Group presents plan to attract millennials

Published 9:40 pm Friday, June 2, 2017

LaGRANGE – On Friday, a group of young professionals in their 20s and 30s presented their ideas for how to solve one of Troup County’s biggest ongoing questions: How can the county attract millennials to live and work in the community?

This is the fifth Young Gamechangers event to take place in Georgia, and the ideas presented at the event represented five months of research by 47 young professionals from Georgia. Each of the 47 communities that the group has worked with has taken a different approach to the results from the Young Gamechangers research, but the changes that have been implemented in other communities have had a visible impact.

“The work that the Young Gamechangers do actually comes to life in the communities in which we’ve been able to partner with,’ Young Gamechangers Co-Founder Amir Farokhi said. “This is the most goal oriented, roll-up your sleeves, get something done (program), and that is a testament to the program itself, but also the communities that open up to this program.”

Local leaders had the chance to review the effects of the group on other communities before Troup County was brought into the program, and local leaders were excited to hear the group’s thoughts.

“I was very excited when we had the opportunity for y’all to come to LaGrange and look at our community,” County Commission Chairman Chairman Patrick Crews said. “LaGrange is a wonderful place to raise a family. (There are) very, very great amenities in this community. We’ve got a wonderful lake. We’ve got colleges. We’ve got a great industrial park.”

Those amenities were a major focus for the Gamechangers who presented plans to use county features to its advantage in attracting millennials.

Creating college connections

One of the big ideas that the group focused on was keeping millennials who graduate from LaGrange College, Point University and West Georgia Technical College from moving away after they graduate by forging strong community connections with the colleges.

“From day one that they (the students) arrive in Troup County at any of the three colleges or universities, their interest in the community is sparked through mechanisms that we will talk about,” Young Gamechanger Troy Clark of Augusta said. “As they begin to understand the community – understand all that this community has to offer – that spark of interest grows into a flame which will eventually convince them to stay here through fanning that flame and convincing them and showing them what a great community this is to live in.”

Clark’s group discussed ideas to promote a connection between students in local colleges and the community through ideas like a discount card for students at local businesses, affordable work spaces available to college students or recent graduates starting businesses and financial incentives for graduates to purchase or build homes within the community. The group’s ideas focused on capturing the attention of students prior to graduation when they would be most likely to move away, and students moving away is the last thing the area needs when there are so many available jobs in skilled professions.

Strengthening technology

“We’ve got Kia and its suppliers, Interface, Kimberly Clark, soon to be Sentury Tire – all employing lots of people in Troup County, but more than that are very involved in our community,” Young Gamechanger Trae Long of LaGrange said. “They want our community to thrive.”

Long’s group discussed improving education for the jobs at those local industries starting in middle school and working as a community to allow students to see that careers in fields like engineering and manufacturing can be good career paths.

“Advanced manufacturing is technical,” Long said. “It’s technology focused. There are robotics. There are mechatronics. There are a lot of different opportunities, but it requires that we reeducate. That stigma (against manufacturing as a dirty, dangerous job) has been there a long time.”

Going green

The Gamechangers also noted that creating an environmentally sustainable community that sets an example for the rest of the country is a good way to attract the interest of millennials, and Troup County has already made major strides in that area due in part to the work of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation work on the section of Interstate 85 which passes through Troup County.

“The Ray was established as an 18 mile stretch of I-85 to be used as a demonstration of new sustainable technology,” Matt Forshee of Augusta asked. “… Communities must focus on three basic functions to establish sustainability. These three functions – everything else flows from here – those functions are providing sustainable water resources, sustainable electrical and power delivery resources and sustainable transportation.”

Forshee’s group suggested ideas to build on the work of the Ray and increase sustainability like putting in Wattway by Colas solar paneled road sections on some crosswalks in downtown, funding a public transportation system and creating spaces to foster communication about sustainability.

Hidden tourist attractions

 Even a community with great jobs, sustainability and a strong workforce-school connection needs something for residents to do in their downtime though, so a group of the Gamechangers looked for activity ideas that would appeal to millennials.

“Our big idea was creating a downtown draw,” Young Gamechanger Kent Patrick of Valdosta said. “Whether you guys know it or not, you have a great amount of potential for downtown LaGrange.”

Ideas included expanding on the offerings in downtown LaGrange on the first Fridays of each month which now includes events like the Sunsets at Sweetland movies and local bands, as well as attracting more restaurants and stores to the downtown area. The group also recommended more camping and recreation options near West Point Lake and a retreat center targeted at millennials in Hogansville.

The Young Gamechangers plan to release their full plan to the public next week.