AKRON, Ohio. (Nov. 15, 2010) – A three-year Gallup study of Akron and 25 other U.S. cities has found that people’s love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for local economic growth. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important to attaching Akron residents to the area than their perceptions of the economy or basic services. The 26 cities in the survey with the highest levels of resident love and passion for their community, or resident attachment, also had the highest rates of local GDP growth over time.
“This study is important because its findings about emotional attachment to place point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider; it is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time,” said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives.
“This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality,” said Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll, who conducted the survey with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Three community qualities – social offerings, openness and beauty – have consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment in Akron and in the other communities studied over the three years of the research. They beat out other possible drivers such as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety.
Akron residents feel that the city needs to improve its social offerings such as community events, entertainment venues, and arts and culture opportunities.
Job seeking college graduates are perceived to be the least welcome group, and immigrants were perceived to be significantly less welcome in Akron than in 2009.
"Akron is perceived to be most welcoming to families with children, but we need to create a more welcoming environment for young, talented residents who will drive our local economy and growth,” said Jennifer Thomas, Knight Foundation's program director for Akron. “There are great insights presented to us with this study for how we can improve Akron, and I look forward to working with local leaders to continue to grow and build our city into a world-class community.”
New residents in Akron, living there three years or less, are more attached than residents who have lived there longer. This indicates that residents chose to live in the Akron area and came there ready to love it. The challenge remains to maintain that attachment to the area over time.
The Knight Soul of the Community survey explores the connection between local economic growth and people’s emotional bond to a place. Three years of survey data clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth.
“Our theory is that when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money; they’re more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial,” Clifton said. “The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”
Within a smaller environment, such as a business, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees' emotional connection to their company leads to improved financial performance of the organization. Experts continue to explore whether the emotional connection to the place where one lives drives economic growth for these communities in a similar way. Gallup’s previous work in U.S. communities and abroad shows that in fact emotional connection does drive economic growth.
Despite declines in the economy since the study was begun in 2008, the researchers found some surprising constants:
- The things that create the greatest emotional connection between people and a community – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – have remained stable for three years and are consistent among the 26 cities studied. These three things reliably had the strongest connection of the 10 community qualities that attach residents to place, which also included: civic involvement, social capital, education, perception of the local economy, leadership, safety, emotional well-being and basic services.
- The link between local GDP and residents’ emotional bonds to a place has remained steady despite declines in the economy over the three years of the study. Communities with higher percentage of attached residents also show higher levels of economic growth.
- Job seeking college graduates are perceived to be one of the least welcome groups across the 26 communities.
- Perception of the local economy is not a leading reason residents create an emotional bond to a place.
The cities surveyed were chosen because the Knight brothers owned newspapers in those cities. They vary in population size, economic levels and how urban or rural they are. Gallup randomly surveyed 43,000 adults by phone from 2008 to 2010.
The following communities were included in the survey: Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Miami, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Jose, Calif.; St. Paul, Minn.; State College, Pa.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.
For information or to share comments about the Akron community results, contact Jennifer Thomas, program director Akron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For complete survey findings, visit www.soulofthecommunity.org.
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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup's reputation for delivering relevant, timely and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world's leading scientists in management, economics, psychology and sociology, and our consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup's 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the web, at Gallup University's campuses and in 40 offices around the world.
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Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.