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The Allure of Cities: Trends in Business Development and Growth in Urban Areas


Twenty-first-century living is increasingly becoming an urban experience. From Chicago to Shanghai, the majority of the world’s inhabitants are city-dwellers, trading open pastures for open offices. There’s no sign of society’s urbanization slowing down either — by 2050, the United Nations projects 68 percent of the world’s population will be living in a metropolis.

Therefore, it’s no surprise businesses are increasingly redoubling their commitments to cities, relocating, repurposing, and reinvesting to serve urban centers that will soon make up nearly three-fourths of the global population.

Here’s a look at some of the top trends that reflect how businesses are doubling-down on major cities.

Businesses Are Increasingly Following the Top Talent

In the last few years alone, major companies like McDonald’s and GE have picked up and moved their long-time suburban operations back to downtown landscapes. This reflects another urbanization reality — go where the talent is.

City dwellers also happen to make up the world’s largest talent pool. From leading universities to major competitors, the highly educated, highly motivated workforce is already living downtown, if not yet. These city dwellers are looking for jobs within the urban landscape they love — noting 71.5 percent of job applications started on the job site Glassdoor were within a candidate’s own metro area. Operating out of a major city doesn’t just offer access to these individuals as consumers. It’s a direct pipeline to future employees.

Cities are Adopting Ways to Attract Top Talent

Cities are increasingly focused on attracting and retaining top talent, to support the health of their local businesses and economies. They’re generally doing so in three ways — by making their city easy and pleasant to live in for all residents; by keeping the local economy as robust and globally connected as possible; and by providing opportunities for all residents to learn, grow, and innovate.

According to the Global Cities Talent Competitiveness Index, Zurich, Switzerland is the top city in attracting talent. One such way Zurich does this is through investment in training and education. The Swiss education system is complemented with apprenticeships across 230 vocations, providing students with both the academic and practical tools needed to gain employment.

Cities are also making life easier and more pleasant for its residents. Quality of safety measures, parental support, healthcare, green space, public transportation, and cultural options are all factors that contribute to each resident’s wellbeing and desire to stay put. In fact, the most important factor cited by workers in staying or leaving a city is their “overall satisfaction with life.” Santa Monica, California now budgets local projects based on their impact on wellbeing . Cities like Bristol, U.K.; Seattle, Washington; Vancouver, Canada; and Victoria, Australia have also followed suit .

Economic Growth is Coming to Cities Other than Traditional Megacities

As more businesses move to cities, cities are generating an increasing amount of the world’s economic wealth — currently making up more than 70 percent of the world’s GDP, in fact. Urban concentration has been linked to gains in productivity, reductions in poverty, and growth in the national economy, establishing cities as engines for a positive economic outlook.

China is now home to more than half of the world’s 40 megacities, or cities with 10 million or more residents. India is home to all 17 of the world’s 20 fastest growing cities. Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa is urbanizing at the fastest rate in the world. And Latin America is the world’s most urbanized region — today, more than 85 percent of people in Latin America live in cities ; in 1950, it was 30 percent.

For global businesses, this represents an opportunity to truly encompass the “global” nature with outposts around the world.

Businesses are Assuming Increased Social Responsibility Within their Communities

There is, of course, a downside to the world’s rapid urbanization — greenhouse gas emissions. More than 70 percent of harmful emissions that are contributing to the world’s climate crisis emerge from big cities, placing urban centers at the front lines of addressing climate change. As the climate crisis shows no signs of slowing down, cities must prepare for the reality that with great power comes great social responsibility.

Countries around the world are implementing regulations on businesses to help reverse this course. For example, all new buildings in Australia must be emissions-neutral by 2030 and all existing ones must achieve this by 2050 for the country to meet its climate change targets. This challenge presents a major opportunity for businesses, introducing the need for new infrastructure adaptations or upgrades for real estate investors.

Addressing these challenges connects businesses with an increased variety of partner organizations, with individuals who are leading a movement, and with the technology and resources to solve problems quickly and efficiently.

Cities Are Getting Smarter to Meet Businesses’ Needs

One of the main paths forward for urbanization is the emergence of the smart city, a highly-connected area linking citizens, businesses, and government services together through data and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) technology. Cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Chicago are adopting smart technology to improve infrastructure components like digital communications, energy usage, and transportation, painting a futuristic vision of cities serving as efficient, intelligent urban hubs.

This is a result, in large part, of the increased economic output that businesses help a city achieve. The resulting smart city, in turn, benefits the businesses. Their offices are set up to run more efficiently and sustainably, for example. And their employees are happier, thanks to living in a city with improved commuting times, multiple public transportation options, and a culture of innovation.

Go Urban or Go Home

Taken together, the emerging trends of highly concentrated talent, industry-specific economic regions, and high-tech smart cities paints a picture of an urban future made possible through business development. As the world population continues to migrate towards city living, companies are ready to join them with career opportunities, city services, and infrastructure to meet demand. There’s never been a better time to be an urban dweller — except for tomorrow.