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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

October 21, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Young, talented, coming to Seattle

If you read the news reports on a new study by the think tank City Observatory, you might think Seattle is missing out on the coveted demographic of young people with college degrees.

For example, the New York Times’ Upshot wrote:

When young college graduates decide where to move, they are not just looking at the usual suspects, like New York, Washington and San Francisco. Other cities are increasing their share of these valuable residents at an even higher rate and have reached a high overall percentage, led by Denver, San Diego, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore.

But beware going by percentage increases alone. According to the study, which used Census data, Seattle added 45,676 people aged 25 to 34 between 2000 and 2012. Although that nearly 27 percent increase is lower than Portland’s 37 percent, the City Where Young People Go to Retire totaled 34,545.

Seattle’s total of this cohort in 2012 was 217,926, No. 14 in the nation. The metro area ranked 10th for the degree-holding group as a percentage of all aged 25-34.

Consider that Phoenix added 34.4 percent, or 43,295. But the central core remains far weaker than comparable cities. So while younger people with talent are tending to move to central cities and help revive them, it doesn’t work in every case, particularly where the “big sort” attracts those with suburban values. In Phoenix, less than 28 percent of the age group has at least a four-year degree.

To be sure, some of these cities are serious competition for talent. Denver, San Diego, Portland and even Salt Lake City have far better transit systems. We’re not going to compete effectively against Houston in most areas unless we strike oil.

Things get more interesting when the report zeroes in on the effect these younger people are having on close-in urban neighborhoods. Here, Seattle ranks No. 8. and Portland No. 11 (Phoenix, 49, Nashville, 33).

So Seattle fits the profile of a city attracting young talent to its core, as well as drawing companies. As the report says:

Businesses are increasingly locating in or near urban centers to better tap into the growing pool of well-educated young workers, and because these central city locations enable firms to better compete for talent locally and recruit talent from elsewhere.

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