Americans are intrigued with the millennials, that
segment of our society that includes anyone now
between the ages of 22 and 37.
Much time is wasted trying to label them, some referring to them as the “Me Generation” while perpetuating silly stereotypes that are largely the product of marketers and advertisers trying to figure out how to get their money.
Let’s toss aside the labels and focus on the facts. The millennials are the first generation to grow up in the digital age. They are better educated and more diverse than their predecessors. Projections show that they will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.
In addition to their undeniable economic clout, millennials will soon represent 35 percent of the nation’s eligible voters. They are by far the most diverse generation we’ve seen, making them the ideal group to lead the way in bridging America’s political and social divisiveness.
It’s easy to see why it’s so important to keep our young people here and be capable of recruiting others into the community. What’s more complicated is figuring out why the millennials aren’t playing a bigger role in planning our future at all levels of government.
In the Sauk Valley, political and business leaders are realizing that millennials must play a leading role in figuring out what will make their age group want to live and work here.
In June, the Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sterling Main Street and city government representatives started to execute plans for engaging young people in the process. It comes at a key time – when riverfronts are being developed, our manufacturers are struggling to find skilled workers, and cities are trying to create new identities that can stop the bleeding from rural population loss.
A core group of young professionals has been meeting regularly and now have about 100 people interested in joining the conversation. The millennials have been brainstorming many quality-of-life issues they believe are at the center of keeping them here and making their communities attractive to others in their peer group.
In most cities, especially small rural towns, the planners and decision makers are usually white, male and middle-aged. Kudos to that demographic for taking on much of the leadership responsibilities in our communities, and we still need their wisdom and institutional knowledge to get where we want to go. Sterling has come a long way in engaging women in government and business leadership roles – whether it be on the council, chamber, Main Street or economic development.
Sterling’s millennial group leaders recently presented some of their ideas on issues such as housing, recreation, and social opportunities to the City Council. They are energetic and they can see the big picture with fresh eyes that are needed in doing meaningful strategic planning. Many of them were born here and have a genuine love of community.
Their input is vital in the riverfront development plans and they have jumped in head-first. They are working closely with City Manager Scott Shumard and the council’s newest and youngest member, Mackenzie Hopping. Martha Toth, a Wahl Clipper employee, is even playing a liaison role, helping the company determine how it might contribute to the riverfront projects.
Millennials interested in getting involved can call the Sauk Valley Chamber at 815-625-2400 and ask for Kris Noble. The area’s future depends on your involvement.