NEXTGEN Indy: Driving Cultural Innovation in Indy
Panel discussion among city’s tourism, event and sports management leaders focused on how cultural activities and events drive the economy; event highlighted by research on Gen Z’s perceptions of Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Apr. 17, 2024 – Today, leaders in Indianapolis’ hospitality, tourism, sports and events sector gathered with over 150 industry professionals to discuss future growth and opportunities during “NEXTGEN Indy: Driving Cultural Innovation.” The event, hosted by IU Indianapolis’ Department of Tourism, Event, and Sport Management (TESM) Industry Advisory Council and presented by the Efroymson Family Fund, was held at Hine Hall Tower Auditorium on the IU Indianapolis campus.

Discussion panelists included J. Douglas Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Carissa Newton, vice president of marketing for Cunningham Restaurant Group; Kristian Little Stricklen, president of Madam Walker Legacy Center; and Eric Tobias, co-founder and partner at High Alpha and partner at Forty5 Presents. The leaders engaged in conversation ranging from job opportunities and affordability to opportunities within the hospitality industry. Discussion also focused on ways to evolve and cultivate the city’s vibe, vision and food scene among young people seeking to engage both as tourists and residents in the community. Al Carroll, president and CEO of Indy Hub, served as moderator for the conversation.
The panel discussion was preceded by the unveiling of a study conducted by IU Indianapolis’ Sports Innovation Institute titled, “How Does Gen Z See Indy,” that leveraged faculty and student expertise to serve as a resource for leaders in the tourism industry.

In the research, students surveyed over 600 respondents nationwide between the ages of 20 to 29 utilizing an importance-performance analysis (IPA) model. The study aimed to better understand the perceived relevance of certain cultural attractions in Indianapolis compared to other major Midwestern cities. Identifying key insights into possible resource allocation to continue to grow desirability as a top destination for visitors and potential Gen Z residents was a secondary goal.

Respondents were asked to rate 16 factors on their importance in deciding where to live and how Indianapolis was performing on those attributes. Findings indicate the city exceeded expectations in cultural attractions, nightlife, recreational opportunities, and an abundance of outdoor spaces. Indianapolis also scored favorably for gaining awareness about job opportunities among non-residents. Areas for recommended continued investment in resources included safety, cost of living, and further developing the vibe and vision of the city into the future.

Additionally, study results indicated opportunities exist to create compelling experiences for visitors and residents alike by building upon the vibe, vision and growing food and drink scene. Indianapolis was third in relocation scores, ranking higher than Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio and St. Louis and just slightly behind Nashville and Chicago.

“Research plays a critical role in the city’s efforts to elevate experiences through sports and cultural attractions. It takes a collaborative effort to better understand the factors Gen Z values when choosing where to visit, live and spend their leisure time,” said David Pierce, Ph.D, chair; professor and director, IU Indianapolis Sports Innovation Institute. “The study findings, combined with the opportunity to convene a stellar group of hospitality leaders in the midst of a transformative year of tourism in Indianapolis, ensures we keep the ball rolling. Through this conversation, we can better understand what will drive tourism and development in our city and how we can best support a community of Gen Z professionals,” Pierce added.

The complete study and summary can be found on the NEXTGEN Indy webiste at To learn more about IU Indianapolis’ Tourism, Event, and Sport Management programs and the role they play in the city’s tourism, events and sports management ecosystem, visit

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About the IU Indianapolis School of Health & Human Sciences
The IU Indianapolis School of Health & Human Science advances healthcare, kinesiology, sport, and event tourism through education, research, and community engagement. Leveraging its urban location, university reputation, deep community partnerships, and highly regarded faculty, the school prepares students to influence the future of these professions through a variety of degree offerings and scholarly activities.