October 14, 2011
By Rachel Brown, Dalton Daily Citizen
Ryan message finds welcome audience in Dalton
If Dalton is to become a place “for the next generation,” the people here have to understand how that next generation thinks, said Rebecca Ryan, a nationally known motivational speaker who was in town on Thursday.
Hosted by Dalton State College, Ryan, an economist and the author of “Live First, Work Second,” spoke to several hundred people at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center. Her visit coincides with local leaders’ efforts to revitalize the community through the Archway Partnership, a program through the University of Georgia that helps individuals plan for the recreational, lifestyle and business opportunities they want their cities to offer.
Dalton State College held community discussions on “Live First, Work Second” in 2009. The book centers on the idea that young people base decisions on where they live more on how much they like the city than on how much they like their job.
Young professionals — those from 20 to 40 years old with bachelor’s degrees — can add to a community economically and in improving its quality of life, Ryan said on Thursday. The key is knowing how to attract them.
People of the millennial generation — roughly those born between 1982 and 2001 — often are unmarried, postpone having children until their 30s, are still at least partially dependent on their parents for support, and live much of their lives online, she said.
“This 20-something period is considered emerging adulthood,” she said. “The implication for you guys here in Dalton is you all are a place great to raise a family ... But if that is not happening now until people are in their 30s, we’ve got a big doughnut of people in their 20s. How are we going to become a place that attracts them?
“Why is that important? Because people in their 20s start businesses. Think about Google, right? Think about Facebook. People in their 20s with all that creative energy and those creative ideas. They just infuse our organizations with such great energy.”
Ryan identified several national trends she said planners should be aware of. The down economy and the social experiences that accompany it, she said, are just one of many “winters” America has experienced. Economists were predicting a decline 10 years before it happened. What people do during the down time — whether they use it to cower down and live in fear or to regroup and re-energize for when “spring” arrives — will decide what kind of communities they eventually have, she said.
Another trend, Ryan said, is the “graying and browning of America.” The nation, in general, is growing older and more ethnically diverse, she said. A third trend is the rising use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, while a fourth important trend is the fact that, for the first time, in December 2010, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. The good news there, she said, is studies show that when cities double in population, every measure of economic activity increases by 15 percent.
There are seven major factors Ryan said studies show young professionals consider in their decisions about where to live. They consider the cost of living, the quality and diversity of job and career opportunities, and whether the area is conducive to healthy living. They also look at how easy it is to get around town, whether the community is “smart” and values ongoing education, whether there are plenty of opportunities to become engaged in the community through volunteer work or other avenues and what kinds of after hours activities are available.
About 90 people stayed for Ryan’s two-hour roundtable discussion with young professionals that same afternoon. Dalton State College spokeswoman Pam Partain said the information from the discussion will be used in a five-to-seven-page “white paper” Ryan will work on over the next several weeks that will be used by area employers and community leaders to foster strategies to attract and keep young professionals here.
David Cook, 28, said he believes most people care about what kind of job they can get in Dalton and what they can do after work.
“I think she spoke exactly what all of us here are feeling,” Cook said. “We are honestly begging for something.”
Kristin Arp, 27, said that while she lives and works in Dalton, she often leaves the city for her after hours activities.
“We usually always go to Chattanooga,” she said. “We do a lot of outdoorsy type things. We like to ride bicycles, (exercise at the gym).”
The Red Carpet Half Marathon in Dalton and shorter races planned for this weekend are a good example of the kind of thing the community could use more of, she said.
Shannon Stanley, 35, said bringing in more after hours activities for the younger crowd could be a big help. “Not like dance clubs or anything,” she said, but family friendly things like maybe a Dave and Buster’s or restaurants that double as hangout places.
Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins led the “Live First, Work Second” discussions in 2009 and said on Thursday he invited a handful of people from each of the Dalton schools to participate.
“It helps us be a better employer,” Hawkins explained. “How do you know what they (the younger generation) are thinking? You ask them. So we’re using this. It’ll help us set priorities. Hopefully it will help us transform.”
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