Q&A/Louisville to former residents: Come on home
In April, the Louisville, Ky., Chamber of Commerce, named Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), invited 4,000 former residents to a two-hour reunion in Atlanta, where they currently live. About 425 people attended the event, which was a festive, casual alternative to a traditional job fair. Attendees were treated to free cocktails, and a drawing was held that featured prizes donated by companies and organizations in Louisville. Eileen Pickett, vice president of workforce services for GLI, developed the idea and plans to throw similar events in other cities where former Louisville residents have moved.
Q: What did you want to accomplish by throwing a party for former Louisville residents in Atlanta?
A: We had three goals for the trip. The first was to generate buzz. We wanted to generate some media attention about Louisville and what’s going on in Louisville, and we wanted every person in that room to walk out of there saying, “Wow! That was great! Louisville has got a lot going on.”
The second goal was to identify those people who are interested right now in moving back home and to help them make connections to jobs. We’ve got 50 or so folks who have sent resumes in and have asked for information on how to get back home.
Then, our third goal was to try to identify 15 people who could be our ambassadors in Atlanta. Those would be folks who have Kentucky ties, have been in Atlanta a long time, probably aren’t going to move out of Atlanta, but still love Kentucky and still have an interest in seeing success in their hometown. They would be our eyes and ears for economic development opportunities and for workforce opportunities.
We feel pretty good about it, and the thing that was very gratifying was how many people do want to come back home. This is not a reflection on Atlanta at all, but a positive reflection on people from Kentucky — and probably from anywhere — that home is just home. We know that the low-hanging fruit are the people who have lived here before and know that this is a good place to live. So, they’re our first target.
Q: Why did some of the people leave Louisville?
A: Well, depending on when they left, I think the perception, and the reality, was that there weren’t as many opportunities in Louisville as there were in other places. I think that’s true to a certain extent, because we’re a smaller city than Atlanta or New York, but our economy has changed, and our mix of business and industry has changed. What we’re trying to tell people is, “Take another look because we do have opportunities now.”
And of course, other people leave for a lot of reasons. After you get out of college, you just want to go somewhere that isn’t home. Then, we find that when people get to a certain point in their lives, whether they’re thinking about buying a house, raising a family, or whatever, and we start to look better than some of the other cities with a higher cost of living and traffic.
Q: Do you have a specific goal of the number of people you would like to see move back to the city?
A: We have data on the number of jobs that are open. For example, research has shown that we’ve got 3,000 information technology jobs open. Now, that’s not to say that we need 3,000 people with those skills to move to Louisville, because some of those jobs will be filled by existing residents. It’s difficult to come up with a specific growth number, but we do know we’ve got opportunities for people, so we want to continue to match people with those opportunities.
Q: How will the slowing economy affect your efforts to get people to move back to the city?
A: If the economy slows much more, we may not have as many opportunities to provide for these folks. We view [attracting former residents] as an immediate need, but, if the economy does change and we don’t need as many folks immediately, we’ll still have laid the groundwork, and we will be ready when things turn around.