Preventing talented graduates of MTSU from packing up and moving to other cities to work and live seems like an odd topic for a  planning study on the city’s park and recreation needs. But there it is.

The Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative, which is helping the city plan for the next 20 years of rapid growth, is blunt about the problem.

The one thing great cities and cool places to live have in common is great people and creative ideas, the consultant writes.

We aren’t attracting enough white collar jobs

Kendig Keast adds, however, that although Murfreesboro hosts the state’s largest undergrad university( MTSU) and has the highest college enrollment in Tennessee, many of those students either aren’t finishing college or are leaving after graduation. The city gets only an average grade (when compared with similar communities) on the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The issue is how to attract and retain as many creative people as possible, for they are a resource that draws high quality companies like a magnet. That isn’t happening now. Councilman Eddie Smotherman has remarked that the city is not attracting enough white collar jobs.

Cultural events and recreational activities are one factor

” A key economic development strategy is to retain as many MTSU graduates as possible, since they are the largest source of potential employees in Middle Tennessee,” the consultant writes. “In addition to creative people, creative businesses are increasingly attracted to communities that offer diverse cultural and recreational opportunities, because people that work for them want these assets.”

Innovation districts have a track record for luring creative people

It is the reason we have been arguing in these pages for the city to start an innovation district, either along the Joe B. Jackson corridor or in the low-intensity area near the civic plaza.

Innovation districts are the latest model for successful urban economic development. The old idea of creative people working in isolated labs and guarding their discoveries like military secrets has gone out the window.

Good Ideas from a chance meeting by a NordicTrack

Now the nation’s leading edge companies are locating in places where creative people from different companies can interact and exchange ideas — perhaps during a workout at a health club or over coffee in a cafe near their workplaces. Many companies are convinced that the next breakthrough product is as likely to come from interaction among talented people at informal settings as anywhere else.

Innovation districts feature leading-edge, established companies and startups plus incubators and accelerators that help new businesses get started and reach critical mass. These are mixed-use districts that feature not only workplaces but housing and entertainment as well.

What are young urban professionals looking for?

The planning study focuses on young, mostly single professionals who are an asset every city is trying attract. But what do they want? Kendig Keast cites the work of Richard Florida, an economist and social scientist at the University of Toronto. Florida has focused on what he calls “the creative class” and the things that attract them to one place over another. Here is what he found:

— A life that is rich in stimulating experiences. New York City is on example that comes to mind.

— Active recreation, such as sports leagues they can participate in.

— Plenty of facilities for individual outdoor recreation, such as bicycling, jogging, kayaking and snowboarding.

— Historical buildings, established neighborhoods (possibly with tree-lined streets) and a population that is diverse socially and ethnically.

— Street level cafes, galleries and sidewalk musicians.

(I find it hard to imagine this council promoting sidewalk musicians.)

Kendig Keast suggests that the city can also attract these young urban professionals if it does more to market and upgrade its historical sites, like the Stones River Battlefield and Cannonsburgh Village. It also applauds the city’s use of events like the spring Jazz Fests in the courthouse square and The Uncle Dave Macon bluegrass event at Cannonsburgh Village each July.

But the quality of life starts with a quality job

But none of this will mean anything if the jobs creative people are looking for aren’t here. And they probably won’t ever be here if the city council passively approves whatever local developers decide to build. Developers are great at what they do, but they make poor city planners, That’s because they focus on the project before them and not on the big picture. The city’s motto for Joe B. Jackson remains the 1980s theme of “Raw materials in, finished goods out.”

Since those jobs are fleeing toverseas, it might be wise to give innovation a shot. After all, it’s the one thing his country is highly competitive at. How about a new motto: “Creative minds mingle here and cutting-edge products emerge.”

We’ve been running a series on innovative districts in other cities. So far we have looked at two types: (1) an innovation district that is being used to revitalize Chattanooga’s inner city and (2) a 1960s suburban research park (North Carolina’s Research Triangle) that is trying to reinvent itself as an innovation district.

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Tomorrow we will be looking at the third type — an innovation district that was spawned by a great research university. We urge the city to get in the game if it wants to retain its share of creative, young urban professionals.