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Millennial wave turning Rust Belt Cities into 'Brain Belt' cities

Educated young arrivals are making up for recent population losses

A new wave of millennials is flocking to Rust Belt cities, attracted by affordable housing, the cache of converted industrial buildings, and the growing young adult population in these resurgent cities. Even as some of these cities witness an overall population decrease, an influx of educated young people makes for a more robust knowledge economy, helping to create a virtuous cycle that attracts even more educated people, according to a new analysis from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Baltimore, Buffalo, Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Chicago have all experienced a significant increase in their millennial population. While Baltimore lost four percent of its total population since 2000—roughly 28,000 people—it has attracted some 22,000 additional educated young people. St. Louis’ affordability has helped cultivate a thriving startup scene and tech economy.

The secret for many of these millennial magnets seems to be a combination of cheap housing and educational or tech centers.

"St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore are former Rust Belt cities that were given up for dead but are making a comeback because their universities were able to remain world-class centers of research," said author and Brookings Institute Trustee Antoine van Agtmael.