Attracting and Retaining Employees for Economic Health

By Dom Nozzi

Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class has had a powerful influence over how I view economic and workforce issues. Essentially, the crucial message I take away from this book is that economic development efforts have been turned upside down in recent years.

In the past, such efforts focused on attracting quality businesses to the community to grow jobs. Largely, that meant keeping taxes and regulations modest, and other means of minimizing the costs of a move by a company into the community.

Increasingly, however, a new paradigm is emerging. Today, the so-called “creative class” (highly educated, highly intelligent, highly innovative, much-sought-after younger employees) is the key to a more pleasant, prosperous future. Now, instead of focusing on attracting businesses, communities are starting to realize that the recipe for economic and quality of life success is to attract and retain quality employees (and avoid such problems as a “brain drain”).

How is this most effectively done? According to Florida, the Creative Class seeks a hip, cool, healthy, diverse, walkable, vibrant, charming community ambience rich in lifestyle choices, quality of life and a sense of community.

Indeed, the recent Crupi Report assessing Richmond, Virginia’s future reaches similar conclusions: “…focus on…walkable, two-way streets…human scale… people-friendly…[design].” “Shokoe Slip and Bottom are a good start…space that brings people together.” “…construction using traditional design…” “…charm and sense of place that comes with more classical architecture.”westpalm

And it is not only the Crupi Report. Dover-Kohl’s draft master plan for Downtown Richmond contains recommendations such as these: Reduce the stifling dominance of off-street surface parking. Emphasize buildings and density that activate the streets and sidewalks. Small (and slow) is beautiful.

What this meant for me as a member of the Workforce Development team in 2008 was that I was interested in discovering how well the Richmond area is able to attract and retain quality employees. Not how to attract and retain quality employers.

Communities are learning that quality employers are attracted by a quality workforce. Employers are therefore seeking out communities with the features sought after by the Creative Class – knowing that the Creative Class has the credentials to relatively easily pick and choose where to live and work. If the community does not offer the quality amenities sought by the Creative Class, such employees (and, therefore, employers) will quickly move elsewhere (the “brain drain”).

Given the above, I believe it is essential that a community seeking to improve its economic health evaluate how well it is providing the walkable, charming, diverse, vibrant, hip qualities of a healthy, proud community. Is there a romantic, human-scaled town center? Vibrant cobblestone streets? Historic and ornamentally classical buildings? A public square that builds a sense of community?

Without these features, I believe it will be extremely difficult for a community to develop, attract or maintain a quality workforce.

Coping with Change

During our workforce development information gathering in Richmond, we heard about important demographic changes that are expected to occur in Richmond’s future. An important element in this changing world is changes in jobs, employers, products and services. And how difficult it is to reliably predict those changes.

What does that mean for workforce development?

In my opinion, the uncertainty of change requires a workforce that is adaptable to change – no matter what that change may be. A growing trend in our society over the past several decades has been specialization. A growing number of people are being trained as specialists. Unfortunately, specialists tend to be unable to adapt to a world where many products, services and techniques rapidly become obsolete.

If we are unable to accurately predict future changes in what sorts of jobs and skills will be needed in the future, the best we can do is to move back to providing education and training for a more well-rounded, generalist workforce.

In general, the most effective way to nurture a nimble, versatile, quality workforce able to adapt to a changing work environment is to achieve a community that is high enough in quality of life, as I have outlined above, so that educated, quality employees are attracted to and remain in the community for the long run.



Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.


Or email me at: dom[AT]

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