centennial, Colo. 101,339 68
Thousand Oaks, Calif. 126,570 68
Elk Grove, Calif. 151,639 67
Frisco, Texas 116,944 61
Naperville, Ill. 142,143 56

For Duggan, it’s the latter. She attended the College of Charleston and graduated in 2011. At 23, she’s already married — she and her husband have an English bulldog named Winston, and she’s editorial director at BiblioLabs, a small tech start-up that designs easy-to-navigate e-book lending websites for public libraries. The company, founded eight years ago, employs 30 people, many of them software engineers. The median age hovers in the mid-20s, and several of her colleagues also say they’re here to put down roots.

WHERE THERE ARE JOBS …

Alex Summer, a software developer from Newberry, S.C., bought a three-bedroom house in suburban Mount Pleasant in 2009, and jokes that he’s “settling down” at age 27.

“You’ve got the beach; you’ve got the history; you’ve got the tech opportunities,” he says. He’s also engaged, so he now hangs out at “the more chill spots” downtown.

Eric Bowman, founder of local software start-up Sparc, says that among his 140 developers, the median age is about 28. And most of them know more than he ever did at that age about software. “These 25-, 27-, 28-year-olds are just blowing me away.” In the past six months nine employees have left to start their own companies in town. “Every one of our developers can get a job in five days,” he says, “so you have to treat your team members fairly.”

Start-ups haven’t been the only ones snapping up educated workers here. Boeing is expanding rapidly. The aerospace giant now assembles 787 Dreamliners at a rate of three a month at a massive facility adjacent to the Charleston airport, and over the next three years it plans to hire about 600 more information technology employees, bringing its total number of workers in the region to about 8,000.

City planners in Alexandria, Va., which ranks third in USA Today’s post-college town ranking, have pushed to integrate commercial development, land use and transit to create a city that allows residents to “live, work and play in the same space,” City Manager Rashad Young says.

When Young thinks of the young professionals in Alexandria, he says he imagines they’re thinking, “I want activity, energy, vitality — I want to be able to get places quickly. I want there to be a concentration of activity that I don’t necessarily have to drive to get to. I want easy access to places and things.”

The demographic change in Charleston has opened up previously sketchy neighborhoods for development, a change that for many locals has been nothing short of breathtaking.

“The whole face of this city has changed in a year-and-a-half,” says David Crowley, a co-owner of The Alley, a popular sports bar that boasts eight lanes of bowling. It’s located in a rapidly changing industrial area about a mile north of downtown, and Crowley says the enterprise would have been unimaginable until recently.

When he attended classes at the College of Charleston a decade ago, “You didn’t go north of Calhoun (Street). It wasn’t safe.” Now he gets so much business most nights he’s got to lease 85 parking spaces from The (Charleston) Post and Courier across the street.

Crowley and his partners built the venue from scratch inside an old liquor-distribution warehouse, and on a recent weekday evening a family with young children rented bowling shoes while a young couple, both of them 31, held a wedding rehearsal dinner in an upstairs event space. In between, an early-evening crowd drank beer, watched live golf on big-screen TVs and played retro coin-operated video games. “They’re in Charleston to live in Charleston,” says Crowley.

WORK, OR KITE-SURF?

Two miles north on Meeting Street, workers are putting the finishing touches on a 13,000-square-foot renovation of the long-vacant 1926 Standard Oil regional headquarters building that soon will be home to about a dozen small creative businesses.

“This is truly what I consider the last frontier of the Charleston peninsula,” says Lindsay Nevin, a young developer who is working with the city to build a “creative corridor” on Meeting Street, an industrial thoroughfare once dominated by car dealerships. It’s already dotted with small artists’ storefronts and independent restaurants. A small-batch distillery recently opened down the street, and Nevin, who bought the abandoned office building last June, has signed three-year leases with, among others, a glass sculptor, a potter, a photographer, a dressmaker, an art magazine and two interior design firms.

Lisa Maki, a co-founder of the tech start-up PokitDok — it helps consumers find low-cost health care providers — says 15 of the company’s 23 employees are based in Charleston. All 15 are software engineers. She calls them “our secret weapon” and says she can hire good engineers here for about half the cost of comparable workers in Silicon Valley. Maki says office space here is “probably a quarter of the price” of comparable space in Silicon Valley.

Many employees want to raise their children in a less high-stress environment, and they love the ability to live close to work, she says. “If the wind comes up, our kite-surfers head to the beach and then get online later. That’s just what they do,” Maki says.

Much of the region’s development owes its success to both public and private investment and upgrades in infrastructure. Government incentives helped to attract and keep companies such as Sparc. Projects such as the 2005 Cooper River Bridge, which connects downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant, have helped outlying areas thrive. The bridge replaced a pair of notoriously narrow crossings.

The area it helped open up now is home to some of the area’s major employers, including health-tech giant Benefitfocus, which opened in 2000 in a shuttered Walmart. When CEO Shawn Jenkins and a partner started the company, he says, “People were telling me that you could never build a tech company here.” They’re now in the midst of an huge expansion at their headquarters east of downtown, which will add 1,200 more employees by 2015.

The company, which went public last September, develops software that helps employees manage workplace health and life insurance benefits. It has an estimated 20 million users.

“I was always a believer that this town was going to be awesome,” Jenkins says. He jokes that his recruiters often wait till it’s snowing elsewhere in the USA to try tempting prospective workers to visit.

Once they’re at work, his “associates,” as he calls his employees, enjoy coffee from free Starbucks dispensers and Coke machines rigged to dispense drinks for 25 cents. One floor of their campus has been remodeled as a “social work space” that resembles an open-floor loft or a high-end hotel lobby. Hoping to inspire his Web developers to design beautiful stuff, Jenkins has peppered the offices with handsome objects, including a small collection of Fender Stratocaster guitars and, in the middle of one workspace, a gleaming red Ducati 1199 Panigale motorcycle.

Speaking of design, Charleston may be “the single most important city of inspiration to the New Urbanists” who have pushed to redesign cities around more densely populated, pedestrian-friendly living spaces, says Lang, the demographer.

He’s seen it before, in places such as Alexandria, Va., and Savannah, Ga., both of which rank high on USA Todau’s post-college list. ”They’re young and they live in old cities,” says Lang. “Some of America’s oldest cities have the youngest population.”

Via USA Today

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