The Echo Boom Heard Loud and Clear

A recent report by Crain’s Real Estate Report (2/28/08) features a story about Schneider Logistics, an Evanston, IL-based company moving to downtown Chicago for one reason — the need to recruit young college graduates. According to Vice-president and General Manager Charles Craigmile, “it’s much better from a recruiting standpoint. Evanston is beautiful, but it’s tough to recruit there when everybody lives in Lincoln Park and Lakeview.” For me this signals America’s most important demographic and perhaps real estate trend — the arrival of the Echo Boom generation in the workplace. Defined as people born between 1982 and 2000, they number 74 million people — almost as many as the 76 million Baby Boomers who were a watershed in our culture.

The oldest Echos are now finishing college and they clearly have different expectations. For one, they want to live and work downtown surrounded by entertainment and amenities and to be able to shuck the suburban commute. According to a March 2008 article in the Atlantic, “The Next Slum” by Christopher Leinberger, while only 5 to 10 percent of the housing stock in most MSAs is located in walkable urban places, more than 1/3 of people would prefer to live in mixed-use, walkable, urban area, according to research by Jonathan Levine of the University of Michigan and Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia.

Part of this is evolving tastes and part of this is the fact that households with children now only account for a third of American families, as compared to half during the years of the Baby Boom. By 2025, the U.S. will have an equal split between single-person households and families. Which means the migration to downtown areas is sure to continue — both for the Echo Boom and Corporate America hungry for knowledge workers.