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What St. Louis can learn from Indianapolis’ efforts to attract Gen Z workers

Here's what St. Louis can learn from Indianapolis' efforts to attract the future of the economy and workforce.

INDIANAPOLIS — Maddie McConnell is in her early 20s and a member of Generation Z, defined as individuals born between 1997 and 2013. It’s a group the Pew Research Center says is on track to be the most well-educated generation yet.

McConnell grew up in South Bend, Indiana. She moved to the Indianapolis to study at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, or IUPUI.

After graduation, she stayed in Indy and started her career in the sports industry.

Now, leaders in Indy hope to have her fellow Gen Z members follow suit.

"That's the next generation of talent around the country right now and something we need to be cognizant of. And we need to be asking, what do you want out of a city? What do you want out of a place to visit? What do you want out of a place to live?” said Nate Swick, senior communications manager at Visit Indy.

The City of Indianapolis set out to answer those questions.  

Researchers at IUPUI developed a survey to find out how the city could attract and retain Gen Z.

“We really wanted to try to understand what are the things that would really be attractive and be a driver for people to want to stay in our local community here after they've gone to college or graduated high school,” said David Pierce, an IUPUI professor and developer of the study.

Five-hundred Indiana residents under the age of 26 were recruited to take the survey.

Results showed when it comes to how Gen Z chooses where to live, they're like any other generation. Cost of living, housing costs, job opportunities, safety and crime rate were the most important factors.

Beyond those economic basics, researchers also asked questions about recreational activities that could set the city apart.

The Gen Z participants largely agreed a riverwalk experience would be the most attractive. It was valuable feedback for regional leaders who are already working together to develop the White River. It cradles the western perimeter of downtown Indianapolis. Over the next two decades, they hope to bring businesses to the water’s edge and develop entertainment opportunities.

“Enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying what the city has to offer. A riverwalk would definitely be top of that list,” McConnell said.

Three-hundred sports, tourism and government leaders in Indy came to the IUPUI campus for a presentation unveiling the survey results. The hope is that the information crystallizes Gen-Z’s priority list and impacts future decisions.

“So that, we're spending money and using land in a way that people are going to value the most. We're also not spending money, time, effort, resources, (and) land on the things that people aren't going to prioritize,” Pierce said. 

McConnell said she’s encouraged by the city’s dedication to recruit the first fully digital generation.

“Honestly, all we need is a door and maybe enough room to put our foot in it, and then we'll be creative enough to open it up,” she said.

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