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Millennial Roundtable
Published Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Participants in the Millennial Roundtable: Back row from left: Sean Foote, Theo Groh, Jacob Felton, Ben Fisk, Brett Allard. Front row from left: Amelia Keane, Kaitlyn Covel, Lauren Vorwald and Tori Martin. Photo by Christine Carignan.

A few years ago, the cover of TIME’s May 2013 issue sported a teenager lounging lazily and taking a selfie. Above her blared: “The Me Me Me Generation: Millennials Are Lazy, Entitled Narcissists Who Still Live with Their Parents.”

Millennials are the oft maligned children of Gen Xers who’ve become previous generations’ favorite explanation for why the world is now a shadow of its former self.

Yet, the conclusion of TIME’s indictment headline expressed a much different sentiment: “Why They’ll Save Us All.” This contradiction speaks to the underlying love-hate relationship traditionalists, baby boomers and Gen Xers have with millennials. For every article that explains why they’re the worst generation in history, there’s another explaining how crucial they are to the workforce and offering a step-by-step guide on how to recruit and retain them.

In light of all this, and the fact that millennials have become the largest segment of the workforce, Business NH Magazine invited millennials to our office for a roundtable discussion at the end of the workday to enjoy a NH-made beer and ask them directly why they chose to live and/or work here. While the conversation contained both praise and criticism of the Granite State, the participants all share a deep love of NH and a desire to see the state and local government, as well as workplaces, further pursue policies that attract younger workers.

Defining “Millennial”
For some members of the older generations, “millennial” roughly translates to “someone younger than me whom I dislike a great deal.” But, according to most historians and demographers, the term describes people born between 1981 and 1997 who came of age in the new millennium. That’s right—a 20-year-old intern and 36-year-old junior executive both qualify as millennials.

“When I first got the invite [for the roundtable], I had to look up the definition of millennial because I didn’t think I was one. But then I found out that, oh crap, I am a millennial,” says Jake Felton, 27, a “renaissance man” at Able Ebenezer Brewing Company in Merrimack. “The biggest problem with being called a millennial is the stigma. Everyone just automatically thinks that you’re going to be whatever they think that word means instead of a hard worker.”

Though the negative connotation around millennials isn’t universal, the nine attendees have experienced apprehension from former employers regarding their age. “People aren’t as quick to trust you,” says Kaitlyn Covel, 25, vice president and regional market manager for Central NH at Lake Sunapee Bank in Newport. “We have to work a little bit harder to prove ourselves.”

A lot of that does have to do with lingering stereotypes about millennials, such as assumptions they are entitled, lazy and always on their phones. Tech is important to millennials. Gallup reports they are more likely to “send or read email and text messages, use their cellphone to make or receive calls and interact with social media than older generations.” But Covel points out, “For better or worse, we’re a product of our culture, and we adapted to the technology we had at our fingertips.”

The 24/7 Millennial Employee
Millennials aren’t just using their phones to post selfies and share memes. “A lot of our work takes place on our phones, whether it be for email, social media or marketing,” says Amelia Keane, 25, executive director of the NH Young Democrats in Concord and a state representative from Nashua. (The NH Young Republicans and NH GOP were also invited to participate but were unable to send a representative.)

Covel adds that the increasing popularity of remote access is affecting millennials’ work-life balance and turning them into 24/7 employees.

That constant contact makes flexible hours desirable to some millennials. Gallup reports that 57 percent of millennials consider having a greater work-life balance as “very important,” and they “look to companies that enable them to integrate the two.”

Brett Allard, 26, an associate attorney at Wescott Law in Laconia, says, “I don’t mind answering emails at 9 on a Tuesday night, but my work also lets me work from home some days if I want to. One of the things I look for in an employer is that sense of autonomy. They’re invested in your productivity and efficiency but don’t strictly limit you to how much time you have to spend in the office.”

