February 21, 2012

Hopslam: The Key To Downtown Revitalization

Bell’s bold and fresh Hopslam finally hit  shelves in Milwaukee, providing a needed shot in the arm during the long Milwaukee winter months. Hopslam’s arrival came on the heels of Kohl’s recent announcement that it was no longer considering downtown Milwaukee as a potential location for its new headquarters.  The contrast couldn’t be starker.

By most accounts, the city made a strong offer in the form of incentives to persuade Kohl’s to build a new facility in the vacant Park East Corridor.  Kohl’s has yet to comment on the exact reason for its decision, but it has hinted at the inconvenience such a move would cause to current employees living in the suburban Menomonee Falls area.  As someone who lives in the city, I recognize that I am biased.  Certainly, the decision is a good one for Menomonee Falls and its current employees.  However, I have to believe that Kohl’s attempt to appease its employees in the short term may have been at the expense of its long term competitive advantage.

The proof is in the beer.  As craft beer continues to explode, it is the millennial generation that drives its growth.  Therefore, companies such as Kohl’s could benefit from studying the future workforce’s appreciation for craft beer.  Indeed, the craft beer cultural phenomenon teaches two pertinent things about millennials.  First, young people are increasingly moving into cities for the same reason they are drawn to craft beer: exploration, diversity, energy, character, and innovation.  Second, the buy local mentality embedded in craft beer culture manifests itself in how younger people view work. Millennials don’t simply want to consume a product.  Rather, we recognize that we have a choice in what we consume and we want our consumption to somehow positively impact the broader community.  The same is true for work. Young people want to have a sense that their work somehow means more than collecting a pay check.

Kohl’s could have tapped into this desire for meaningful work by relocating downtown.  Younger employees experience a disconnect when most of their waking hours are spent distanced from the place they have chosen to live.  A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times puts it a little more strongly:

These workplaces embody a new form of segregation, where civic space connecting work to the shops,  housing, recreation and transportation that cities used to provide is entirely absent. Corporations have cut  themselves off from participation in a larger public realm.

Businesses are beginning to recognize the benefit of relocating downtown.   For example, Kohl’s decision stands in stark contrast with that of Blue Cross Blue Shield, who has relocated many jobs to downtown Detroit while at the same time offering incenties for employees to move downtown.  Blue Cross leadership gets it:

I`ve got two 20-somethings. They are not overly interested in living out in the country. They want to go where the action is.  And I think if we can make that interesting and happening, you are going to attract people who will be interested in coming.  Businesses are going to be interested in relocating, and that`s going to make for a better economy.

Admittedly, Blue Cross is a nonprofit. However, I’m convinced that Kohl’s could have improved its bottom line over the long run by relocating to the city and positioning itself to attract the future top talent.  Imagine the recruiting pitch possibilities: We want to be a catalyst. We take our responsibility as good corporate citizens seriously.  That is why, with all due respect to Menomonee Falls, we believe we can have the most impact by moving to downtown Milwaukee. As a company, we are committed to being a vital part of remaking the downtown of the largest city in the state that has been so good to our company over the yeas.   Come work for us.  Experience symmetry and connectedness between your work and living spaces.  Come help develop great products while at the same time contributing to the revitalization of an area you care about an are already invested in.  The simple act of showing up at work increases density and brings life back to an area that currently lacks any sense of place.  Your work makes a difference.

I have to believe that young professionals would eat that up. That is why if attracting top young talent is critical to Kohl’s long term future, its decision to remain in Menomonee Falls will likely backfire.  Kohl’s had an opportunity to make a bold statement while at the same time enhancing its talent pool and positioning itself for the future.  Those opportunities don’t come around very often.

Which brings me back to Hopslam.  Both city and company leadership could benefit from conducting their future  strategic planning sessions over a pint of Hopslam.  Cities need to more boldly pitch downtown relocation as an opportunity for companies to partner in a broader mission. Companies need fresh perspectives to see how cultural trends intersect with the bottom line and how they might reinvent themselves accordingly.  Be bold.  Encourage fresh and innovative ideas. Lead. It will pay off for everyone.

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