HAVERHILL — As young people graduate from college and move out on their own, many opt to settle in exciting — and expensive — metropolitan cities.
But what if growing, mid-size cities on the outskirts of cities like New York, Washington D.C., or Boston could offer young people more? More employment options, more activity, more life?
City Council President John Michitson and Councilor Andy Vargas believe Haverhill to be such a place. And they have a name for it, too — a "Prospect City."
Defined as any post-industrial city between 40,000 and 150,000 residents with an urban core that doesn't rely on a regional metropolis to bolster its economy, the two officials say the Prospect City initiative could help Haverhill reinvent itself as a place for people and innovative companies in the 21st century.
Vargas and Michitson have begun championing a "Prospect City" summit for this fall.
Michitson said the summit will coincide with the launch of UMass-Lowell's Innovation Hub at Harbor Place and that he and Vargas have been discussing these events with Noah Koretz of MassDevelopment, Innovation Hub Director Tom O'Donnell, and Dr. Steven Tello, associate vice chancellor for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at UMass-Lowell.
Referencing a previous plan to host a contest for emerging scale-up companies looking to relocate in the city, Michitson said the Prospect City plan can better leverage UMass-Lowell's presence in the city.
A roundtable discussion between mayors, city councilors, and business people from other "Prospect Cities" will take place at UMass-Lowell's main campus on May 17.
"This is a very inclusive effort," Michitson said, adding Mayor James Fiorentini, Economic Development Director William Pillsbury, UMass-Lowell, MassDevelopment, and the Greater Haverhill Foundation will be collaborating on the Prospect Cities initiative.
Long an advocate for reaching out to technology companies and improving internet access in the city, Michitson stressed the importance of the UMass Innovation Hub, which he believes could be a driver for bringing companies to the city and expanding existing companies.
In a presentation at this week's City Council meeting, Vargas said the Prospect City summit will focus on collaboration between cities, workforce development, using Smart City technology, and building innovation networks like what Haverhill hopes to build with UMass-Lowell.
Additional goals of the summit, Vargas said, are to create a road map for similar cities to grow at a sustainable rate, explore ways to recruit businesses to the city in a new economy, and to empower local residents to start and grow businesses in Haverhill.
"We can't just rely on outside companies to come in to supply jobs for our residents," he said. "We have to look at how can we empower residents and the talent and creativity we have locally to start creating jobs themselves?"
Vargas said the council has been learning about the experiences of other similarly sized cities like Schenectady, New York, and about how to convince businesses and millennials that they are a viable option. The first-term councilor's alma mater, Boston University, is also in talks with the city, as is multinational tech giant Cisco Systems.
Recently, the 23-year-old Vargas gave a TED Talk at his alma mater on the benefits of young people moving to and setting up shop in smaller cities, a talk he said was well-received.
"There's a lot of FOMO — fear of missing out — people feel they have to be in big cities. But the for many, the best way to maximize and fast track their impact is in places (like Haverhill)," said Vargas. "But there are more cities like Haverhill than Boston or New York."
In picking other medium-sized cities from which to draw up best practices from, Vargas said they have looked at diverse cities that used to be manufacturing powers but offer greater livability that is only available to a select few in larger cities.
"You can have that vibrancy of a downtown and a boardwalk and a beautiful river and real economic activity without sacrificing affordability," Vargas said.
Follow Peter Francis on Twitter @PeterMFrancis.