To win the talent war, market the heartland lifestyle

Laura Rowley | President, Rough Meadow Digital Media

The Idea: Des Moines employers have a huge opportunity to win the war for talent by marketing the heartland lifestyle to coastal-weary professionals. Here are five ways to get their attention.

In 2013, after two decades in the New York metropolitan area, my husband and I relocated to Des Moines with our three daughters. The move completely transformed our quality of life, and I discovered that we were part of a larger trend: Professionals, especially millennials, are moving away from the coasts to get off the treadmill and get a life. It’s the topic of my new book.

My research found that over the last two decades, profound economic and sociological shifts have made life in so-called “superstar cities” like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco increasingly difficult, especially for young families. Millennials, the generation of 71 million Americans born between 1981 and 1996, will make up half the working population by 2020. As these urban strivers move into their child-raising years, they face unprecedented strains, including a staggering surge in real estate prices and property taxes in good school districts, higher health care costs, stagnant wages and growing student loan debt.

Des Moines employers have a huge opportunity to win the war for talent by marketing the heartland lifestyle to coastal-weary professionals. But you kind of have to be an outsider like me to know which buttons to push. Here are five questions to ask your job candidates:

What’s your daily commute like?

We lived just 16 miles from Manhattan and commuted 75 minutes each way to work by train and subway. Pennsylvania Station has too many trains ― 1,300 arrivals and departures daily ― so one delay triggers a colossal domino effect. Photos of standing-room-only trains and departure board cancellations are posted daily on Facebook’s “The Delayed on New Jersey Transit Support Group.” Meanwhile, the New York subway has the worst on-time performance of any major transit system on the planet. After we moved to Des Moines, my commute was six minutes door to door.

How’s the housing situation in your city?

Cities nationwide are facing urgent housing shortages and escalating rents as demand surpasses supply. Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S. as a whole produced 7.3 million fewer homes than required to keep up with demand and population growth. It’s particularly bad in the San Francisco Bay area: Between 2010 and 2015, it added 546,000 jobs but only 62,600 housing units. One of the professionals featured in my book is a graphic designer who paid $400 a month to live in an eight-foot box he built in his friend’s living room. Des Moines, in contrast, consistently ranks as a top homebuying market for millennials, where nearly 44 percent own their homes. In metropolitan New York, it’s just 20 percent; in metro Los Angeles, 18 percent.

What do you do on weekends?

People in Des Moines spend time off cultivating their passions because they commute less than 20 minutes on average and have more disposable income. We’ve met people who bike, run, row, play in bands, perform in community theater, make short films, tend expansive gardens, build furniture, brew craft beer. And they volunteer: Des Moines ranks in the top quarter of midsized cities for volunteerism. Metro New York ranks 49th out of 51 big cities ― not because people aren’t civic-minded. It’s because commuting devours so much time that weekends are for household chores and errands (or working a side hustle because the cost of living is so high).

Do you feel like you have the opportunity to make an impact on your community?

While coastal cities may be the best places to consume culture, cities in the middle provide a far better opportunity to produce it. Zachary Mannheimer, founder of the Des Moines Social Club, is perhaps the best-known example of how a visionary millennial can transform a city’s culture, building a venue that attracts 25,000 people a month. I’ve met numerous other people making their mark on Des Moines, where new ideas are welcome and supported.

Is living mindfully is a priority?

There’s a certain magic in living where commutes are of so little consequence no one talks about them; where the cost of real estate and property taxes don’t dominate conversation on the soccer field; where people smile and say hello on the street and rarely honk in traffic. You can pay more attention to the people in your life when you don’t have to invest so much cognitive and emotional energy in the administration of it. You can listen more thoughtfully when you’re not stressed out about the logistical hurdles consuming your day. You can invest in life-changing experiences as a family when your housing, transportation and educational costs don’t rise faster than your salary every year.

Tell the talented millennials you’d like to recruit that they can breathe in Des Moines. They can flourish. >