One million young adults move each year.* Even though millennials are often pegged as “transient,” their presence in a city is a direct reflection of its health and well-being since young professionals are key to fueling economic growth and urban revitalization.

And I’ve been there; I’ve moved five times since completing college.

For today’s top talent, the job market is only one thing to consider when choosing where to live. Young professionals want a vibrant urban environment, a creative and dynamic place where they can network with other young people and have fun when they’re not working.

Millennials are seeking to feel connection. They want culture and community, and downtown environments can best foster this. As the oldest millennials are well into their 30s, priorities shift as they look to put down roots. And that makes smaller cities look more attractive to these “young transitionals.”

This hit home for me when I moved back to Bakersfield a few years ago and quickly realized that there was no concerted effort to attract and retain this age group by emphasizing the cool factor 一 our authentic urban environment.

Most of my siblings and cousins left town for college and career and have landed in other places across the country. Like so many in our generation, a majority of them work remotely from home or could accomplish their career goals anywhere. I know that Bakersfield would be better with their varied outside perspective and experience.

My husband and I consider ourselves a mini chamber of commerce, of sorts, and we share with them all of our positive experiences. And they all seem most interested in what’s happening in our central core. These are the stories that they so rarely hear.

We talk about young people starting new businesses, the best dishes at new local restaurants like Locale, the best vendors at the new Hen’s Roost downtown farmer’s market, BMOA Art after Dark events, public art projects like murals by L.A. artist BumblebeeLovesYou on the side of The Kitchen, and hip new urban housing. The epicenter of all of these things is always downtown.

Anecdotes about meeting friends for brunch or after-work drinks at The Padre and running into other young people during First Friday do more to entice millennials than a corner office or gated community ever could.

Truth is, cities are competing with each other all the time to woo young professionals. These places understand that the brain drain is real. Cities all around the country 一 of similar size and stature to Bakersfield, such as Buffalo, Columbus, and Oklahoma City 一 are drawing valuable, talented young professionals with urban quality-of-life amenities. Bakersfield should capitalize on these movable millennials and entice them with our authentic local flavor and downtown amenities before they get scooped up for good by another city with a better marketing campaign and a more aggressive approach to wooing young talent. Our local economy and the future of our city depends on it.

* According to a 2014 City Observatory study, which can be found at: http://cityobservatory.org/ynr.

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Young Professional Programs: Leadership Bakersfield is a program of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. It is a yearlong professional development program where class members learn leadership skills, gain valuable contacts, discover what’s shaping our culture and economy and design a project that improves the community.

Bakersfield Young Professionals group (“BYP”) is also a program of the Bakersfield Chamber and seeks to foster community among young professionals and support them as emerging business, civic and community leaders. Downtown was actually the theme of the most recent BYP Professional Development Summit event in May.

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Upcoming Downtown Events:

Art After Dark: Aug. 31 from 6:30 - 9 p.m, Bakersfield Museum of Art

Bike Bakersfield’s September Full Moon Ride: Sept. 6 at 8 p.m., start at Beach Park

TEDx Bakersfield: Central Valley, Central to the Future: Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Spotlight Theatre

Bakersfield Young Professionals Street Party: Oct. 13 from 6 to 10 p.m., enter through The Park at The Mark.

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“Brain Drain” (also called “Human Capital Flight”): refers to the emigration of highly skilled or well-educated individuals; the departure of educated or professional people from one place for another, usually for better pay or living conditions.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about downtown Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com.

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