From boomerangs to transplants to lifers, millennials want to be in Cleveland

From boomerangs to transplants to lifers, millennials want to be in Cleveland By: Kathie Zipp, Engage! Cleveland leadership council

In the last five years, Cleveland has transitioned from being jeered as a mistake on the lake to being named on National Geographic Traveler’s 2018 “Best of the World” list. Cleveland has become known as a destination for competitive sports teams, innovative restaurants and business, a growing job market and an overall vibrant place to work, live and play.

Residential, retail and public transportation development have made Cleveland a vibrant place to live and work. According to a 2016 report by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Cleveland’s downtown residential population is growing rapidly. In the last five years, the number of people living downtown has increased by 77%. Many of those people are young professionals. The number of 20 to 24 year olds living downtown increased by 79%, and 25 to 34 year olds by 80%.

One major factor contributing to this growth is job opportunity. The report noted that Cleveland is home to 95,000 jobs, having added 7,000 in 2016 alone. Young professionals are attracted to this job market; Cleveland ranks fifth nationally for its percentage of 25 to 44 year olds in its labor force.

While many people in their 20s and 30s once flocked away from the rust belt city for trendier towns, many millennials are now staying, returning or even moving to Cleveland from elsewhere.

After graduating from John Carroll, Elizabeth Day moved to Chicago on a whim. There she fell in love with the city and fostered a successful career. But after reuniting with an old friend from college, dating and enduring a three-and-a-half-year long distance relationship, she moved back to Cleveland. While her move was ultimately a financial choice, Day does not regret it.

“I loved my time in Chicago, but I was happy to move back,” she said. “My family is from the Akron area, so I was excited to be closer to them. My closest college girlfriends were in Cleveland. And, obviously, I was excited about being closer to my boyfriend, now husband. I also deeply believe that Cleveland has all the same things Chicago has, just on a smaller, more manageable scale–arts, culture, professional sports, a food scene, a lake, public transportation, etc.”

Any Clevelander knows the city has an intense sports rivalry with Pittsburgh, but transplant Chad Kunkle found that the two cities aren’t all that different from each other. Kunkle moved from Pittsburgh to attend Bowling Green State University on a scholarship, graduated and planned to stay for a few months for an internship.

“15 years later, I am still living in Cleveland so I figure that I must like it here,” he said. “I have always felt that Cleveland is kind of a Rocky story.  It has been at the bottom and has had to work hard to earn its way to the top.  There is a comradery unlike any other to back the city no matter the circumstances, and that is exciting to be a part of.”

Kunkle works as an administrator for the Cleveland Clinic. “As far as healthcare is concerned, it does not get any better than working for an organization that is at the forefront of innovation in the industry,” he said.

New York is known as the place for future Carrie Bradshaws, but Cleveland’s present, yet less competitive, media industry is what attracted Lisa Rosen. She works in technology for a trade publisher, an industry often overlooked but actually prevalent in Northeastern Ohio.

“At first I knew very little about Cleveland. My first priority was to make sure the weather was no worse than in New York,” she said. “I liked the city immediately and couldn’t believe the low cost of living. I definitely like to live in cities. I don't drive so I rely on public transportation. I think it is important to support public services and the arts. I love movies and the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinematheque was a big motivating factor for me when I was looking at moving here.”

Over the next few months, Engage! Cleveland is taking a closer look at these and other individuals to put a face to the city’s growing young professional population, and discover what it is that makes Cleveland so attractive to millennials today.