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Millennials get county officials, businesses thinking differently

Attendee looking at GenTHRIVE materials

Photos courtesy of Partners for Progress

Partners for Progress and the St. Charles County Economic Development Center held a conference on Wednesday, Nov. 19 with the goal of continuing a conversation centered on the demographic shifts in St. Charles County, and how businesses and the government can benefit from a younger perspective.

Greg Prestemon, president of PfP, opened the discussion and gave the business leaders and government officials in attendance an overview of the current state of the county’s demographics. Prestemon cited a population map, which showed a large influx of both millennials and baby boomers into the St. Charles area between 2000-2010.

“We are seeing significant migrations of twenty-somethings into our county in places that I wouldn’t have expected,” Prestemon said.

Conversely, large numbers of people ages 18-34 have moved out of the St. Louis County area.

The number of St. Charles County residents with college degrees also is rising, according to Prestemon. In 1970, 7.3 percent of county residents had a degree. That number rose to 21.2 percent in 1990 and an estimated 34.9 percent in 2008-2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We have seen over that long period of explosive residential growth, also an increase in the educational attainment of our residents,” Prestemon said.

Don Kalicak during his presentation at the conference.

Don Kalicak during his presentation at the conference.

After the opening remarks, Don Kalicak, regional vice president for Mercy, spoke on some of PfP’s efforts to investigate what makes the region attractive for millennials, including several of the organization’s task forces and other initiatives in St. Charles County. Kalicak mentioned the Old Post Office, an incubator for digital startups on North Main Street in historic St. Charles; PfP events like the MO’ Cowbell Marathon; and an upcoming website called “What’s up St. Chuck?,” which will be focused on engaging the millennial generation in St. Charles County and projecting the image that the region is an exciting place to live.

Millennials were a main topic of discussion at the conference, and both of the conferences’ guest speakers – Jennifer George and John Clark – came from that generation.

George is the assistant director of administration and special associate county counselor for St. Charles County; Clark is general manager for Masterclock, Inc. Both spoke to the attendees about the positive impact millennials can have on the region.

Clark talked about perceived criticisms of the younger generations, but also discussed the “millennial advantage,” and explained that since millennials were introduced to the business world in rough economic times, the generation has adapted to that state of affairs.

“As a young person coming into the Great Recession and coming into the workforce during this time, I’ve never known any different,” Clark said. “I’ve never been in an easy economy. We don’t expect stability. We don’t expect the government to care for us, and we don’t expect things to be easy. We seem narcissistic because we don’t accept the system as the answer. We do recognize the need for change.”

The tendency of millennials to not want to interact in the same ways as other age groups could ultimately improve the ways in which governments and businesses do things, according to George.

“If it wasn’t for the millennial generation’s push for constant information and interaction, we would not necessarily be driving to deliver on a variety of fronts,” George said. “Really, they’re pushing us to deliver new web options, new social media options, new means of accessing video content and finding out what’s going on in the community. That’s to the benefit of everyone, not just that targeted population.

“Everything that we do to improve how we engage with citizens in St. Charles County, because it is being driven by the millennials, is really benefiting all of us.”

Prestemon said he wanted the conference to ensure that people keep talking about how to make the needs of St. Charles County attractive to those in the 20-30 age range. He said that goal is easy to accomplish, but requires a shift in thinking.

“We’re doing a good job now, but we can always do better. It’s easy for all of us to remain in our little bubbles,” he said. “We’re trying to bring in new ideas.”Full House at GenTHRIVE

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