July 07, 2006
Houston who?

Interesting article on what does and does not attract people to move to Houston.

As college graduates young enough to be open to new experiences in new places, they are part of a group that's being aggressively courted by employers in Houston and other major cities.

"These people are more mobile. They take more risks. They have less to lose," said Carol Coletta, the president of CEOs for Cities, a national coalition of urban leaders that commissioned a recent survey to gauge the attitudes and preferences of these coveted workers.

As Houston jockeys for position in this intensifying competition, the new survey suggests that it will have to do more than counter the negative perceptions of Davis and others. It will have to find a way to make a strong impression at all.

Houston appears neither among the 20 cities young college-educated workers would most likely consider as a home, nor among the 20 where they'd least like to live. New York and Los Angeles, by contrast, appear high on both lists, indicating people have strong opinions about the nation's two largest cities.

"Houston is invisible," said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who directs the annual Houston Area Survey of local attitudes and demographic traits. "People don't know about Houston. They don't think of Houston."

Nationally, the survey's most striking finding was that 64 percent of college-educated people ages 25 to 34 said they would first decide where they wanted to live, then look for a job in that area. This is a reversal from previous generations that tended to seek the best job they could find and considered location secondary.

"Every economic development strategy over the last 30 years has been built on the idea that if we attract jobs, we attract people," Coletta said.

The survey reinforces an idea that Houston's business and political leaders have embraced in recent years: In a knowledge-based economy, the cities that thrive will be those that offer the lifestyle qualities that are important to young, well-educated workers.

There's nothing terribly revolutionary about that idea. Very few people nowadays find employment with a company that they can reasonably expect - or want - to last for their working lifetime. Once the mindset shifted to the concept of multiple jobs, even careers, potentially in multiple locations, then why not think about where you want to be first, and where you want to work second? You're probably only going to have that job you take for a few years anyway, so why not make sure it's someplace you'll want to be when the time comes to start looking again?

Trae Stanley, 25, didn't have quite such a harsh view of Houston when his girlfriend, Sarah Hueske, landed a teaching job in the Alief school system and the couple decided to move here from Austin. But he did have reservations.

"I was less than enthusiastic," said Stanley, a University of Texas graduate and aspiring filmmaker. "The geography of the city was a concern. I was worried about having to drive a lot."

On the other hand, Stanley said, he was attracted by Houston's arts scene and by the small-town ambience of older neighborhoods such as Montrose, where the couple have moved.

"I decided to give it a shot," Stanley said.

This is an underrated aspect of Houston, in my opinion. There's quite a few neighborhoods that have that feel, and they're all over the place, which means that you have a decent shot at finding one that's near where you work. I daresay most people would have no idea about this until they come here and do a little research.

And on a more practical note:

One quality that Houston leaders often emphasize in pitching the city is its low housing prices.

This was an important consideration for Davis and Milios, who want to save money to buy a house.

"There was no way for us to afford the house we were renting" in Los Angeles, said Milios, who has worked as a journalist and as communications director for the Los Angeles school board president. "It would have cost us $750,000 to $1 million."

Houston isn't as cheap as it used to be, but given the nationwide housing boom, it's still relatively very reasonable. I don't really expect that to change any time soon.

UPDATE: John has some good thoughts on this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 07, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Humidity: precious little mention of it. Its denial reminds me of my friend's brother who bought the cheapest new Packard he could but without the expensive air-conditioning option. This was before WWII when Packards were known as the only car to offer air-conditioning. He drove around Houston in that car with the windows up and a smile on his face so that everybody thought he was as cool as a cucumber.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on July 7, 2006 8:33 PM