- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - In an episode of FX’s “Louie,” the titular character, played by comedian Louis CK, and his daughter Lilly attend a play set in the 1960s. As the dark drama unfolds, Louie is noticeably emotional during the climactic scene. But as he looks over, he sees his daughter glued to her phone and assumes she is texting.

Outside the theater, he asks her for the phone and calls her out.

“It’s gross. It’s really gross,” he says. Lilly tells her dad she was Googling the play, and he asks how she can appreciate and Google the play at the same time.

“Because it’s a great play,” Lilly says, “and I wanted to know more about it while I was watching it.”

Millennials. Deride them with sweeping generalizations of being coddled, self-absorbed and in need of safe spaces. Or laud them for their ability to quickly absorb information at the swipe of a thumb, reported The Times-News (https://bit.ly/29cRo2V).

Either way, as they’ve surpassed the population of baby boomers, millennials are sought after to fill jobs all over the country. Employers value them for their creativity and their fresh perspectives. But in the Magic Valley, they make up less than a third of the population - on par with the nation as a whole, but less than the Northwest’s metropolitan areas.

How can south-central Idaho keep its talented millennials and attract more? By marketing its outdoor recreation and challenging misconceptions about its industries, economic development leaders say.

Who are the millennials?

Different sources define millennials differently, making categorizing America’s largest generation pretty subjective and laborious.

Are they simply twenty-somethings in 2016, whose childhoods were book-ended by 9/11 and the echo chamber of social media as social understanding? Are they the people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, growing up with acid-washed family sitcoms and the original Nintendo?

How about the ones born in the late 1970s who happen to tweet, use Snapchat and swipe left and right - do they count?

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe coined the term millennials in their 1991 book, “Generations: The History of America’s Future.” At that time, they considered these Generation X successors to be those born from 1982 to 2000. But after their 2000 book, “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” the young generation described as “upbeat” and “engaged” with the potential to cause “seismic consequences for America” was extended to include people born as late as 2004.

The Pew Research Center has also changed its idea of what constitutes a millennial. In a 2010 study on internet uses among millennials and Gen Xers, it said the younger generation was born between 1977 and 1992. But its 2015 study that proclaimed the millennials taking over baby boomers as America’s largest generation put the oldest ones at 34 - born in 1981.

It’s not surprising that some born in quasi cusps either identify as both a millennial and a Gen Xer or don’t identify as a millennial at all.

Julie Plocher, the 37-year-old owner of Acadia Music in Rupert, straddles the line between Gen X and millennials, though she says she has a different world view than the latter. She described herself as traditional and conservative, a “color-within-the-lines” person. Yet, in addition to seeing Acadia flourish, she has dreams of one day working with the city to bring a big music festival to Rupert.

Mike Ramsey, the 31-year-old owner of Nifty Marketing in Burley, said he relates to both millennials and Gen X - especially the latter’s love of entrepreneurship.

Magic Valley’s millennial count

In the U.S., millennials - defined by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 as ages 18-34 - numbered 75.4 million. Baby boomers, those 51-69, numbered just 74.9 million.

Does the Magic Valley have its share?

In sparsely populated, rural south-central Idaho, millennials make up 27.2 percent of the population - nearly identical with 27.3 percent in the U.S. as a whole. According to the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, with ages 15-34 set as millennials, the Magic Valley’s were most numerous in Twin Falls and Jerome counties:

Jerome County: 6,210 people ages 15-34 out of 22,580 total, or 27.5 percent.

Twin Falls County: 21,470 out of 78,933, or 27.2 percent.

Lincoln County: 1,364 out of 5,246, or 26 percent.

Cassia County: 6,005 out of 23,275, or 25.8 percent.

Gooding County: 3,902 out of 15,241, or 25.6 percent.

Minidoka County: 5,169 out of 20,191, or 25.6 percent.

Camas County: 246 out of 1,156, or 21.3 percent.

Blaine County: 4,509 out of 21,269, or 21.2 percent.

By comparison, percentages were higher in the Northwest’s big cities: 37.8 percent in Salt Lake City, 34.9 percent in Seattle, 31.4 percent in Portland, Oregon, and 30.5 percent in Boise.

Why are they leaving?

