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Millennials May Love Richmond, But Can the City Deliver Jobs?

Courtesy of Melissa Davis

It’s no secret that cities across America are competing for young people.

And while large cities with sizzling tech markets may come to mind as the winners in that competition, economists say not to overlook smaller hip places, where the cost of living is a relative bargain.

Richmond would love to be one of those places, but it’s not quite there yet. The limiting factor might just be jobs. 

Melissa Davis loves a good cocktail. Sitting at the Rogue Gentleman, a bar in Richmond's Jackson Ward neighborhood, she holds a “Mamacita’s Corridor” -- smoky tea mixed with Reposado tequila.

“Little chili flavor, so delicious!” says Davis, sipping at her drink.

It was actually the city’s great cocktail bars that first brought her and husband Dwayne Taylor to Richmond from Washington D.C. But it was family, community, and affordable living that convinced them to stay.

“We’re able to save a lot of money, here, we’re able to own a house here, we’re able to be within 10 to 30 minutes of our family here,” says Davis.

Davis and Taylor are part of a wave of young professionals that now call Richmond home, the city’s percentage of educated young people is well above the national average. But for them, and others, there’s still a missing element.

“Unfortunately I still work in Washington D.C. So I commute every other day back to Washington D.C.,” says Taylor, Davis’ husband. “I don’t get a lot of sleep.”

Taylor works for a large cable company, and he hasn’t found the kind of job and pay he’s used to here in Richmond.

“That’s one of the challenging things about moving to Richmond,” Davis says. “Where do you work? What do you do? The pay cut that you take.”

Read the first report in our series on Millennials in Richmond here

Economists say that could be a problem for Richmond. Mark Schill, does economic research for a group called Praxis. He recently ranked American cities by potential for growth, using traditional data like unemployment and wages.

Schill also looked at indicators of future success: how many new people are moving in, are they starting families?

“Richmond tended to be middle of the pack on most everything,” says Schill. 

Credit Bill Dickinson/Flickr
Employment and wage growth in Richmond doesn't match population growth.

The picture of Richmond looks like this: the city’s population of young educated people is growing faster than average, but jobs and salaries aren’t.

“That’s a little bit of a conundrum. Right?” Schill says. “Is if it’s lagging in earnings and job growth, but people are still moving there -- that’s a real interesting question to look at for Richmond.”

Rachel Burgess has taken a look at part of that question. She works at the Southeastern Institute of Research, and she did research on what young professionals think of Richmond.

“There is a perception that there’s not necessarily a variety of employment options,” says Burgess. The problem more specifically, says Burgess, might be that millennials don’t think the city has the kinds of jobs they want.

“We know that millennials are really interested in creative, innovative, kind of start-up entrepreneurship type jobs,” Burgess says. “And Richmond has a lot of that, and has a really great entrepreneurial spirit. So I think it’s, how do we bring that to life?”

One way is to re-phrase job listings. For instance, financial-giant Capital One has more than 100 job openings in Richmond right now. If the open position is for a software engineer the company could use the words “create” and “collaborate” in the job description.

Another way, says Mark Schill, is to encourage all those smart young people to create their own jobs.

“That might be an asset to leverage. And so the question becomes, can we work with those folks and give them the connections and tools and the know how and the talent they need to maybe start a few small companies within Richmond,” says Schill.

Which is what has happened for Melissa Davis, the cocktail lover. In January, Davis was working remotely and her husband was commuting. Today, he still does the drive, but she’s gotten more creative.

“I actually started a company called Liquor Lady LLC -- it’s a boutique agency, marketing and strategy consulting for food and beverage brands,” says Davis.

It might be awhile before Davis can hire anyone, but when the time comes she hopes to give someone else the chance to live and work in the city.

Tell us what you think: What kinds of jobs would you like to see in your city? 

You can share your comments below or tweet at @WVTFRADIOIQ

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