January 2007 Business Casual

Atlanta is leading the country in attracting hordes of well-educated 25- to 34-year-olds.
Susan Percy

Atlanta is leading the country in attracting hordes of well-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a much-coveted group.

There aren’t many better ways to spend a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon in the fall than watching a soccer match.

This particular one was being played on a field at Mercer’s Atlanta campus, a spirited but good-natured contest between two coed teams from a local league made up of 20-somethings, all looking very fit and healthy and obviously having a fine time. Virtually the same scene was playing out on three or four adjacent fields.

It was very pleasant to contemplate from the sidelines, sitting in a rickety aluminum folding chair with a cooler full of bottled water and trying – not entirely successfully – to avoid getting hit by stray soccer balls.

I was there as a late-blooming soccer mom, not a demographer, but it was pretty easy to figure out that most of the young players were not native Atlantans. Snippets of conversation and logos on jackets and sports bags hinted at a number of origins pretty far outside the perimeter. My daughter, one of the black-shirted soccer players on that particular day, is a seventh-generation Georgian and fourth-generation Atlantan, courtesy of my side of the family; but she is the anomaly, no doubt in the minority these days whether she is running around on the soccer field or working at her job in Midtown.

I was struck by the fact that these young soccer players are, individually and collectively, the face of the city of Atlanta in 2007 – and that it’s an awfully appealing face.

And, apparently, while I was sitting in my lawn chair playing amateur sociologist, some real experts were actually crunching numbers and studying trends and coming to the conclusion that Atlanta is leading the country in attracting hordes of well-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a much-coveted group.

Results of a study called “The Young and Restless: How Atlanta Competes for Talent,” prepared for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce by Oregon economist Joe Cortright and released in late November, show the number of young adults in Atlanta in this golden 25-34 group increased by 20 percent from 1990 to 2000, even as it was declining elsewhere. Most of those new residents come to Atlanta from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Washington, D.C.

What these young and restless newcomers are looking for are places that are welcoming – to new people and new ideas – and that encourage diversity. Atlanta is especially attractive to young African-American adults, whose presence has increased here by more than 36 percent; this group is particularly interested in the available cultural opportunities.

The new Atlantans find the metro area appealing for its affordability, especially in housing, as compared to other large cities. (About three years ago, on a LINK trip to Boston sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission, our group heard officials expressing concern about the “brain drain” of graduates from the huge concentration of colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area. Many of the young people cannot afford the housing prices, we were told; so they go elsewhere. That is clearly not the case in Atlanta.)

The new “domestic migrants,” as the study calls them, are pretty savvy. They seem to get the city. Some interviewed for the study spoke of a culture of opportunity, a sense of openness. Some complained about the traffic and the sprawl and “lack of connectedness,” and some yearned for more and better public transportation. They noted an inherent contradiction in Atlanta’s status as a Southern city – mostly friendly and hospitable but occasionally close-minded.

Some of their comments were sharp: “Most professionals here are not from Atlanta. It makes me want to ask questions about the public schools …” Or, “Atlanta is one of the good places in the South for Northern people to live,” and “It’s like New York and L.A. had a kid.”

What this influx of young, well-educated adults means for Atlanta’s economy is a capable, intelligent and stable workforce for many years to come. These are the people businesses want to hire, Chamber President Sam Williams says. “They are the gold standard for any city; they are the gold standard for any company.”

It’s fair to say their presence bodes well for the city’s spirit as well as its brain – bright people who come here looking for the chance to join the community and use their considerable gifts will enhance every aspect of city life.

“These are the people any city wants to have living in the community,” Williams says.

Susan Percy is editor of Georgia Trend. E-mail her at spercy@georgiatrend.com

Categories: Business Casual