The young and the restless

July 27th, 2012

News Coverage:

The young and the restless: Survey finds many young adults will leave NEI

RICK FARRANT - rfarrant@fwbusiness.com

Friday, Jul. 27, 2012 at 5:45am

Tori Rowe, a Homestead High School graduate now attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, had no plans to return to northeast Indiana for work once she graduated from college.

Then last Christmas, while home on holiday break, the 21-year-old began talking with local professionals about possible careers, and that led to a summer position as Millennial 2020 coordinator for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

“Now, I want to be here very much and will be coming back after I graduate,” said the college of social studies major. “Hopefully to do work like this.”

Rowe said her circumstance illustrates what can happen when career opportunities — or even just information about opportunities — are readily available. It’s a need highlighted in a recent Millennial 2020 survey.

The survey of people roughly 15 to 25 years old indicated 62 percent intend to leave northeast Indiana.

That, suggested Rowe, puts the onus on regional leaders interested in developing or retaining talent to provide opportunities for them to stay or return.

Added Erica Hahn, project coordinator for Vision 2020: “And some of it is not just providing the opportunity, but telling them that there is an opportunity. I think there’s a disconnect about knowing if an opportunity exists.”

Millennial 2020 is part of the partnership’s Vision 2020, which is working to foster regional collaboration involving five economic growth pillars: 21st-century talent; a competitive business climate; entrepreneurship; infrastructure; and quality of life.

Millennial 2020, propelled by a 10-county, 27-member Millennial Leaders Alliance, essentially wants to give the so-called millennial generation a “seat at the table” in forging the region’s economic future, organizers said.

“The emerging work force — the millennials — must be a part of it,” Rowe said. “Otherwise, the success of northeast Indiana isn’t very promising.”

The survey, which drew 2,716 responses, is a beginning in offering millennials a voice.

More than 70 percent of the survey’s respondents were between 15 to 17 years old. Hahn, a 25-year-old finance and economics graduate of Manchester University, said the disproportionate number of respondents in that age bracket stemmed from the relatively easy access to people in school.

Nonetheless, both she and Rowe believe the findings are statistically important.

They said more than 24 percent of young people who said they plan to leave the region cited college or travel as reasons. Nearly 19 percent said they plan to leave for career opportunities. About 6 percent mentioned the weather as a factor.

The survey did not ask if those intending to leave expect to return at some point after gaining education or life experience.

The good news, Rowe and Hahn said, is that 94 percent of those surveyed said they intend to earn a postsecondary certification or degree.

Regional economic-development leaders have been stressing the need for a skilled, educated work force to meet the needs of 21st-century employers.

But Rowe added: “I also think we need to look at what percentage (wind up) pursuing degrees and see if there is a disconnect between the intended level and what’s happening.”

Among the other survey findings, some of which coincided with the Vision 2020 pillars:

• A string of quality-of-life attributes topped the list of amenities millennials deem important, including leisure and recreation, a clean environment and aesthetics.

• Respondents believe they can best make a difference in northeast Indiana through community involvement, cleaning up the environment, and either getting an education or advocating for an improved educational system.

• In considering challenges to creating “the best northeast Indiana,” the top concern was ensuring quality of opportunity through such things as career advancement, support for entrepreneurs or simply job availability.

The next step for Millennial 2020 is hosting a downtown Fort Wayne summit July 27 called M2020 Spark Tank at which young people will be assisted in pursuing their passions and planning projects that address needs in the region. Two projects will each receive at least $500 in seed money.

Hahn expects similar activities will be undertaken in the ensuing years in what she said will be an evolutionary process for the millennial initiative.

Rowe wants to be part of it, even while she is completing her senior year at Wesleyan.

Her experience with finding northeast Indiana opportunity, she said, is “a microcosm of what Millennial 2020 is trying to do.”