Money Magazine released their 100 Best Places to Live list for 2010 designating the best small cities around the country to live. Many of these small cities were unsurprisingly situated around much larger cities, thus somehow clouding the issue. I found this out as I was turning on the local news last night because the mayor of a recognized city talked about how he was going to sell that to businesses wanting to expand or move into the area.
I found this puzzling, even as a (former) human resources professional. Livability is nice, right? But ultimately, if I am looking to relocate or expand, I am going to look at the local labor force, economy, and nearby educational facilities before I ask to see if the city was a so-called best place to live.
So what does it actually mean to be a best place to live?
Money magazine uses several criteria including demographic information, educational resources, quality of life, culture and even weather. It combines the score and then ranks the cities on its list. There are several concerns in using criteria like that to make a location determination.
I know that many of the cities, even the top ones, don’t appeal to me. Now that’s just one guy’s opinion. I’ve never lived in the Midwest and I am sure there are plenty of fine places there, but this does skew heavily away from the West Coast. It also seems as if suburbs of large cities are better situated to do well on the list because many of the cultural measurements are based on number of movie theaters or restaurants within a 15 mile radius. And that’s not great for a small, standalone city.
There is also this notion that many of the cities listed are not racially diverse. Many in the top 100 list have a minority population of less than 20 percent. The list also avoided the deep South and desert Southwest, for the most part. Are these places really not great places to live and work, or is there a perception problem there?
As I alluded to earlier, is being a best place to live really a great selling point to businesses looking to relocate? Relocation is a tough thing, admittedly. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Vidoop moved to Portland, Oregon only to shut down operations a year later leaving their employees in an unfamiliar town. Now Portland isn’t on the list of best places to live, but it had enough jobs and startup opportunities to help folks land jobs (at least the ones who wanted to stay).
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If you’re being moved to one of the better towns in the country, that may help soften the blow. But what will really matter is future opportunities without moving. Many people like keeping their career options open and they know networking is a big part of that. Relocation resets your network to near zero.
Do people have a positive association with companies that operate in these Best Places to Live cities? That has to be a loose association at best. And when selling people on relocation, the company is going to say whatever they can to sell the place they are relocating. Using a list like this is no different than pointing to being close to the beach or mountains (or if you’re in a real miserable place, the airport). It’s great if it’s important to you.
The Best Places to Live list is only a positive association if those criteria resonate with you personally. Otherwise, you are going to have to seek out other ways of selling your company to potential employees.
Have you used best places to live (or similar types of lists) to attract and retain talent, or to make a relocation decision for either yourself or your company?