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Feb. 3, 2014 12:15 pm

Baltimore Soul: can Maryland attract and retain Millennials?

A coalition of business groups has launched Baltimore Soul, an effort to highlight why this slice of Maryland is such a good place for young people and their creative spirits to develop. Watch the launch video, called "a movement" not a campaign.

One of the largest generations in American history is coming into adulthood, which means they’re making decisions about what to do for work and where to live. This Millennial set, born in the 1980s and 1990s and aged between 18 and 34 today, has gotten its share of national attention. With a slowly recovering economy and new urban energy, they’re seen as a chance to reinvigorate communities, much like the technology sector they’re so often linked to.

No surprise then that the Millennial conversation so often intersects with entrepreneurship and technology. If Baltimore wants to improve its future, then attracting and retaining them is a priority.

It’s with that setting that the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore has launched Baltimore Soul, an effort to highlight why this slice of Maryland is such a good place for young people and their creative spirits to develop.

“It’s not just a campaign. It’s a movement,” said Tom Sadowski, the raspy voiced and charming EAGB director. “We’re going to change the conversation about Baltimore.”

Sadowski soft launched the ‘movement’ back in December with a glossy video made by Fells Point firm StoryFarm featuring young Baltimore residents who have already made the bet:

  • Elizabeth Eadie, Wellmade Design founder
  • Jenny Freeman, Under Armour marketing and a country musician
  • Mike Brenner, Betamore cofounder
  • Ana Tantaros, Anneke Photography and Baltimore Bike Party cofounder
  • Tim Barnett, Zip Car and Baltimore Bike Party cofounder
  • Shervonne Cherry, Mindgrub Technologies
  • Phil Han, Dooby’s Coffee owner

The theme of the video and the effort is that because Baltimore has so much work to be done, it’s a chance for young people seeking to take a lead to have an impact.

“Millennials are choosing a place to live, not a place to work,” he said to an audience of 400 inside the downtown Hilton while unveiling the initiative.

“By 2020, half of the workforce is going to be Millennials. We need them,” he said in a followup phone call. “To keep them, we have to be more proud.”

So what actually does Baltimore Soul become? Whatever Baltimore makes it, said Sadowski. For now, in addition to the shiny video, it’s a website and colorful, retro-themed website and brand built by downtown design agency PlanIt. On the site, EAGB is collecting emails but there is no formal strategy for them yet. Instead, the initiative is just meant to build toward more programming and policy attention for the retention of young professionals.

Partly that shows the evolving, leaner economic development strategies of today, said Sadowski. “We can’t throw money at problems anymore,” he said.

Instead he hopes it can be a subtle brand influence on the agenda, backed by magnets and a call for a change in attitude: Baltimore’s challenges are opportunities for talented young people to take on. To do this, Sadowski hopes “everyone in Baltimore will get involved.”

“We have to be more collaborative to be more competitive,” he said.

It’s a play for the future to be sure. In that same speech during the annual EAGB year-end event, Sadowski highlighted the need to remain a cybersecurity leader, bolster the city’s network of accelerators and leverage the $1.3 billion in venture capital the region had in 2013. The Millennial push is just part of a diversified plan for the future.

Connecting various young people who span different work-life, from artists to startups to mid-sized tech firms to one of the region’s 25 publicly traded companies, is also a chance to better understand the diversity of the region.

“We need to talk about Baltimore from a place of pride, not apology,” he said.

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Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

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  • JessieNewburn

    What a brilliant and perfectly timed concept. I look forward to learning more about it and adding to it where and how I can. FYI, Millennials are not aged 18-34. They are born 1982-2004ish. That puts them at 10-32.

    • GabeTHEGeek

      The year range of Millennials depends on who you ask, what study you refer to also will give different results. Pew Research defines the years born between 1977 and 1992 – http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Generations-2010/Introduction/Defining-Generations.aspx

      • JessieNewburn

        Good point, Gabe, *and* I’d add that generations are created by life circumstances rather than an organization, individual or governmental decision about definitive dates. It’s one of the reasons why the end date of the prior and start date of the next gen usually aren’t known until the new generation is about six or seven years old.

        Pew makes all kinds of ridiculous claims about Millennials. They are well intended but poorly informed and unfortunately widely quoted.

        For fantastic info on generational theory and the four-part cycle of how each gen influences and is influenced by the three others. Best source? Strauss and Howe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss%E2%80%93Howe_generational_theory