Attracting and Retaining Millennials
For employers, hiring and retaining millennials is a challenge all its own, especially since they’re less engaged than older generations, according to Gallup. Yet, while some companies aim to solve this with fun perks and incentives, the key to millennial engagement lies more in a sense of partnership between them and their employer.

Gallup reports that 87 percent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them. And Gallup found that 72 percent of millennials who reported their manager helps them set performance goals are engaged at work.

“Knowing there’s room for advancement is very important to me,” says Theo Groh, 26, admissions-outreach coordinator at High Mowing School in Wilton. “We don’t need to automatically be at the head of the table, but we’d like a seat at the table and a sense that the company is invested in your long-term career goals and you acquiring new skills that are going to help both them and you.”

Additionally, millennials also value feedback from their supervisors, and per Gallup, the more conversations managers have with their employees, the more engaged their employees become. “At my first job out of school, I had a mentor who was tremendous. Whether I needed help or could do something on my own, he let me either succeed or fail,” says Sean Foote, 25, supply chain manager at Transupport, a distributor of engine control systems and parts in Merrimack. “Even though I no longer work there, I still have those transferable skills that he relayed to me.”

Often people associate workplace perks that attract millennials with the excesses of Silicon Valley and tech culture: beer-on-tap and lavish employee lounges. But the millennials around our table say that’s not what they are looking for. “I know it’s a little different for me since I work at a brewery, but I personally don’t look for those kinds of frills,” says Felton. “I wouldn’t want to work at a place with a rock climbing wall; it sounds like no work would get done.”

With Gallup finding that 21 percent of millennials have changed jobs within the past year, and 60 percent are open to a different job opportunity, companies don’t seem to have a handle on millennial turnover. And the fallout from millennials changing jobs costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.

“Speaking to friends who work at bigger companies that have these kinds of perks, they often have high turnover every six months to two years, and the company expects it,” says Keane. “They throw in these perks as a cherry on top to keep employees working through mundane jobs, but it’s not enough to keep them for very long.”

And the low unemployment rate allows in-demand millennials to be more particular about where they work. At 2.8 percent as of the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the Granite State ranks third lowest in the nation for unemployment.

As a business owner, Ben Fisk, 28, who employs 15 workers at Ben’s Pure Maple Products in Temple, can speak to the difficulty of finding good help due to NH’s low unemployment rate. “If someone wants more, they can grow in my company. When you have someone good working for you, it gives you, as a boss, incentive to help that employee move along in the business,” says Fisk. “But it’s difficult to find people who really lash out and grab the reigns. The hardest thing we find in people is that they don’t have any goals.”

In this way, millennials’ lack of engagement and wandering eyes at least partially falls back on them, presenting a need to enter the workplace with a sense of purpose and willingness to work with companies to grow as professionals. “If you look at your job as a profession that’s contributing to your career growth, then you’re going to be a more committed employee who strives to work hard for benefits, promotions and bonuses,” says Lauren Vorwald, 25, project coordinator at DeStefano Architects in Portsmouth.

Millennials After Hours
When it comes to living and working in NH, some common advantages popped up among our roundtable participants, including proximity to major cities like Boston and Portland, the state’s diverse natural resources and the general sense of community.

“New Hampshire is lucky to have such a great community; we’re very into supporting small business and buying from your neighbor,” says Fisk. “If you go to other parts of the country, it’s not the same as what we have here.”

Vorwald, who works in Portsmouth but lives in Portland, Maine, says the state’s central location to great amenities is a double-edged sword. “New Hampshire is an hour away from all these amazing things, like Boston, Portland and great hiking,” she says. However, she adds that this is also something the state needs to examine. “Why are these things an hour away? Why don’t we bring things into New Hampshire that make millennials and young professionals want to stay within our borders?”

