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Talent Competition Tough For Midsized Cities

Normal City Hall
The mayor of Normal tells GLT it is possible for midsized cities to use their own strengths to keep people in town.

The mayor of Normal acknowledges the development of new State Farm hubs across the south and west has changed the distribution of talent in the community.

It used to be that insurance company workers often became involved in community activities because they knew they were likely to come back to Bloomington-Normal later in their careers. But if hub positions are the main goal now, there may be less incentive to be involved in boards and commissions and volunteer organizations in the Twin Cities.

Mayor Chris Koos said not all that transfer activity has disappeared.

"That still happens. Now, it doesn't happen as much as it did 15 years ago. But it does happen," said Koos.

Koos said a larger issue is keeping talent developed at local universities in town after graduation. The word agglomeration describes the tendency of businesses to cluster together by type, such as Silicon Valley, the financial district of New York City, or what State Farm is doing with its southern and western city hubs.

Koos said midsized cities have trouble competing for talent.

"I think they can respond to it. I don't think they can fight it and reverse the trend. I don't see that happening in the near future. But I think there is certainly a place for smaller communities, and you are starting to see it as a backlash," said Koos.

Koos said Normal and Bloomington can compete in quality of life and cost of living issues. He says the key to midsized cities remaining vibrant will be retaining home-grown talent, rather than attracting a new population.

Hear the rest of Mayor Koos's interview with Charlie Schlenker.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.