Baton Rouge Business Report

Two decades ago, when a company was looking for a new location, one of the primary drivers affecting its decision was the availability of shovel-ready sites a potential market had to offer.

Not so any longer, says Greg Burkart, managing director and city leader in the Detroit office of global valuation firm Duff & Phelps.

“Today, we spend 80% of our time focused on the workforce,” Burkart says. “Companies will move to where the people are. So it’s all about the people.”

Burkart was among the guest speakers on the agenda this morning at the Statewide Economic Development Summit 2017. His speech addressed “Site Selection Trends for 2017.”

Not only do communities need to have a talent pool to attract new companies, but those workers have to be millennials and even younger—members of the so-called Generation Z, Burkart told the audience of economic development professionals from around the state.

“You need to attract and retain those people who are younger because that will attract companies to come to your community,” he says. “So the paradigm has changed. … You’re moving from being industrial recruiters to community developers with the goal of trying to attract younger people and get them to stay.”

Attracting those younger workers is a challenge for Louisiana. Burkart shared statistics that show between 2000 and 2015, Louisiana’s millennial-aged population decreased 0.5%. During the same period, Mississippi’s shrank 0.7%, while Alabama’s grew 3.8% and the national average increased 7%.

Part of the key toward attracting more young people is to retain those who go to college in the state. A whopping 94% of recent graduates from the University of Texas, for instance, remain in the city of Austin after graduation, which adds somewhere between 7,000 and 7,500 new college graduates to the workforce every year.

“That’s very significant,” Burkart says. “Everybody wants to know why so many companies go to Austin. It’s because they have so many young people.”

Comparable retention statistics for Louisiana were not immediately available.

On the plus side, Burkart says Louisiana has several attributes that make it attractive to site selection professionals. Its labor costs are low, particularly in the financial services and management sectors. The state should be focused on trying to recruit back office services and management jobs, he says.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp says his organization has strategies targeting young people. He says it’s also critical to focus on improving the area’s public education system, as well as its quality of life offerings.

“We have to be focused on quality of life itself in Baton Rouge that retains talent,” Knapp says. “That means addressing the transportation challenges, as well as the visual, cleanliness and amenities of the communities.”