Why Calgary? The question at the centre of MRU report on young adult retention
By Noel Harper, News Editor
Calgary is experiencing an exodus of young adults who are no longer staying in the city to develop their personal or professional lives. Statistics Canada reveals that over a recent ten-year period, the city went from fifth to 29th for its population of those aged 20-24, out of 35 metropolitan areas in Canada.
Seeing this trend unfold, Mount Royal University’s CityXLab — an educational hub formed by the Institute for Community Prosperity — has teamed up with Calgary Economic Development and the Canada West Foundation to attempt an answer at a seemingly simple question: Why Calgary?
“[Four] teams first explored whether this is actually a problem. Anecdotally, we hear stories of young people leaving Calgary for school or work — but the problem is complex and the data is inconclusive,” wrote David Finch, director of CityXLab, introducing the project in the Calgary Herald.
Perplexed by genuine concerns of young talent retention in a city ranked the most liveable in North America, and fifth in the world, by the Economic Intelligence Unit, CityXLab’s first discussion paper on the question focuses on finding evidence of this trend. They aim to identify young adults’ perceptions of Calgary on key factors, and ask how the city can keep attracting young people.
“Choosing a city is rarely spontaneous, rather it is part of a longer-term decision-making process rooted in values that evolved over a lifetime,” the paper reads.
“Our analysis suggests that young Calgarians face three primary ‘moments of truths’ in deciding where to live: the first is high school graduation; the second is graduation from post-secondary; and the third is as a young professional.”
The report goes on to describe choosing a city to live in as “purchasing” a place by investing in key community factors and laying down their roots. These factors include proximity to relations, cost of living, recreation, arts and entertainment, education and climate.
Throughout CityXLab’s deep dive, Calgary is compared to similar cities throughout North America, including Hamilton, Regina, Denver and Cleveland. Each case study offers takeaways for Calgary, from actioning bragging rights to investing in a reputation that stands out.
Three actions are recommended by the Why Calgary paper: appointing a Chief Talent Officer, closing the gap between Calgary’s reputation and its reality and closing the data gap tracking young talent mobility.
To the second point, gaps are represented by anecdotes and reputations that are seen as unfair, such as Calgary putting the economy ahead of the environment, not embracing diversity or simply being regarded as “dull.”
“Closing these reputation and reality gaps starts with defining a cohesive and consistent identity and narrative for Calgary that clearly conveys our assets and competitive advantages. Establishing and communicating a unified message could help shape a shared purpose for a city, its organizations and citizens,” reads the report.
The paper concludes that young Calgarians have been impacted by a combination of high student debt and the city’s unemployment rate, migrating to cities in which they see themselves and their futures better reflected.
“The implications of this reframes Calgary not only for young Calgarians, but also to emerge as a magnet for the world’s best and brightest. If we succeed, the answer to Why Calgary? becomes self-fulfilling.”