More millennials are leaving the Magic Valley than are moving in. Between 2010 and 2014, 592 millennials left Mini-Cassia, while only 442 moved in, according to the 2014 American Community Survey. In the Twin Falls area, defined as Twin Falls and Jerome counties, 1,169 moved out and 838 moved in.

The appeal of bigger bucks out of state is tempting for millennials, said Jeff Hough, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.

“The perception that a lot of millennials have, and it’s not unfounded,” he said, “is they can make more money in another state than they can in Idaho.”

But, Hough said, that’s only true to a point. While $100 in Idaho may be $110 in some other states, the cost of living has to be considered. Then, the pay gap between Idaho and other places isn’t as big.

Another misconception: the kinds of jobs millennials can do in the Magic Valley.

“Challenging manual labor, long hours from agricultural and manufacturing jobs - the reality of it is all of our employers in the Magic Valley are high-tech,” said Shawn Barigar, president and CEO of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and mayor of Twin Falls. Barigar cited the research and development at companies such as Chobani and Glanbia as examples of the automated nature of the region’s employers - especially the food science ones.

Simple, youthful exploration, Hough and Barigar believe, is another reason millennials leave the Magic Valley.

“I think the younger millennials, the sub-25 crowd, are leaving because a lot of them think of Twin Falls as a small pond and want to go out and explore the world,” Hough said.

Barigar said he’s known a dozen or so millennials who have gone away for college, worked out of state for a few years and returned to the Magic Valley to start families.

“Anecdotally, I’d say it’s in everyone’s nature as a young person to want to escape their hometown and do something else,” he said. “I think some of this is just human nature, but I think collectively, we as economic development organizations, cities and communities can do a better job showcasing the opportunities that are available here.”

Selling millennials on the valley

For Hough, the value in employing millennials comes from their creativity and drive to innovate. They have the desire to do things faster and more efficiently, he said.

Ramsey echoed the same, adding that millennials grew up with the Internet and social media and have seen “a lot more than most people have at their ages.”

“They tend to be able to come up with more creative solutions to problems that would be considered unorthodox by an older generation,” he said.

Examples of those solutions? The ways millennials take on business marketing.

“Whereas an older generation might think that traditional forms of advertising is their only option,” Ramsey said, “millennials might find a more creative, guerrilla-style marketing that would cause more people to talk (and) be more controversial or entertaining.”

The sheer number of millennials comes into play. As baby boomers leave the work force in large numbers, there aren’t as many Gen Xers who can take their place, Barigar said.

“So it’s a natural thing to look at millennials,” he said. “They’re the next logical work age to look to.”

Both SIEDO and the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce are using work-life balance as a selling point for working in the Magic Valley as a millennial. Part of the sell is the outdoors.

“Southern Idaho has the ability to give you a great, well-paying job and great work-life balance,” Hough said. Thirty minutes after work, you can go floating in the Snake River or be up in the mountains.

Barigar said millennials here can enjoy world-class rock climbing at City of Rocks National Reserve, whitewater rafting in Hagerman, golfing, BASE jumping, mountain biking in the South Hills and at Auger Falls and skiing in the winter.

“Those are the things we kind of showcase,” he said. “At the chamber, we call it ‘everything from the wild to the mild.’”

The chamber president said a large part of drawing millennials’ interest is making them aware of “the whole spectrum of jobs.”

“It’s not just about, ‘Can I get a job at Clif Bar? Can I get a job at Chobani?’” Barigar said. “We need bankers, doctors, nurses, people who run retail stores and restaurants. Those are jobs too. Those are opportunities.”

For Hough, it’s the high-tech and technically skilled jobs at companies such as Chobani and plastics manufacturer Fabri-Kal.

“The jobs that attract millennials are here,” he said. “I think we have what they need. It’s just a matter of getting the word out there.”

Part of getting that word out is for business schools to make small businesses a bigger part of the discussion. Entrepreneurship is the biggest opportunity in the Magic Valley, said Ramsey, whose Burley shop is populated by young workers.

The Nifty owner said there are other things millennials look for in the workplace: good pay, flexibility and an environment where young employees feel valued and, as people who grew up openly expressing themselves, can continue to express themselves to some degree in their careers.

Local employers, he said, might do better looking for homegrown millennials than trying to recruit elsewhere.

“I think our area is quite conservative,” Ramsey said. “I think we have the good side of millennials. You can find people who work hard and can be loyal.”


Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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