It's a given these days: Everybody is chasing millennials — employers (we have a rock-climbing wall in the office!), Wall Street (they're not saving enough!), casinos (craps is a great game, kids!), Realtors (they're not buying!), down-on-their-luck resorts (Atlantic City), and car manufacturers (Uber and mass transit — are they serious?). Perhaps the only industry not in a tizzy about millennials is Big Pharma. All those aging baby boomers keep the pharmaceutical companies plenty busy.
New Jersey, in particular, has reason to be concerned. Millennials — essentially, those born between 1982 and 1999 — are fleeing the state at a higher rate than other generations, according to the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Last week, the NJBIA held a conference to address the issue of fleeing millennials. “It’s a challenge that is screaming out for some attention and some solutions,” said Michele Siekerka, the NJBIA CEO and president. The only “solution,” however, may be in learning how to ride this demographic wave and not be crushed by it.
New Jersey faces a unique problem as the capital of leafy suburbia. The house with the picket fence in front and the swing set in the back and the long commute by car to the job in the city is not something this generation seems to covet. Population in New Jersey’s outer suburbs is declining, while cities and suburbs closer to New York City and Philadelphia are growing, if not booming.
The state faces a tough problem: Our suburban-based lifestyle is not desired by the next generation.
The millennials are fine with renting instead of buying. After all, they don’t plan on staying at any one job or in any single geographic place very long. They want walkable places to live and proximity to mass transit. They are delaying or forgoing having children, in many cases.
This has ramifications for everything from the state budget to Little League.
Jim Hughes, the dean at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School, and Bloustein professor Joseph Seneca call it “New Jersey’s Postsuburban Economy,” which is the title of their new book.
“New Jersey will have to adapt and reinvent itself yet again — this time to a postsuburban digital economy that is being shaped by increasingly sophisticated mobile technology and the workforce that employs it,” they wrote.
That would be millennials. There are an estimated 70 million of them nationwide. New Jersey and its businesses cannot afford to ignore them or to stand by idly as millennials’ interests and desires transform the state’s economy. This goes far beyond the generation’s well-known — and easily caricatured — propensity for flexible hours, informal offices and listening to iTunes as they work. Millennials are creating a seismic demographic shift that will be as powerful and as transformative as the seismic shift created by their parents — the boomers.