Metro, Business, Column

How To Make Boston More Appealing To New College Graduates

“Boston has the potential to be something even better than Silicon Valley. We have the brains and infrastructure here—we just have to take advantage of it.”

Jamie Manning is exactly the type of person Boston wants to keep in the city.

Manning is the 32-year-old CEO and co-founder of SnagaStool, a Boston-based startup that acts as an OpenTable for barstools. He moved to Boston in his 20s to attended Suffolk University for graduate school, and has been navigating the city’s startup culture ever since.

As Boston zeroes-in on attracting young professionals and entrepreneurs to the city, Manning is a prime example of someone the city wants to make happy—perhaps so much that he never wants to leave.

This year, Boston welcomed nearly 400,000 students from around the world, according to the US Census. About 37 percent of Boston’s young adult population is enrolled in school. With a large population of young people, Boston is immediately associated with student culture. In any major city, vibrant startup and tech communities also draw in young professionals and entrepreneurs from around the world.

But with an increasing number of BC students flocking to areas like New York City and San Francisco for attractive internships and full-time jobs, leaving Boston behind is becoming more common today than ever.

So why has the city traditionally struggled to retain these students after graduation? What can be done to make one of America’s historically old cities young? And how can the city improve the lives of younger generations?

“One of the first things I noticed about the city was the entrepreneurial vibe,” Manning said. “You could really feel it—it was pulsing when you talked to people. These days, kids aren’t graduating and hoping to work 30 years in a big corporation. Everyone wants to work for a startup or a company they feel they have some ability to work for a cause or push forward. Now, the city needs to have a collaborative discussion on how to keep these kids happy, and how to keep them in Boston.”

Over the past few years, the city has taken some small steps to keep Boston open later. In March, former Governor Deval Patrick launched the MBTA late-night service program—a one-year pilot program that extended MBTA hours by 90 minutes. The problem with the late-night program is that it will likely be eliminated in the near future. There is simply not enough revenue to keep the program going, due to a lack of corporate sponsorship. After getting shut down by Legislature last year, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, recently pushed for extending hours for restaurants and bars until 2 a.m.

Despite the city’s efforts to keep Boston open later, there are several key distinctions that separate the city from the likes of young professional powerhouses New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Austin.

Happy hour—historically, Boston has had a more conservative bar scene. Most notably, Boston doesn’t have a happy hour. This is a major point of distinction between Boston and other cities that have a successful nightlife. Even without extending bar hours, the city could implement a happy hour in order to cater to the individuals—regardless if they are 21 or 40—who want to get a drink after work. New York City hosts a number of networking events at bars for startups. The more events that are held, the more young professionals that go out and network at bars in the city. There are so many opportunities for startups and young businesses in Boston, so a happy hour for startups would be a great first step in confronting the problem.

High rents—living in Boston is becoming cost-prohibitive. Soaring rents over the past 10 years are deterring students from living in a city that is known to be heinously expensive. The average graduate from BC undertakes a debt of just over $20,000, according to Even a generous starting salary cannot cover a new graduate’s rent and student loans, leaving one with virtually no disposable income. This is escalating to the point where students cannot afford to live on their own after graduating from college—especially in a city where the cost of living is notoriously high.

“If I were graduating with a huge debt—with the rents the way they are here in Boston and the cost of living so high—I would seriously considering moving somewhere else,” Manning said.

Change cannot happen overnight. But in order to accomplish some of these goals, there needs to be a conversation. Young college graduates, bar owners, and city politicians should join forces to come up with mutual interests that coincide with improving the lives of the younger generations in Boston—and most importantly, keeping them here. Mayor Walsh has done a solid job since taking office by getting past some of the historically conservative ideas under Menino, but we, as students, can do so much more.

Let’s start the conversation.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

January 29, 2015