Debunking the millennial myths (opinion)
Tribune Opinion Columnist
Recently Tahoe Chamber and Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority hosted a Future Ready South Shore Forum where the future of our region’s tourism was discussed. For many, a highlight was listening to Jason Broadwater, a Gen X‘er who described the findings of his research on millennials (currently aged 18 to 31) and their impact on communities. Broadwater’s comments were reinforced during a robust discussion at Leadership Lake Tahoe’s “Make Tahoe Work” Summit.
During both events the most obvious fact about millennials was reinforced in that they are digital natives. What is often misunderstood is that they are also socially connected despite the miss-truths that they never look up from their devices. Many are deeply connected to family as 36 percent of those aged 18 to 31 are living at home and experiencing a prolonged adolescent phase. Some would have you believe that millennials only choose to live in large cities, but in reality only 30 percent of millennials live in metropolitan areas, with the balance then living someplace else, and, I propose that someplace else could and should be Tahoe.
No matter where they live they crave connection to purpose, people and community, which bodes well for our community (which has a long history of caring about one another and causes). This generation uses technology to determine where and when to connect with family, friends, community and causes. They can decide in real time to meet at the local brew pub because they know instantly that someone else just checked in there. And when you overhear them in the brew pub, they are likely discussing issues such as climate change; planning an outdoor activity such as mountain biking; or working on a cause or upcoming community event.
For business owners and community leaders this means that in order to engage, one must accept that, just like when rock ‘n’ roll infuriated the elders of its time, technology is here to stay. However, what may not be here to stay are the millennials — unless they find a place that has them believing they have a future.
And for them a future means the ability to live first and work second. What we’ve heard about them being unwilling to work at entry-level positions was debunked during the summit discussion. Instead what we heard was that they are willing to work in these positions, but they want flexibility in hours and to see a pathway beyond the low-paying job. A pathway of developing new marketable skills or perhaps even a pathway that might lead to becoming a vested partner and potential owner of a small, locally-owned business in the future.
During conversations at both events the connection to place was loud and clear. It is important that place (i.e. community) is interesting enough to keep them “in place.” What qualifies as interesting? They want gathering places to connect with one another, and preferably they’d like to be able to walk, bike or Uber to those gathering places. Many millennials are shunning the purchase of homes, automobiles and “things” and instead prefer to spend their disposable income on “authentic experiences” and renting as needed so they can easily pull up from a place if it doesn’t work. The decline in spending on clothing is evidenced by the recent announcement by the Aeropostale chain, which will soon close 174 stores attributing the decline in sales to this generation’s preference for experiences over things.
My dream is to see our community embrace this generation and the energy, fresh perspectives and commitment they bring, as together we seek solutions to complicated challenges ahead such as affordable workforce housing. At the business level, I look forward to seeing employers creating pathways to futures rather than seeking hourly employees for today’s seasonal vacant position.
Let us seek to understand and reflect on our own personal perspectives and to embrace what is wonderful about how millennials can enrich our collective futures.
“B” Gorman, J.D., A.C.E. is the president/CEO of the Tahoe Chamber.