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Columbus Leads Peer Cities in Millennial Population Growth

Walker Evans Walker Evans Columbus Leads Peer Cities in Millennial Population GrowthPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Millennials are currently the largest generational set in America, with roughly one third of the country’s population having been born in between 1980 and the mid 2000s. With over 76 million Millennials in the United States, every city is working to make its case to attract this coveted age range, in hopes of not only capturing their spending power, but to also retain the demographic in the near future as it settles into the era of home buying and family building.

Jon Seymour of local data analysis website AllColumbusData.com, decided to crunch some demographic numbers to find out how well Columbus has been growing in this age range over the past decade. Seymour took a look at a competitive market set, studying all US metro areas ranging between 1.5 and 2.5 million people (the Columbus MSA is right in the middle with two million people), as well as some smaller regional areas like Dayton, Detroit and Chicago.

What Seymour found was that based on this peer set, Columbus has been performing very well. The total population of 25-to-34-year-olds in Columbus grew from 131,641 to 170,759 between 2005 and 2014. That’s a growth of 39,118 new residents in that age range over that time frame, making it the fifth fastest rate of overall growth. More interestingly, that rate of growth has climbed more quickly in recent years, with 23,175 of those residents being added just between 2010 and 2014 alone — making it the third largest population spike in the peer group, trailing only behind San Antonio and Austin.

Seymour concluded that the strong economy and low cost of living in Columbus likely helps to draw new jobs seekers to the region, despite having fewer transportation amenities or walkable neighborhoods, which other peer cities boast as being more appealing to the Millennial cohort.

“Beyond the job market, another factor may be all the colleges and universities in the area,” added Seymour. “That keeps a steady stream of younger population coming in, but the numbers also suggest that perhaps they are sticking around after graduation, especially considering that education levels are also rising.”

That goal of retaining college students in Columbus is exactly what Pete McGinty has been working on as the Associate VP of Enrollment Services, Marketing and Strategic Communications at the Ohio State University. McGinty spoke with Columbus Underground earlier this year about the ongoing efforts to better connect students with the city, and he sees the demographic report as an indicator of success.

“The effort to better engage OSU students has become a primary strategy for the university,” said McGinty. “Getting students engaged in Columbus begins to strengthen their affinity with the city that can pay off in a big way as they mature.”

Prior to his role at OSU, McGinty served as the President of locally-based advertising agency Fahlgren, as well as the Vice President of Marketing at Experience Columbus. During his time serving in all three roles, a consistent goal of attracting and retaining young talent to Columbus was present, though McGinty explained that Millennials are a demographic that doesn’t necessarily want to be marketed to through traditional methods.

“They don’t want to be ‘sold’ and they won’t be told what to do,” he said. “They will decide what to align themselves with, whether that be brands, their choice of college, where they live and what they do – and they’ll decide these things based on authenticity and experience. The fact that Millennials are choosing Columbus is extremely encouraging. It tells us that we’re doing many things right.”

Seymour agreed that other factors are likely at play when it comes to the attraction of new Millennials to Columbus.

“I don’t necessarily think specific marketing by the city has been a big contributor, as the Columbus ‘brand’ is still too nebulous,” said Seymour. “There have been a ton of national articles in recent years that tend to rank the city highly in a number of different categories, and I think that’s doing a better job of getting the city’s name out there than any kind of city-driven campaign.”

Derek Grosso, founder of the Columbus Young Professionals Club, said that messages are more likely to resonate with Millennials when it comes through personal connections.

“There’s lots of talk of walkability as a top magnet for this demographic, but I’d also suggest that what I call ‘talkability’ is just as important,” he explained. “This is a group that has grown up with technology and social messaging as a part of their daily routine. With the ‘coolness factor’ that Columbus continues to succeed at developing, we are now seeing the short-term benefits of collaboration and positive messaging. And it will certainly continue in the long-term, in my opinion.”

Since its foundation in 2005, the Columbus Young Professionals Club has grown to a total of over 20,000 registered members over the past ten years, largely comprised of those who fall into the Millennial demographic. Grosso said that he has certainly noticed trends emerge during interactions with his membership.

“Newcomers to Columbus want to feel connected — to neighborhoods, events and organizations — and there is an inherent need to feel like this is their community right away,” he said. “It’s not a snap decision or an ‘impulse buy’ feeling, but it is very similar. It’s linked to the FOMO mantra of many Millennials — Fear Of Missing Out.”

Whatever the case may be, it’s not just Millennials that are growing in numbers in Columbus. Earlier this year, US Census estimates revealed that the City of Columbus has added 12,421 people between July 2013 and July 2014, making it the 13th fastest growing city in the country. As a whole, the Columbus Metro Area added 25,504 people during the same timeframe.

“Columbus has worked hard to retain and recruit young professionals over the last several years,” stated Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman. “The growth in just four years is phenomenal, and is proof that Columbus is doing all of the right things to keep young people in our city.”

For more information on the study and results, CLICK HERE to visit www.allcolumbusdata.com.

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