This Mid-Sized City Wants You
By Tara Kirkpatrick
Just last year, BizTucson ran a story that listed many reasons why millennials are a perfect match for this region, highlighting the very desires that drive America’s largest generation.
Today, young leaders are hopeful that these reasons become even more attractive as Tucson looks to emerge stronger, post-pandemic.
“Rather than harm, COVID-19 has created new avenues for talent retention and attraction, and new opportunities to brand Tucson as a city primed for what comes next,” said Zach Yentzer, executive director of Tucson Young Professionals, a group that works to attract, retain and promote young people here and acts as their regional voice. He and TYP VP Josh Belhumeur have talked at length about this optimistic moment.
Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, are now the largest living adult generation in America, surpassing baby boomers in 2019 at 72.1 million people, according to Pew Research Center. Between the ages of 24 and 39, they are well-educated, seek deep purpose in their work and have largely sought out tech jobs, given they provide the needed satisfaction and flexibility.
As BizTucson wrote in 2019, Tucson can meet their wish list. It’s an authentic, mid-sized city that offers affordable living and outdoor recreation in a spacious desert setting with less population density than the pandemic-hit, large metro areas. The region is solidifying its base as a tech hub with aggressive commitment by the University of Arizona and Pima Community College to train the workforce of the future. Over the last several years, Fortune 500 companies, such as Amazon and Caterpillar, have taken notice and opened facilities here. The city’s nightlife, while on pandemic pause, is ready to return when it’s safe.
“We know that both individuals and organizations, right now, want to be in places with a little less density (but not ‘no density’), a good outdoors, but also a thriving entrepreneurial community and a talented workforce and opportunities to engage in the community,” Yentzer said. “Tucson has a better chance to solidify its story and its opportunity, now more than ever.”
TYP, which has taken a leading role on the Tucson Metro Chamber’s Talent Attraction and Retention Taskforce, has since spearheaded a “Live Tucson” project. It’s a community branding campaign to tell Tucson’s story. “Why it’s a great place to not just visit for 33 hours, but to live for 33 years,” Yentzer said.
The group is also partnering with Startup Tucson on an ambitious Remote Tucson initiative. “We will scour the country for successful remote workers and incentivize their relocation to Tucson,” said Dre Thompson, executive VP Startup Tucson, a nonprofit organization committed to fueling entrepreneurial development. “We are working with incredible partners to offer compelling packages that include not only cash incentives, but also a ton of perks.”
“Other cities that have tried this type of program have seen millions added to their economy and young, talented folks added to their community,” Thompson said. “In marketing the program nationwide, we will be reaching thousands of millennials, making the case for Tucson.”
Belhumeur, also a managing partner of BRINK creative agency, added, “The remote Google employee that lives in Tucson might start working on the next billion dollar company on the side.”
Equally important, Yentzer said, are efforts to retain young professionals here too, including re-engaging “boomerangs” – students who began here, moved away, but may be looking at Tucson to return.
He said TYP takes great motivation from the book, “The Next American City: The Big Promise of Our Midsize Metros,” penned by Mick Cornett, former mayor of Oklahoma City. Cornett wrote that young professionals will invest in urban-minded communities because they want to take risks, dream and succeed, but also afford to fail.
“We believe that Tucson provides both: an opportunity to engage and shape a community into its 21st century future, an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and a place where young professionals can take big risks and dream about the future,” Yentzer said.
Still, Tucson leaders must be steadfast on a collaborative, unified pitch to lure millennials searching for the next up-and-coming city, Thompson said. Phoenix has already developed a full marketing strategy and post-pandemic pitch, while Tucson has been slow to do the same, Yentzer added. “Tucson is at a tipping point, with a city story that meets the needs and desires of young professionals right now.”
Our story should also continue to highlight our nightlife, entertainment and cultural events, even in their absence.
“I don’t necessarily think about this in a short-term lens,” said Belhumeur. “I think we should still highlight everything, even what can’t happen right now while we are social distancing, because the shift to remote work for many is not going to be temporary. That said, when you do need to social distance, what better setting than the beautiful, open Southwest?”