While Foote notes that NH has its own entertainment destinations, he says “Concord, Manchester and Nashua aren’t as sexy as Boston and New York. I don’t think there’s enough people in our major cities to support the same kind of nightlife.” Allard adds those challenges are worse as you head north. And Groh says, other than Keene, there’s also not much in the western part of the state in terms of nightlife. “I decided to live in Manchester as opposed to moving closer to work [in Wilton] because of the ability to go out and have a cultural life after work, even if it means a longer commute,” he says.

Covel agrees that nightlife presents a huge opportunity for development in NH, though it might also have to do with millennials’ life and career priorities. “I chair a young professionals board out of the Lake Sunapee region, and it’s a real struggle to get us out into the public after work,” she says. “Where we’re at with our lives, people are either advancing or changing careers, going back to school, starting a family or trying to buy a house. At the end of the day, some of us just want to have peace of mind and maintain that work-life balance.”

Along with attracting businesses to NH that millennials would want to work for, several roundtable attendees say a passenger rail option might help expand access to hubs like Portsmouth and Manchester and more easily connect the state to Boston. However, Foote notes that he can see rail going both ways in terms of bringing workers to NH or shipping more of our current workforce out of state.

Additionally, Vorwald notes that when she lived in Dover, traveling to downtown Portsmouth on the weekend was difficult since the city doesn’t allow Uber. Her only option was a $45 taxi fee, and though she knows bus routes exist in the area, there never seemed to be easily accessible information related to schedules and pricing. These roadblocks to public transportation in NH might continue to deter younger professionals, especially since 61 percent of millennials want more reliable transportation options in the next decade, according to the Transit Cooperative Research Program.

Affordability, or the Lack Thereof
Among the biggest concerns of roundtable attendees was NH’s lack of affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Commission ranks NH 15th in the nation for highest income needed—$43,865 annually—to rent two-bedroom housing.

Though this might compare favorably to other states in New England, these figures conflict with the starting salaries NH millennials typically earn. According to NH Employment Security, the average entry-level hourly wage across all occupations is $10.66 per hour, with a range of $9.76 per hour in Carroll County to $11.08 per hour in Merrimack County.

“The apartments I looked at in Dover and Portsmouth were too much out of my price range,” says Vorwald, who bought a house in Portland, Maine six months ago. “My house was a little cheaper, and I decided I could deal with the 45-minute commute.”

And then there’s the matter of student debt, for which NH ranks first in the nation. Seventy-six percent of NH’s Class of 2015 graduated with an average debt of $36,101 per student, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. And according to the College Board, in-state tuition rates for NH’s public four-year institutions ranked highest in the country at $15,650 for the 2016-2017 school year. Groh knows several high school classmates who sought a more affordable education out of state and then set down roots close to where they graduated.

“As someone who went from four years of college [at Plymouth State University] to three years of law school [at UNH School of Law in Concord], I and a lot of people I know have enormous student debt,” says Allard. “Even with low down payments and interest rates, I think you see across the board in New Hampshire that the amount of student debt people have is delaying their entrance into the housing market. They’re living paycheck to paycheck and barely making rent.”

Even so, some of the roundtable attendees are homeowners, including Tori Martin, 23, client services manager at Yankee Thermal Imaging, an energy auditing and insulation firm in Rochester. “I saw my house [in Strafford] on Zillow the first day it was posted, and we moved in a month later,” she says. “It was the only option I’d seen that was within the amount I was approved for and wasn’t falling apart.”

Family Friendly Concerns
Though Martin doesn’t have children, she searched for places to live near her hometown of Northwood, as she values her education from Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, which serves both Northwood and Strafford. Martin’s sister and nephew live with her, and she says that her sister struggles to balance her work schedule as a mental health professional around her son attending half-day kindergarten and daycare two days a week.

While no one at the table has children, many participants share concerns about the quality and cost of childcare. And for good reason. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated annual childcare costs for NH parents range from $8,423 for one child to $15,111 for three children. Fisk says that for some of his employees with children, it’s almost cheaper for one parent to stay at home than pay for daycare, which is a problem for employers desperate for talent.

