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With or Without HQ2: Making Your Community More Livable Could Be Growth’s Secret Sauce

Posted on 03/02/18

With Or Without HQ2: Making Your Community More Livable Could Be Growth’s Secret Sauce

By Bill Johnston-Walsh

It was headline news recently all across North America: Amazon has narrowed its list of sites for HQ2, its second headquarters, to 20 finalist cities which includes Philadelphia.

There’s a lot at stake: The winning HQ2 community could see 53,000 new jobs, $25.7 billion in payroll to Amazon employees and scores of other new companies locating nearby to do business with the online retail giant.

Only one city can win HQ2. But there’s a lesson here for all communities: To boost growth and prosperity, one key is to make your community more livable.

Here’s how Amazon framed its Request for Proposals for communities bidding to win HQ2: “We want to invest in a community where our employees will enjoy living, recreational opportunities, educational opportunities, and an overall high quality of life.”

At AARP Pennsylvania, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why AARP is working with several Pennsylvania communities that have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. By improving eight areas of livability, from housing, health services and transportation to social participation and inclusion, these communities are positioning themselves for greater prosperity as well as a higher quality of life.

Why is an age-friendly community a better prospect for economic growth? Because a community that works well for someone age 80 probably also is highly livable for someone age 8, or 18, or any age.

Take housing, for example. It’s a huge investment for workers these days in many communities. Rising housing prices are making affordable housing harder and harder to find for millions of Pennsylvanians. And when we acquire a home, it’s often a long-term investment.

It makes sense, then, for that home to be designed and located in such a way that it works for us over many years. If our physical abilities change, we need a home that remains accessible.

Transportation is also vital – or perhaps a better term is “mobility.” Increasingly, people want to be able to get to work, to shop, to go to the doctor’s or to entertainment without using a vehicle.  A city that offers flexible, cost-effective mobility choices can attract more relocating residents or businesses.

One surprising aspect of livability turns out to be social participation. New studies are showing that social isolation is as dangerous to our health as smoking.  A community that is good at connecting us to each other is not only better for our physical health, it’s usually healthier economically, politically and culturally.

AARP offers communities that join the network hands-on advice and a structured process that draws on expert insights and local input. Network members can get valuable advice from other network communities that have already faced common challenges or have seized similar opportunities.

Let me note one other factor that community leaders should consider: A skilled workforce is critically important, whether you’re seeking new businesses or growing those that already call your community home.  And skilled, experienced talent is getting harder to find.

By definition, workers age 50-plus have plenty of experience. Entrepreneurs who value new approaches tell us they seek a mix of younger and older workers to keep their competitive edge sharp.  Older workers often can bring valuable life experience to bear, and many have been through enough business cycles to know and value the importance of staying current in their skills and flexible in their outlook.

Keep workers of all ages in mind as companies and communities grow together. You’ll find it’s a wise investment.

Bill Johnston-Walsh is AARP Pennsylvania’s State Director.

The post With or Without HQ2: Making Your Community More Livable Could Be Growth’s Secret Sauce appeared first on AARP States.

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