Close

Sign up to get the latest news and stories on the future of work.

Subscribe Search

Search form

We're long past the days when members of the "creative class" had to choose between New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to start their careers. The group of creative innovators and problem-solvers defined by social scientist Richard Florida in 2002—scientists and engineers, professors and teachers, poets and architects, nurses and doctors, artists and musicians—are spreading their wings and flocking to new frontiers. As the cost of living balloons on both coasts, young people are defining new creative class hubs across the country.

Austin is one unexpected city that has capitalized on shifting demographic and economic trends. Over the past decade, the city has risen to prominence as a liberal hub of culture and technology within the great red state of Texas.

What's behind Austin's ascent as a top destination for the creative class? David Colligan, Manager of Global Business Recruitment and Expansion at Austin's Economic Development Department, says it's the city's long-standing commitment to building up local natural amenities and helping unique cultural assets grow.

“Companies see this as a place that they can come to and attract their workforce," he shares.

Now that Austin is officially on the Millennial map—it's projected to be the second fastest-growing city in the U.S. this year—what other cities are young creatives gravitating towards?

Pittsburgh, PA

The defunct warehouses and mills of America's “Steel City" are attracting a new wave of white-collar occupants, as educated Millennials swarm to its burgeoning tech and arts scene. Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of 25 to 34-year olds with a four-year degree jumped by more than 10% to reach 44%. While Pittsburgh got its start as an industrial hub, the city's economy is now mostly powered by health care and technology, with high-profile tech companies like Google and Apple opening up offices in recent years.

In addition to a healthy start-up ecosystem fed by local graduates (Pittsburgh entrepreneurs attracted over $330 million of venture capital funding in 2014), the city is a welcome place for creative Millennials. Pittsburgh has always boasted great arts institutions, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of wealthy industrialists. Now, its cultural heritage is alive and well in edgy community art spaces and galleries and a vibrant electronic music scene, while up-and-coming neighborhoods like Bakery Square and East Village serve up hip bar and restaurant options.

Madison, WI

Thanks to a plethora of jobs, affordable real estate and a strong arts and culinary presence, Wisconsin's capital was recently named the #1 most livable city by Livability in the U.S. and landed on Vocativ's top 10 list of the most livable cities for people under 35. Low unemployment and high job growth—especially in biotech, health and education sectors—are fueling a downtown real estate boom. In 2014, more than$330 million worth of new development projects were planned, two-thirds of which were for apartments.

Ample green space, plenty of bike lanes and the area's lakes make its easy to get outdoors, despite Madison's frigid winters. The city also has a relatively high concentration of working artists. A recent USDA analysis of 2007-11 census data found that nearly 2% of Madison's population identified as an artist—comparable to Seattle and San Francisco.

Oklahoma City, OK

Deep in flyover country, Oklahoma City has been quietly attracting Millenials away from other, more cosmopolitan hubs for the past decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of 25-34 year olds with a degree living in OKC jumped 40% to make up nearly 5% of the adult population.

A below-average cost of living, affordable homes and reliable growth in oil and tech sector jobs encourages Millennials to make the move. Last year, Forbes named Oklahoma's capital the seventh bestcity for business and careers. While OKC's young population remains relatively small, the city is hoping to attract a hipper crowd for the long run. In 2010 OKC began a seven year, quarter billion dollar investment initiative to improve quality of life with investments in more sidewalks, a new streetcar and downtown improvement and arts projects.

All photos:  Shutterstock