Schnurman: ‘Young and restless’ snubbing Dallas

Here’s a blow to the collective ego: Young college grads just aren’t into Dallas that much.

They’re not abandoning the metro area, as in Detroit. Or barely trickling in, as in Atlanta. But a lot more 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree are choosing to live elsewhere, according to a recent study.

Hipster favorites Austin, Denver and Portland, Ore., are pulling in more of this coveted demographic, as you’d expect. But who knew San Antonio, Houston and Los Angeles would outdraw Dallas, too?

“Downtown Dallas has done really well lately, but for this audience, Dallas-Fort Worth is just not as attractive as other metros,” said Joe Cortright, an economist at City Observatory, a think tank in Portland.

He calls the graduates “the young and restless,” because they’re more likely to move to a new city and build families and careers there. The current generation is also more interested in a sense of place, not just the place with the most jobs.

That’s a challenge for Dallas-Fort Worth, because its calling card has always been economic opportunity. The formula has worked well, especially with no beaches and plenty of sprawl, but it’s not enough.

From 2000 to 2012, the Dallas area was among a handful of metros that didn’t grow the young grad segment as fast as the total population, the study said. And the share of young residents with a college degree actually declined over the period.

In 12 years, the number of college grads, ages 25 to 34, increased 20 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth. That compares with an average increase of 25 percent for the 51 largest metros, the study reported.

Houston, Austin and San Antonio added young college grads twice as fast as Dallas over the same time.

It’s unusual for Dallas to lag in any economic measure. In job growth, wage increases and corporate relocations, it ranks near the top among large metros. In population growth, D-FW outpaces most competition.

The study highlights some weaknesses, starting with the number of young grads living near downtown. But it also presents an opportunity.

Changing perceptions

Dallas’ downtown revival is apparently underappreciated among the young and restless. Changing their perceptions doesn’t have to be a reach, because Dallas keeps building and adding amenities.

Spend a few weekend hours in Uptown or at Klyde Warren Park, and there’s no missing the crowds and energy. Construction projects dot the area and apartment prices have the feel of a boomtown. Local executives say there’s no problem recruiting talent.

So why the disconnect with young grads? Local supporters suggest that Cortright’s data, taken from the Census Bureau, is dated. So much has happened in Dallas since 2012 and more is in the pipeline; that slice of the past isn’t what the area looks like today, they said.

While that’s true, the competition isn’t standing still. New York, Washington, Seattle and others continue to be beacons for young grads.

The better explanation is that Dallas’ urban living still doesn’t match other places. It doesn’t have a similar mass of residents or connectivity. And more young people want to live in close-in neighborhoods, so they can walk, bike and access mass transit easily.

Many are getting their driver’s licenses later and driving fewer miles. Some don’t want to own a car, which is tough to pull off in many parts of North Texas.

D-FW ranks No. 4 in the nation in total population. But in 2010, it ranked No. 17 in the number of college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds living within 3 miles of downtown, the study reported. Some smaller cities had a much larger base of such residents and a larger inventory of close-in housing.

Living downtown

Dallas is playing catchup. Fifteen years ago, about 200 people lived in downtown, said John Crawford, CEO of the advocacy group Downtown Dallas Inc. The urban core and close-in neighborhoods now have about 43,000 residents, up by about a third since 2010, he said.

Another 5,000 residential units are planned, with many under construction. Ten hotels and about three dozen new restaurants are coming, he said. Streetcars are expanding, a car sharing service began recently and bike-sharing is in the works.

“Big things are happening here — as fast as we can get them done,” Crawford said.

In a decade, he believes, 75,000 people will live around downtown.

“We will be discovered,” Crawford said. “Just give us some time.”

Stan Richards, whose advertising agency regularly recruits college grads, was surprised that Dallas lags at all. It’s a vibrant city, he said, with an unparalleled Arts District.

The company has no trouble enticing candidates here. Still, when the Richards Group decided to build a new headquarters, it chose a location near Uptown and a DART rail stop.

The tower, scheduled to open in mid-January, will be “a huge advantage for us,” Richards said.

“We hire a lot of kids straight out of school, and they want to walk to work,” he said.



This post was written by Mitchell Schnurman and shared with permission from The Dallas Morning News.