What I Learned In Texas: The Geographical Habits of Young RenGen

A few days ago, I presented to a group of Houston civic and business leaders a major piece of research about the size and scope of the region’s creative economy. It was a challenging piece of research to pull off–so much of the economic activity among creatives happens below the surface. 

Just up the road from Houston is Austin, the spunky college town that’s bursting at the seams with vibrant RenGen businesses–film, music, game developers and the like. Not to mention that Austin plays host to the annual SXSW festival. 

I’ve been to SXSW and found it exhilarating. But I’ve always gone home feeling a little puzzled. Austin’s a big college town. Why has it captivated people so much more than, say, Madison, Wisconsin or Ann Arbor, Michigan?

Spent and feeling the sense of post-project letdown after presenting my findings, I retreated to Galveston Island for a few days. As I peddled my rental bike along the beach it came to me…

We are entering a post-metropolitan era. 

Here’s my hypothesis: Kids who grew up in suburbs want excitement and opportunity without the hassles of big city life. A city like Austin is perfect. It’s hip, opportunistic and totally manageable.  An entire generation of young people from all over has gravitated there and loves it. Let’s call these folks subMetros.

Houston, on the other hand, is filled with urban challenges. But it too has attracted an entire generation of young people. In fact, over 60% of Houston’s population is under the age of 50. Its young people are urban pioneers, eager to buckle down and help solve vexing problems: installing light rail, making the city more walkable, fixing the public school system, and embracing diversity in housing policies. Let’s call these people newMetros. By nature, they prefer to live and work amidst the complexities of big cities.

Cities and businesses are in a race to attract and retain the best young talent. I guess my question is this–which type of talent do you want? It matters. If you’re located in Omaha, for example, you can recruit newMetros endlesslessly. But they won’t bite. Why? Because there’s no metropolis there big enough to hold them. Rather, you’d want the same folks who find Austin appealing.

So who are you? SubMetro or newMetro?