NORMAL — Quality of life is the key to attracting people and business to a community in today’s economy, according to the keynote speaker at Tuesday night’s Community Leaders Dinner presented by the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

Roger Brooks, whose company, Roger Brooks International, assists communities and travel industry organizations with branding, product development and marketing, told attendees at the dinner at Normal's Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, “People are looking for quality of life and they will bring their business with them.”

Speaking on “The Future of Successful American Cities," Brooks said it is not enough to promote good transportation infrastructure or say your community is friendly or has something for everyone, according to Brooks.

“Everyone says that,” he said.

He emphasized, “For the first time in U.S. history, quality of life is leading economic development. … Jobs are going where the talent is,” rather than the talent going to the jobs.

Brooks cited several reasons for the change in what matters.

They include the growth in world travel and a global economy, which introduced baby boomers and later generations to Europe's pedestrian- and bike-friendly cities with sidewalk cafes and public markets, and a shift in demographics, according to Brooks.

He said the younger generations are moving toward that European standard. People are looking for ways to reduce stress and “convenience rules everything.”

Millennials are the biggest generation and by 2020 they will have the most spending power, said Brooks.

“The renaissance has begun,” he said.

Brooks showed copies of ads from cities that had attracted attention and brought positive changes, touting lifestyle more than traditional economic development elements.

“We have seen an epiphany,” he said.

People want authentic local businesses, cultural depth, eateries and places to gather, he explained.

“All of this adds up to a connection, a sense of place.”

Also at Tuesday’s dinner, the EDC recognized Illinois State University for its partnership with and contributions to the community and its impact on economic development.

ISU President Larry Dietz said ISU’s success is a product of many people working together and said the university will continue to work with the EDC.

“Many of our graduates are entrepreneurs who start their own businesses and we would like to see them stay around,” he said.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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