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Placemaking: Investing to Draw and Keep Talent

Drawing talent to your community requires the creation of the environment that appeals to them.

By Bill McMeekin on July 12, 2017

Macon GA

Livability and talent recruitment have become the conjoined twins of economic development. If you want to have a puncher’s chance of drawing talent to your community, you need to encourage creation of the environment that appeals to them.

This  conscious effort at placemaking is both a talent recruitment and business recruitment strategy. Quality of place attributes are integral to attracting and keeping talent, and a deep pool of talent will be a key selling point for bringing new investment to a community.

And it is not the sole province of large cities with developed urban cores that have taken placemaking to heart. A couple of examples highlighted at the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Fort Worth demonstrate how smaller communities have both creatively and consciously integrated placemaking into their development strategies.

Placemaking Creates Communities That Can Attract Talent

It is at work in Macon, GA, where what began as a senior capstone project by students at Mercer University begat a master plan for a 2 square-mile area between the university and downtown Macon that includes several historic neighborhoods.

Partnerships between Mercer and local government and between public and private entities have stirred $91 million in investment, given old buildings new uses, attracted locally owned companies, promoted entrepreneurship and preserved walkable neighborhoods. Planning and revitalization efforts have been helped by a $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

A key to the success of those efforts has been active community engagement, says Nadia Osman of the College Hill Alliance in Macon. “You have to listen to the people who live there,” she says. “And not just ask, but enable with the funds to put ideas into action.

Owensboro, KY began a process in 2007 to transform what Madison Silvert, president and CEO of Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., called a “dilapidated” downtown that what was disconnected from the Ohio River that flowed just a block away.

Through a coordinated effort of community engagement, government support (taxes were raised in 2009 to help fund public spaces downtown that connected to the river) and involvement of property owners, the downtown was reborn and carries out its mission of attracting people through attractive placemaking. So far, those efforts also have generated $150 million in private investment and created a highly walkable public gathering place that includes a convention center, public parks, hotels and a host of attractions.

“You have to ask what you want your city to be,” Silvert says. “Is it a city that will attract people or repulse people.”

What is your community’s experiences with placemaking and what has been the result? Share your success stories.

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