How do we morph into “magnet cities”?

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on July 13, 2016.

Cities are like magnets. They pull in or push away residents, investments and visitors.

The question that Hamilton and Burlington need to ask is: how well are we attracting, instead of repelling, people and businesses?

That was the premise behind Stephen Beatty’s, KPMG Canada head of global infrastructure (Americas and India), address to a sold-out Bay Area Economic Summit.

Citing nine examples of “magnet cities” in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Beatty chronicled how those cities have declined but fought back to transform themselves as attractive and livable cities. The analysis, published in a report by KMPG UK, summarized seven key principles of sustainable magnet cities: they attract young wealth creators, undergo physical renewal, have a clear city identity, connect to other cities, cultivate new ideas, stimulate investment and possess strong leadership.

A key element of success for all nine cities cited, from Incheon Sangdo of South Korea, to Denver Colo., to Bilbao, Spain, is their appeal to young wealth creators – young people who are educated, highly skilled and ambitious. Rather than existing jobs, they create jobs for the cities they live in. They are a broad group working in creative, new and traditional economies.

They are go-getters that will kickstart the recovery of a city in decline.

Young wealth creators lead to directly economic growth, the report suggests. This reaffirms what young professionals in Hamilton are already doing: investing in the city.

We’ve seen the rise of entrepreneurship and co-working that encourage partnerships and collaboration between young business owners. Case in point: Hamilton’s largest co-working space, CoMotion Group Inc. is home to over 90 businesses and startups. Last year, through the province’s Summer Company program, the City of Hamilton’s Small Business Enterprise Centre provided seed funding to 28 Hamilton startups launched by young people – including high school students – aged 15-29 years old. As many as 80 per cent of students who go through the program continue their businesses even after summer has ended, The Spectator has reported.

There is an emerging class of newcomer young professionals in Hamilton. Many of them are former international students. Global Affairs Canada estimated that international students in Canada generated over 81,000 jobs in 2010. We cannot ignore their contributions to our economy and our city.

How do we continue to build the momentum? The KPMG report suggests that we draw on the strengths of the cities to target and attract specific groups, especially those that already share a natural affinity with the city.

We also need to develop a deeper understanding of what young wealth creators want and look at cities through their eyes. Beyond just job prosperity, young people are interested in cities that embrace sustainable living and provide a cityscapes designed to offer physical activity, green spaces, affordable housing, social and cultural opportunities.

The Bay Area can offer all of the above. Together, let’s nurture young wealth creators to strengthen our cities’ magnetic pull.