For "creative and tech-savvy" new graduates, Detroit has plenty of job opportunities, Marmul says, citing his employer's 150 tech-related openings. He plans to stay in Detroit for the long haul and will be eligible to receive another $1,000 toward his apartment if he renews his lease another year.
But even before the 15 by 15 initiative and organizations with similar goals, the city proved alluring to some young people. Since 2000, downtown Detroit has seen a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents younger than 35, even as its overall population fell by 25 percent, according to a census data analysis by Impresa Inc., an economic consulting firm.
For a much smaller city aiming to become energized by growth, a "wholesale importation" of young adults may not be feasible or even desirable unless careers with money are available, says Frank Furstenberg, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor specializing in urban sociology and demography. In a place like Niagara Falls, he says, a lack of jobs may deter young adults from moving there, despite the student loans incentive.
"It's a little like asking people to get married if you give them $5,000. Will that increase the rate of marriage? The answer is probably no," says Mr. Furstenberg.
The Urban Institute's Theodos says cities are "swimming upstream" to attract new residents unless they're hawking a vibrant job market. Fields such as manufacturing and agriculture are germane to certain areas, so attracting a more cross-cutting labor base – as well as intellectual and human capital – is difficult, he adds.
But community officials remain optimistic that targeted strategies to entice college graduates can succeed, even if those graduates don't take jobs within city boundaries. Piccirillo of Niagara Falls cites downtown Buffalo, N.Y., as a prime employment center that's just 20 minutes away.
Young professionals would still contribute to boosting Niagara Falls's economy by spending their discretionary income at nearby businesses, he says. A cluster of young professionals may also draw more employers to the area and create entrepreneurial opportunities.
Piccirillo says he recognizes the community won't be completely enlivened until it demolishes blighted buildings and provides incentives to buy and renovate homes. For now, Niagara Falls is embarking upon the first step of that revitalization process: cultivating the attention of college graduates.
"We know that we need to get them here first, help them lay down roots here," Piccirillo says. "Hopefully, they fall in love with our city and stay longer than two years."