4 Steps For Your Smaller City To Get A Share of The Resident Migration Out of Big Cities

Two important cohort groups, today’s mobile knowledge worker and the retiring baby boomer,  are moving toward smaller cities at a higher rate – and that means opportunity for your smaller city to attract a resident (with a family in many cases), worker, taxpayer, engaged citizen and potential entrepreneur.

According to Jenny Ying of LinkedIn, the biggest U.S. cities are still drawing more people than they are losing, but the rate is slowing. Some of that erosion is attributable to moves to smaller cities that promise an easier, higher quality of life and put the strains and costs of big city life in the rearview mirror. While some of the migration is among workers keeping their big-city job and working remotely in their smaller city of choice, you still want them. Ultimately, many will join your community’s workforce and some will launch businesses that result in investment and job creation.

To attract these “active shopper” residents, your community has to be intentional to get into the migration consideration set. Take these four steps to be sure you are front and center and, importantly, that you are also managing the effects of in-migration on your current residents.

Invest in Your Quality of Place – this isn’t a snap your fingers and it’s done strategy, so ideally you’re already on the path to continuously improving your quality of place. In our September 4 post, we wrote about leveraging and building on your natural assets – a critical draw for relocating residents. It’s among the core desirability traits of a great community, along with a vibrant arts and culture community, a healthy downtown district and affordable housing. In this pursuit, nurture and accentuate signature traits of your community – whether its quirky public art, a historic site or a famous BBQ joint. Character is central to your quality of place.

Package & Promote Your Distinct, Authentic Story – a move is a huge life decision. Thus, potential migrants to your city will be studying hard. Are you ready? Your community should have a distinct and authentic brand and a website and social media activity that tells your unique and compelling story. Buyers need a reason to believe in you. Share that story on your site (or even build a distinct site focused exclusively on introducing your community to potential residents), arm your Realtor community and equip everyone in the relocation food chain (especially employers) with the message. It takes a unified front. Capture inquiries with a lead form and be sure to follow up. You’re not desperate, but appropriate follow up signals the quality and graciousness of your city. The human touch matters.

Get On The “Best Places” Lists – the online consumer has come to reply on these ubiquitous lists as a place to start their searches. Here are some of the more well-known lists:

Money Magazine 
Best Places to Live
U.S. News and World Report Best Places to Live (broken down by population size)
USA Today Best Places to Live
Business Insider Best Suburbs In America
WalletHub Best Small Cities In America

There are also relocation content and editorial websites like Livability.com and mymove.com that you should pitch your story to.

While most of the “Best Place” studies do have a quantitative basis (see Money Magazine’s criteria here), getting on them is not always a mathematical occurrence. Make efforts via your Public Information Office or marketing/PR vendor to reach out to editors and let them know about your community. Invite journalists to visit your city and keep a steady chain of releases and good news coming their way. Often, a human connection can influence inclusion, or it may lead to a feature or mention in a different, but related type of article. If nothing more, study the list criteria and be sure someone on your staff is keeping an eye on the lists where you have the best odds of improving your scoring potential.

Have A Housing Strategy In Motion – when you attract residents from larger cities, property values will move upward. This will have an impact on your current residents. In our travels around the country, one of the greatest issues we see in growing, smaller cities is a scarcity of affordable housing, often because in-migrants are driving up costs in the traditionally popular areas. This dynamic creates a very real tension in communities. Residential growth should not come at the expense of your long-time, deeply invested residents. If you haven’t, now is the time to form a task force of developers, home builders and your housing authority to ensure that you are planning quality housing inventory for all.

As you position your community for a strong and growing future, take the above steps to both increase demand, but also increase supply and capacity in your one-of-a-kind place. While some cities stumble into growth by sheer locational advantages, most need to be intentional about marketing and planning for the desired future they seek.