For graduating college students, it’s often assumed that they want to pursue working in skyscraper-packed cities where Anne Hathaway’s fictional characters in The Intern and The Devil Wears Prada make their mark. But bucking the trend of urbanization is becoming more attractive as millennials assess the benefits of big cities relative to small towns. Owning the notion of small-town life and reclaiming “townie” as a compliment can open you up to both fulfilling careers and a more balanced lifestyle.
Perception is not reality: Many millennials are townies
Hollywood movie scripts notwithstanding, many new graduates would prefer a small town setting. According to 2015 findings released at the 10th Annual Real Estate Conference in Portland, Oregon, only 37 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 want to live in cities. An almost equal number, 36 percent, consider themselves suburbanites. And nearly a quarter, 23 percent, desire life in small towns and rural environments.
College graduates often spend the rest of their lives reminiscing about their idyllic college years, so why is it taboo to settle down in the college communities that gave them so much? While many high-performing undergrads are expected to leave town after earning their diplomas, more should find ways to stay and make a difference in the communities where they studied. As stigmas diminish about staying close to home after graduation, small towns are emerging as a real and viable alternative.
Small towns aligning to millennial values
Graduates are seeing the potential in what was formerly perceived as provincial.
Small towns increasingly align with millennial preferences – and at a lower price tag than big cities. Many of the things that millennials value are often found and more easily attained in a small town. There may not be much of a difference between the core values of urban “hipsters” and rural “townies”; both desire a strong sense of community, purpose-driven careers and close proximity to work and leisure activities.
Take quality of life, for example. Top entertainers often visit college towns, and tickets are often cheaper and more accessible. You have the convenience of the great outdoors – parks, lakes and nature trails – providing a rugged setting for adventure and getaways without having to go far.
In addition, small towns offer small businesses that cater to new niches and more authentic experiences. It isn’t lost on this generation that small-town America has adopted tablets and Square devices for retail check-out, innovated in the farm-to-table movement and equipped cafes with Wi-Fi and fair-trade coffees. Experiencing this in a place where you know the owner of the store is a strong value proposition.
Leveraging a built-in ecosystem
Many students have already built up a local network of professors and business contacts through their studies, internships and research projects, so it’s considerably less daunting to launch a career in a town where you have studied. Moreover, working toward the success of your employer or even creating your own start-up or freelance career means directly helping the community. For many smaller cities, there are a handful of employers that are the lifeblood of the town. You aren’t a cog in the wheel.
Working for a company that has a tangible impact on the community appeals to the millennial generation’s sense of purpose. The University of West Georgia’s Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program in Carrollton, Georgia, a small college town located 1.5 hours west of Atlanta, is a sterling example of how sustainability is being translated by today’s college students at the local level – and leading them to consider careers closer to home. Program participants are learning how sustainability encompasses everything from supply chains to hiring – and directly impacts the viability of a company. As a result, it becomes clear how ripple effects at a micro level can make a big difference to the broader community. Students who understand this will tend to consider small towns an attractive option when making decisions about what to do post-graduation.
Despite what many of those living in cities would have you believe, satisfying and well-paying careers are possible in rural settings. Monster’s latest listings of top millennial jobs show careers as diverse as physician assistants, computer programmers, fundraisers and scientists – all careers that can be found anywhere, and some of which can be done remotely.
Weighing the lifelong toll of your surroundings
Now is the time to examine your surroundings, conduct an inventory of what fulfills you and reject preconceived notions about what you’re “supposed” to do. In many respects, college towns edge out big cities when measured by the factors that matter most to today’s graduates.
A new generation of students is rethinking old assumptions. Success does not equal “big city.” That is why cities such as Fairbanks, Alaska and Lawrence, Kansas have popped up on Forbes’ lists of best cities for jobs. It’s why there are now Inc. 500 companies in places such as Pendergrass, Georgia and Corydon, Indiana.
Seek out the experiential and blaze new frontiers. Quite simply, embrace the term “townie” as your ticket to make a difference in the place that has given so much to you already.