Observations by Ron Thompson

Choosing where you live determines a number of important things: whether or not you need a car, if you will live in a house or an apartment, and in it’s own way the types of industries you can work in.  What we don’t usually consider is that sometimes the decision of where to live was made for us on a more subconscious level. Research has been done recently on this by psychologists at Cambridge and the University of Texas.

One thing that pops up when you speak to Millennials deciding on where to live is where are the creatives, those who are often associated with being open and embracing new experiences, moving. These are the people who are going out and effecting change in the world as entrepreneurs, business leaders, and social enterprisers. The notable hot spots for creatives today are San Francisco, New York, Austin, Nashville, and Denver (in terms of being open to experience). One place that is surprisingly left off the map, though, is a small city in the smallest state, Providence.

I don’t think that it is coincidence that this New England city shares its name with human destiny. In fact that is how Providence got its name in 1636, from Roger Williams as he was a religious exile from the Puritan Massachusets Bay Colony. Since Williams’ time, the city has grown organically and seen much change. Just look at the various monikers that have developed, “The Beehive of Industry,” ” The Rennaisance City,” and now “The Creative Capital.”

It should not come as a surprise that Providence attracts a creative and intellectual population; Brown and RISD are both located right there and Boston, with its plethora of universities, is only a stone’s throw away. The city offers a good place for young entrepreneurs and artists to start off on a smaller scale. In fact, for a long time artists could be found scattered throughout the woodwork in the abandoned textile mills that had once brought prosperity to the city.

However, these are not Providence’s greatest strengths. For Millennials, in some ways, its greatest strength is its lack of notoriety. Parallels can be drawn to Detroit, which is now known as a place for Millennial entrepreneurs and creatives to go and get grounded. With notoriety though comes the problem of monetizing ideas before they are fully developed and allowed to grow. In the words of Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg, “we don’t know what it can be, what it will be. We know that is cool and that is a priceless asset.” Providence’s best quality is that it is a hipster city for entrepreneurs; they know it is cool before the mainstream recognizes it.

This is what really struck me when I visited Providence a couple of weeks ago. It has a low-key feel, but there is definitely an undercurrent of buzz – of innovation and change. Providence seems to embody Rhode Island in that can do attitude, grounded in a weathered experience, making them “salty” as it were. Maybe it has something to do with it being the smallest state. they have to stand for something, but, unlike other “smallest” things, there is no chip on their shoulder. The people I met seem to genuinely believe in their ideas, whether they are dropouts forming a band or former financiers that have given up their cushioned jobs in Boston to embark on an innovative way to help clients identify each other.

What the future will bring for the city is still unknown, but I sense we shall be seeing some great things come out of Providence in years to come.