Keeping the Young and Restless in Columbus, OH

Our Responsibilities:

  • Dialogue (in person and on the web) with 4,000 young professionals
  • Handprint
  • Attraction and Retention Plan

Columbus, Ohio is the 15th largest city (pop. 1,640,000) with the fifth highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S.. Every year, 115,000 students enroll at 25 Columbus area colleges and universities, and 20,000 of them graduate.

So why are there 5,000 job openings in Columbus?

“Columbus seems like a cow town to people from New York City,” laments a Human Resource professional from Limited Brands. Her concern – how to attract talent from outside Ohio – is coupled with the challenge of keeping Columbus’ college graduates in the area after they graduate.

“We must redefine economic development as a question not only of attracting jobs, but of attracting people as well, especially our young, our talented, our future…Our young are restless, restless for change, restless for opportunities, they go where energy abounds and where progress is evident and I want them to stay right here. I have asked the Columbus Chamber of Commerce to help us reach this goal.”Mayor Michael Coleman

The Solution: Invite the Next Gen to Define What They Value

Mayor Coleman’s office and the Columbus Chamber turned to Next Generation Consulting (NGC) to help them retain and attract young professionals to Columbus. Within four months:

  • NGC ranked Columbus in 7 community indexes that the next generation values. (see Figure 1, “Handprint,” right.)
  • The NGC team conducted focus groups with 45 young professionals in Columbus, capturing powerful video testimonial from the region’s most visible young leaders.
  • One hundred local young professionals forwarded a webbased survey to their peers, bringing in over 4,000 responses. (Behold the power of forwarded email!)
  • A local team of YP’s conducted 54 one-on-one interviews with their peers, to learn about their wishes for Columbus.

With data in hand, Rebecca Ryan of NGC presented the findings and recommendations focused on three C’s: Connect college students and young professionals to the community; Invest in City attributes and amenities that YPs value, and Convince those who’ve left that they should return.

The Results: Better Retention, Measurable Improvement

Since the release of the NGC report, the City, the Chamber and young professionals have taken action! As a result 1 :

  • The Columbus region gained 2,700 young professionals (20-39 year olds) between 2006 and 2008.
  • An additional bus route (#21 Night Owl) connects University students to downtown Columbus on Friday and Saturday nights, In a two month period (January and February 2010), this has resulted in over 5,500 new bus riders, patronizing downtown businesses.
  • was designed to help relocators to Columbus find the neighborhood or community best suited to their personal and professional needs. The site has attracted over 13,000 visitors who spend an average of nearly three minutes on the site, 439% more time than an average web page viewer.
  • Through, 567 employers have filled 236 internships, for an economic impact of $1,361,080.

“The process NGC used in Columbus created so much buyin. ‘YP’ became a phrase that everyone cared about, regardless of their age. In the end, NGC was able to turn over 4,000 opinions into a concise strategy – the three C’s. The recommendations gave our ‘Attract and Retain Talent’ initiative a clear focus, and our results speak for themselves.”Susan Merryman, Vice President, Columbus Chamber (See Figure 4)

1This case study was originally written at the conclusion of NGC’s engagement with the Columbus Chamber in 2007. It is regularly updated to reflect current outcomes and results. To learn more about how NGC can help your city engage, retain and attract young professionals, please contact Molly Foley at 888-922-9596 ext. 707 or

Figure 1: Mayor Michael Coleman

Mayor Micheal B. Coleman

Figure 2: Handprint


Figure 3:


Figure 4: Susan Merryman

a photo of susan merryman, former vice president at the Columbus Chamber and current Vice President and Chief of Staff at Capital Univiersity