For the second consecutive year, a study has ranked Columbia as one of the top cities in the nation to which millennials are moving.
Financial technology firm SmartAsset has released its 2019 study on the states and cities that are favored by millennials. The company examined emigration and immigration census data for people between the ages of 20 and 34 in 173 cities across the nation.
The study found that, in 2017, Columbia had a net migration of 6,554 millennials, good for fourth best in the country. Dallas was first on the list, followed by tech-rich Northwestern cities Portland and Seattle.
Cities that followed Columbia in the top 10 were Norfolk, Virginia; Charlotte; Colorado Springs; San Diego; Clarksville, Tennessee; and Henderson, Nevada.
The study notes that Columbia's influx of millennials represents about five percent of the city's population of 133,000. That was the largest percentage in that metric of any of the 173 cities that were considered.
A year ago, Columbia was second on the SmartAsset millennials list. That study analyzed data from 2016.
"These are exciting times in Columbia, and the Midlands, for that matter," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tells Free Times. "Our city is at the heart of a dynamic region that literally allows you to be in an exciting, urban downtown, and within 10 minutes you can be in some fantastic, authentically Southern neighborhoods, and in 20 more minutes you can be doing some world class bass fishing on Lake Murray or hunting in Lower Richland.
"It's a special place. Our focus has been, very intently, on improving quality of life and creating a meaningful, walkable, bikeable, street-level experience. We've invested in arts, in public safety, in infrastructure."
Columbia has been a draw for young adults in recent years. As noted in an expansive Oct. 2018 Free Times cover story, Richland County’s director of economic development Jeff Ruble points out that the current median age in the county is 32.9, compared to a national median age of 37.7. Out of 3,142 counties in the United States, Richland ranks as 203rd youngest, putting it in the 94th percentile when it comes to youth.
While it dipped a bit last year, Columbia has also typically placed high in the "livability" category in economic development firm EngenuitySC's annual competitiveness report, which compares Columbia to nine other similarly sized metro areas across the Southeast. A comparatively low cost of living and high employment in the arts, entertainment, and recreation have been calling cards that have perhaps made the the Capital City attractive to millennials.
Interestingly, Columbia's gains in millennial residents have come at the same time that the overall population of the city has been flat. In fact, according to census population estimates, Columbia lost about 400 residents from 2016 to 2017. The Capital City's population is estimated at 133,114. (Richland County gained about 2,500 residents during the same time period, rising to 411,952.)
"For one thing, we don't as aggressively annex [unincorporated parts of the county] as other folks do, places like Charleston and the like," Benjamin says. "We've also very intentionally worked to ameliorate some of our most challenged neighborhoods and successfully relocate people throughout the region. So, folks who left Gonzales Gardens are in Richland County and Lexington County or in other parts of the city, but living in quality housing, not buildings that should have been torn down 40 years ago."
The mayor was referring to the closure and 2017 demolition of the nearly 80-year-old Gonzales Gardens housing projects, which led to the relocation of 600 residents.
Benjamin notes that, when the census is formally taken in 2020, he "believes firmly" that Columbia will show gains in overall population that "will be more reflective of the vibrancy" of the city.
The third-term mayor says he is pleased to see the city continue to be popular with millennials.
"Millennials, wherever you go, whoever you talk to, are highly coveted," he says. "If you are talking about having a pipeline of talent to meet your long-term business needs or cultural needs or entrepreneurial eco-system, everyone wants millennials."