By Natalie Simms
You’re hearing the word “millennials” more than ever across Northwest Georgia for a good reason. Studies show that 75 to 80 percent of the work force will be those currently in the 18-to 35-year-old demographic by 2025. By then, many in the baby boomer generation will be retired.
And that’s the challenge we face: Both keeping more of the sons and daughters of Rome/Floyd County in this area and attracting their peers. Many communities and businesses, including some in Rome, are working to draw those under-35 to the area or to keep them here after graduating college.
We’re seeing a start-up court both millennial customers and employees. We’re watching expanding efforts by the Rome Floyd Chamber to network with young professionals. And we’re hearing from local experts about what needs to happen — very quickly — if we hope to keep this generation here and to attract their colleagues.
One such business is Broad Street-based Candor USA which recently announced plans to invest $39 million and create some 600-plus jobs over the next five years. The high-tech, health companion company is building its business around millennials both as the target consumers and as employees.
According to co-founder and COO John Good, “Candor was started by Bob Shinn and myself. We shared similar concerns about the state of healthcare coverage and wanted to try to find a solution. Both of us also are interested in keeping young millennials in Rome…one way to do that is by creating professional jobs.”
Candor has developed an app that pairs consumers, employer groups and associations with health plans to help find, select and purchase healthcare and wellness coverage.
“The app targets millennials as well as small businesses and groups and associations,” he says. “Millennials may be about to come off their parents’ plans or they may be leaving college and not have healthcare coverage, or working at a company that doesn’t offer a plan. Many millennials work for themselves – they’re entrepreneurial – and the Candor app gives them choices to find good plans that aren’t available on the (Affordable Care Act) exchanges.”
According to Good, “they’re the third largest age cohort in the country and as baby boomers retire, they will have greater influence on in the economy. We need the skills millennials offer…creativity, technical acumen, curiosity and the willingness to take chances.
“Our business model is focused on reaching millennials where they are, which is on mobile and using apps . . . I think you’ll see a lot of businesses trying to adapt how they do business to attract this group; we built the company from the ground up to reach them.”
The Rome Floyd Chamber also is working to build a community with professional millennials
“The Rome-Floyd Chamber has many programs and initiatives in place to foster relationships with millennials and to assist them with community engagement,” says Jeanne Krueger, director of Membership. “Through our Young Professionals program, the chamber is able to build community with professional millennials and introduce them to others in the community through networking events and also speak to their interests such as our recent event hosted by Hardy on Broad to discuss home buying.”
The chamber also is reaching out to college campuses to talk to students about local jobs and career paths.
“We hosted Berry College seniors last spring for lunch in the Krannert Center and talked to them about local jobs and career paths in Rome and Floyd County. We provided a panel discussion to speak to the tremendous quality of life and job availability … The chamber plans to be present on college campuses for these events and for career fairs,” she says.
“Through many of the chamber’s committees, there is a strong millennial presence ensuring we consistently and effectively market to this demographic. Keeping programming relevant and showcasing economic development and our quality of life with our blue ways, river ways, arts and entertainment is important. The Rome Floyd Chamber understands that in the year 2025, the majority of our workforce will be millennials as baby boomers retire.”
Still, more needs to be done, says local architect Mark Cochran, owner of Cevian Design Lab, who has done considerable research on millennials and recently presented his findings at a board retreat for the chamber.
“If we don’t have them (millennials) here in the next five years, we’re in deep trouble because in 10 years, they will compromise about 80 percent of the work force,” says Cochran. “We enjoy a good quality of life in Rome and we certainly need to keep our healthcare and education up, but we have to target that generation.”
Millennials are attracted to urban areas and big cities with strong quality of life options such as arts, entertainment, outdoor activities and more.
“Rome has a great quality of life but it could be better. One topic that recently came up is alcohol. For the last 10 years, beer has had a certain label attached to it but now that attitude behind beer is not the same. It is now a vehicle to socialize, not to get drunk, and we can’t be afraid to create more venues like River Dog (Outpost) and have more bars downtown,” he says.
According to Cochran, millennials look at what they can do in a community.
“They choose where to live based on what they can do there, then they move and then find a job. It’s opposite of our generation that would find a job first and then move there. Millennials are very mobile and if a community doesn’t have things they want, they won’t stay.”
As for the future, Cochran wants to dispel the myths that millennials are “lazy and entitled”.
“That is not my experience with them at all. They just work differently,” he says. “They have a more relaxed attitude. They are more task-oriented rather than time-oriented, so we may see changes in the typical work day schedule.
“Many question why they have to get dressed-up and work 8 to 5 at a desk. When the end goal is to be productive and get a task done, they think, ‘Does it really matter when the work is done as long as it gets done?’ ”
The bottom line is community leaders and business owners need to be open to change to reach millennials.
“So, we’ve got to be more friendly to the things they want. The things that we’ve done for a long time may need to change…we need to rethink why we do those things…start thinking different on certain things or we will get left behind,” says Cochran.