MIAMI — A new Gallup study explores the link between economic growth and residents' loyalty to and passion towards where they live. According to the "Soul of the Community" study, the qualities that make people love where they live include social offerings (such as entertainment venues and places to meet), openness (how welcoming a place is) and community aesthetics (such as physical beauty and green spaces).
The first-year findings of the Gallup study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, surveyed 26 communities where Knight Foundation's founders owned newspapers. "This is a new way of looking at how engaged residents create successful communities," said Paula Ellis, vice president for strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation. "The data provide new insights to leaders focused on improving the long-term economic well-being of their communities beyond the immediate challenges of the financial crisis."
Warren Wright, managing partner for Gallup said: "The study is especially important in the current economic crisis because beyond addressing immediate needs, communities will have to make smart choices to direct resources to areas that have the greatest impact on engaging the community."
The communities vary in population size, economic levels and how urban or rural they are. Gallup randomly surveyed a representative sample of nearly 14,000 adults from Feb.1 through April 27, 2008, by phone. The following communities were included in the survey: Aberdeen, S.D., Akron, Ohio, Biloxi, Miss., Boulder, Colo., Bradenton, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Columbia, S.C., Columbus, Ga., Detroit, Mich., Duluth, Minn., Fort Wayne, Ind., Gary, Ind., Grand Forks, N.D., Lexington, Ky., Long Beach, Calif., Macon, Ga., Miami, Fla., Milledgeville, Ga., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Palm Beach, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., San Jose, Calif., St. Paul, Minn., State College, Pa., Tallahassee, Fla., Wichita, Kan.
The study measured residents' emotional connection to where they live and compared that to the communities' GDP growth over the past five years. The findings show a significant correlation. Over three years, the researchers will analyze the trends to prove whether emotional connection drives economic growth, or the other way around.
Within a smaller microcosm, such as a company, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employee emotional connection will indeed lead to improved financial performance of the company.
The study finds that it generally takes at least three to six years for residents to feel highly engaged in their community. However, there are actions that communities can take to engage residents early after they have moved in. Focusing on helping new residents connect to others in their area can enhance their connection and make them want to stay and say good things about the community.
The study found that in some of the larger communities such as Miami, Philadelphia and Detroit, the key emotional connector was openness (the sense of welcoming to diverse people). "This is important to know in a large city that has struggled to achieve its full potential in attracting diverse newcomers," said Matt Bergheiser, Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia.
In Tallahassee, social offerings are key. "With two major universities, and as Florida's state capital, we have many opportunities to create more social offerings for our residents," said Mike Pate, Knight Foundation program director for Tallahassee. "The proposed arts and entertainment district in the Gaines Street corridor is one example. These data serve as another important call to action."
Knight Foundation community program directors are sharing the study's findings with community leaders and citizens. They hope to use the data to help create transformational change in their communities.
Gallup and Knight Foundation will conduct the second wave of the survey in spring 2009. The additional data will help show the impact of the economic crisis on emotional community-citizen engagement.
Complete results of the Soul of the Community survey are available online at www.soulofthecommunity.org.
Note to editors:
Media kits are available in the Soul of the Community Media Center at www.soulofthecommunity.org.
Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup's reputation for delivering relevant, timely, and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world's leading scientists in management, economics, psychology, and sociology, and our consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup's 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the Web, at Gallup University's campuses, and in 40 offices around the world.
The Gallup Poll has built its reputation on delivering relevant, timely, and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel. Gallup Poll consultants assist leaders to identify and monitor behavioral economic indicators worldwide.
About Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of communities in the United States where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers. Knight Foundation invests in ideas and projects that can lead to transformational change.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.