Companies want walkable downtowns, so Governor Andrew Cuomo is making revitalization a key part of his economic development plan

ithacaDowntown Ithaca, NY, is one potential model for walkable development upstate. Photo by Photo by Shannon Williamson, Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

In his State of the State address last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined ambitious plans to spur economic growth in upstate New York, and called for a push to revitalize the region’s struggling downtowns. One of his reasons for focusing on downtown revitalization specifically? Companies across the country want to be located in walkable neighborhoods—as Smart Growth America outlined last year in our report Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown.

core-values-quoteWhy revitalize downtowns? In part, because that’s where many companies want to be.

The governor’s State of the State policy book—a supplement to the address—lays out more specifics of Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which will invest $100 million to transform 10 struggling downtown communities into “vibrant neighborhoods where tomorrow’s workforce will want to live, work, and raise a family.” A Regional Economic Development Council will work with communities losing population or in economic decline to create a strategic downtown revitalization plan designed to “grow small businesses and employment, expand housing, improve transportation, and partner with large institutions such as universities and hospitals.”

The policy book cites our Core Values research to help make the case for these proposals. Core Values highlighted hundreds of companies across the country that are moving to and investing in walkable downtown locations. According to the companies themselves, walkable downtowns offer competitive advantages that suburban locations can’t. Most notably, that many of the country’s most talented workers want to live and work in walkable neighborhoods, and companies need to be in these places in order to win the war for that talent.

This trend has not stopped since Core Values came out in June of last year. Just last week, General Electric announced its plans to relocate its global headquarters from the suburbs of Fairfield, CT to downtown Boston, MA. It’s reasoning? “Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce.” As the Wall Street Journal explained in its coverage of the GE move, “Suburban office parks are falling out of favor as companies recognize their locations affect their ability to compete for skilled workers.”

And it’s not just big cities like Boston that are attracting these companies. Our interactive map of Core Values data shows where these companies have moved, and the list includes plenty of small places like Davenport, IA and Conway, AR, as well as several communities in upstate New York, including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Ithaca.

Governor Cuomo is one of many state and local elected leaders who are making downtown revitalization a key part of their economic development strategy. If your community is interested in taking advantage of this growing trend, be sure to check out our (Re)Building Downtown guidebook and workshops. We look forward to seeing this exciting work take off in upstate New York in 2016.

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