Social dynamics key to a community’s economic growth

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on December 4, 2017. It can also be found online here.

While about 50 million Americans traveled recently for the Thanksgiving holiday, my family stayed put. Normally, as a military family, we’re on the road for the major holidays. One year it’s Christmas in Utah to see my wife’s family and summer break in Minnesota to see my relatives. The next, it’s the other way around.

But not this year. We stayed local, and several neighbors graced our table for the big feast of gratitude. Two are exceptional writers and educators, another’s a lawyer, one a linguist and cybersecurity expert, and another is a retired professional ballerina. An impressive crowd, they collectively share a descriptive term – they’re “Anywheres.”

Author David Goodhart’s book, “The Road to Somewhere,” describes the modern phenomenon of economically mobile professionals. Anywheres are those with portable skills that often move every few years to capitalize on ever-improving opportunities in the national and global marketplace. Armed with advanced degrees and valuable experiences, they’re “comfortable and confident with new places and people.”

One example here in Colorado Springs is the military population of gifted national security nomads. Others might include those in the tech world, elite Olympic coaches, lawyers, professors, and doctors.

Today, “upwardly mobile” often requires greater geographic range. It used to be that “moving up” meant a corner office.

Nowadays it’s more likely “moving up” means moving out and across the country.

This social trend contains an implied task for those that want to grow a business or the local economy: to attract as many Anywheres as possible and convert them into “Somewheres.”

Somewheres are more local, tied to a particular geography by choice and by circumstance. They feel drawn to a place, more than for the length of a single job, and often have a hard time seeing themselves anyplace else.

My family’s decision to put down roots here is illustrative. When you’re in the military, “home” is less about where you are than where you decide you want it. We declare our “state of legal residence” on a bureaucratic form (mostly for tax purposes), which is usually the place where you intend to live after leaving the military. So it also serves as an aspirational vote for where you want “home” to be.

Mine’s always been Minnesota, where I grew up. Yet, over a short time, my wife and I have come to see Colorado as home. We’ve gotten driver’s licenses here and participated in the recent local election. We’re starting to call ourselves “Coloradans” now, which is hard to say out loud around my Minnesota relatives. It feels a little disloyal, even treasonous, that we’ve dared declare allegiance to another state (at least it wasn’t Wisconsin; Mom might’ve disowned me).

They don’t have anything against Colorado. They like this state. But it’s not Minnesota.

So why did we choose here as our home? What caused a couple of Anywheres to become Somewheres? What got us to commit to contribute to the local economy?

It was mostly the stuff you can’t put a price on: Our daughters love the holiday lights in Manitou. Hiking to the quarry in Red Rocks and climbing the smaller boulders in the Garden of the Gods. The local library. The Incline. The fact that we bump into a dozen people we know by name every day, including neighbors we spent Thanksgiving with.

And then there are some things that do come with modest prices, but are uniquely specific to the neighborhood, like feeding the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Nearer still, many are clustered on Manitou Avenue: rides at the Penny Arcade, after-school ice cream at the Colorado Custard Company, cool stuff at Theo’s Toys, a mechanic we trust at Manitou Auto, and, when we can beg someone to watch the kids, my wife and I can walk for wine at Swirl, beers at Manitou Brewing, or a margarita at the Loop. It’s really the people that make these places special.

Recently, The Gazette’s in-depth series on the city’s southeast side highlighted the importance of development and drawing a high-quality workforce to the region. As city planners and business owners think about this challenge, they should focus on the intangibles that’ll convince Anywheres to become Colorado Springs Somewheres. And one key metric is whether these people choose to make their Thanksgiving holiday here.

 

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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