Martin says the opioid epidemic could also be contributing to millennials with families not wanting to raise kids here. The state had about 34 drug-related deaths per capita in 2015, the second-highest rate in the nation, per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“I was prepared to talk about climate change and other issues when I knocked doors this past election, but people with small kids were most concerned about the fact they’re raising their kids in a state with a drug crisis,” adds Keane.

Representation in a Graying State
While roundtable attendees acknowledged the difficulty of solving these complex issues, they also agreed that their voice is lacking volume in Concord. In a 2015 report, the Council of State Governments found that NH had disproportionate representation based on age, with an average age for legislators of 65 compared to an average population age of 48. Though Keane says the average legislator’s age has dropped to 60 during this session, it’s still off from the latest median population age estimate of 42 from the U.S. Census Bureau.  

“Regardless of what party you belong to, you’ll find older legislators that you agree with 90 percent of the time just don’t have the same priorities when it comes to issues that affect younger people,” says Groh. “Of the young reps I know, a lot of them are college kids between 18 and their early 20s who are able to get involved when they’re in school because they have flexible schedules. But, after a certain point in your career, you can’t afford to get paid just $100 a year. We’re missing a whole generation of people who have no real voice in the legislature.”

There are also literal barriers between some millennials and their legislators, as Keane says more than 40 state representatives don’t have an email address.

Yet, perhaps the biggest challenge to this issue of representation is ingrained in NH’s culture and its contrast with millennials’ general demographics. Gallup reports that millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse of the generations at only 54 percent white, and Pew Research Center finds that they’re the most liberal generation with a 57 percent Democratic lean. By contrast, NH is about 94 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and only about 28 percent of its voters are Democrats per the latest party registration update from the Secretary of State’s office. (Most NH voters are undeclared, comprising about 41 percent of registered voters.)

“There’s an overarching lack of diversity of thought and culture in New Hampshire compared to a lot of other areas of the country,” says Keane. “There are a lot of progressive values that young people hold dear that we’re not touching upon.”

Keane notes that on the same day the NH House voted to table HB 478, which would have added gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes, representatives voted to kill HB 499, which would have raised the legal age of marriage in the state from 14 for boys and 13 for girls to 18 for both. “Both bills got a lot of national coverage, and a lot of millennials in other states probably saw that and think we live in the sticks,” she says.

Additionally, Keane points out that SB3—which passed the NH Senate and was awaiting a vote from the NH House as of press time—would require voters who register near Election Day to provide proof of residence in NH. She argues that adding these restrictions could impact younger voters and college students—demographics that have become a larger part of the state’s electorate. Research from the Carsey School of Public Policy shows that between the 2008 and 2016 elections, 129,000 NH citizens turned 18 and became eligible to vote while 68,000 older NH residents of voting age died.

And polling shows that young NH voters are engaged. A report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) finds that the youth vote in NH’s primary has nearly doubled over the last three elections, growing from 28 percent turnout in 2000 to 43 percent in 2008 and 2016. And with the youth vote comprising 17 percent of NH’s voting population, according to CIRCLE, the group represents a significant voting block, especially in the context of NH’s aging population.

Hopeful for the Future
Despite the challenges raised during the roundtable, none of the attendees seemed interested in leaving NH (save for Fisk, who joked that “Maine and Vermont do have bigger clumps of maple trees.”)

“I’m committed to New Hampshire and constantly look for a new place down here,” says Vorwald. “For every criticism we might have, there’s something we’ve talked about where we’re looking forward to the future.”

Above all else, the participants pointed to NH’s quality of life as its greatest asset for attracting people of all ages. “I work in the corporate world during the day and can go home to my six pigs and 100 chickens at night; I don’t know where else besides New Hampshire I could do that,” says Covel. “There are young people who are looking for the lifestyle that New Hampshire has to offer, which is something no other state I’ve been to has.”

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