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Keep Millennials in Mississippi

Did you know that Mississippi has the 41st slowest-growing population nationally? We also have the 19th highest fertility rate. We are birthing a lot of people into Mississippi, but our population essentially isn't growing.

Millennial Brandon native Matthew Bolian recently spoke on what all of this means to our state's present and future.

Bolian graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2011. He then got his Masters Degree in Urban Economics and Regional Economics from the London School of Economics. He spent six-and-a-half years as a U.S. Army Intelligence officer before returning to Mississippi.

Not long ago, he spoke at the "Conference on Technology Innovation" put on by Innovate Mississippi.

When he had finished his job as a Military Intelligence Officer, recalls Bolian, he had one big question on his mind.

"Where is my family going to live? "

Jackson, Mississippi was at the bottom of his list, unfortunately, as is the case for the majority of Millennials who consider moving here.

This is a cold, hard fact.

"Why is our population not growing? " Bolian asks.

His answer is that the percent of Mississippi Millennials leaving our state is the nation's highest - 3.9 percent.

"We are not only losing Millennials," he says, but we are losing our state's most-educated Millennials. Says Bolian, "We call it 'brain drain,' but I don’t think that is even good terminology. It's like 'brain bleed.' We are hemorrhaging talent from our state."

Then there is a factor called "mobility," which is the rate at which people are moving residences from one place to another. Right now, the United States's mobility rate is the lowest in modern history. Essentially, once someone settles somewhere, he or she is less likely to move somewhere else than ever before in modern U.S. history since World War II.

Notes Bolian, "So look at ourselves - if someone moves away from Mississippi, they are less likely to move back than ever before since World War II."

Why all of the fuss about millennials?

"Who even cares about millennials in the first place?" Bolian asks, acknowledging that the stereotype is that millennials are just a bunch of " entitled people."

Like it or not, however, they also are the nation's largest demographic. In fact, they are the largest generational population ever in the U.S. "Larger than the Baby Boomers and almost double Generation X," says Bolian. "That means by 2020, millennials will be 50 percent of the (American) workforce and by 2030, we will be over 70 percent of the workforce."

"Workforce" is the key word. If millennials are leaving Mississippi, says Bolian, then our state's businesses will increasingly find it harder to employ the good workers they need.

Millennials also already are the largest consumer market in the U.S. So if Mississippi doesn't keep our millennials and gain others, then our local businesses will find it hard to grow because there simply will be fewer consumers of goods and services.

It's a supply and demand conundrum, Bolian says, and "millennials already are executing supply and demand: they are leaving Mississippi. We don’t have what they demand."

Millennials have other patterns, including that they "are having later-in-life transitions," says Bolian. "What that means is that they are finishing college later. They are getting married later." The ages are basically 29 for females and 31 for males. "And they are having children later if they even have children at all; and then they are having less children."

There are two more major factors.

First, millennials aren't the suburban type. They want to live in cities. "Millennials just desire an urban location ... in a greater proportion than any other demographic before them. They are not moving from the cities to the suburbs at the same rate the other generations are. "

Second, millennials have nontraditional interests about work. Bolian notes that the United States's population works more hours than any other developed country in the world, except for two. Essentially, he says, "That means that we work more than places with sweatshops."

Millennials don't necessarily see that as a virtue. Bolian offers his personal story as an example. "As a Millennial, I grew up watching my parents in a suburban location work a lot of hours. What did that mean for me and how did it make my generation feel? We saw people wake up, drive to work, get to work, drive home, be at work, drive back home, rinse and repeat."

He adds, "We don’t want that. So what does this mean? Ninety-four percent of Millennials will take a job with nontraditional benefits over one that doesn’t even offer (benefits). Nontraditional benefits are like bringing your dog to work or having longer than a six-week maternity leave."

Millennials "do not equate hours-worked with productivity. We can do work if we have a purpose-driven place that we work that supports us and our passions. And we demand that, so that is a lot of reason why we move. When you look at great places to work, you see Google, Facebook, Airbnb. These places have the nontraditional benefits."

So how can Mississippi positively respond to these realities?

First, our state must have a thriving major urban location we invest in. Right now, that's not the case, Bolian says. The state needs "a city that we invest in and a lot of companies that offer nontraditional benefits. It is not rocket science why people don’t want to live here; in fact it makes sense."

The concept is called "city as the engine," and it means that a city is where economic development happens and where innovation happens. That's also a given, says Bolian, who adds, "Suburbs exist because of the city. ... You have to spell the word 'urban' to have the word 'sub-urban.' "

He adds, "A suburban location's fate is dependent upon the success economically of its city. It is intimate and it is linked together." We have to stop thinking in terms of being from Pearl, or Brandon, or Madison, etc., says Bolian. "We are Jackson and we need to accept our identity as such." He argues that without a healthy Jackson, the suburbs will eventually become unhealthier.

Our companies in Mississippi need to reconsider the benefits they offer, says Bolian. We "need to be able to differentiate ourselves with nontraditional benefits" attached to our business's and city's missions. " For instance, Airbnb gives their employees travel expenses. Tech companies give tech money to go buy nice computers."

Bolian concludes, "If these things don’t change in a real way, ... I think our future is written. We are nothing more than a federally-funded suburb of other bigger cities like Memphis, New Orleans and Atlanta. We need to start investing in what will bring people here and consider the city (of Jackson) to be a consumer good for tomorrow."

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