Part 2 of 2
By Jim Bleyer
Tampa Bay lags behind the rest of the country in attracting Millennials. Business leaders claim to want them here but they fail to recognize what is important to that generation beyond jobs.
The Tampa Metropolitan Statistical Area’s population breakdown reveals the problem. Millennials account for 25 percent of the population nationwide; here it is 20.7 percent, a 17.2 percent deficit. The Millennial Gap would look far worse if only, say, the 30 largest metropolitan areas were surveyed.
In Part 1 of this piece we interviewed five Millennials from St. Paul, San Diego, Chicago, New York City, and Washington D. C. That information, coupled with data compiled nationally, provides a blueprint for attracting Millennials.
The factors that add up to luring the coveted 18 to 34 demographic requires, besides good jobs, an institutional culture shift in Tampa Bay.
Millennials see much that is good here: business groups not only fully embrace Millennials as members but thrust some of them into leadership positions. There are programs that encourage entrepreneurship. Pockets of Millennial neighborhoods thrive: SoHo in Hillsborough, downtown St. Pete in Pinellas. There has been an explosion of chi-chi independent restaurants. cafes, and bistros for every taste. Two world-class medical facilities call Tampa Bay home: Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. The Riverwalk and mushrooming residential development are energizing downtown Tampa. Three entertainment complexes book internationally recognized live shows: the Straz in Tampa, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, and the Mahaffey in St. Petersburg. Intimate concert venues offering more contemporary acts are sprinkled throughout the area. There is one world-class museum: the Dali in St. Pete, and another an hour’s drive away, the Ringling complex in Sarasota.
But there is an ugly side that inhibits any meaningful Millennial recruitment. Here’s what else Millennials see when they look at Tampa Bay:
—A Department of Justice 2016 investigation into the disparity of tickets issued by the City of Tampa to black bicyclists that didn’t reduce crime, stop bicycle crashes or curb bicycle theft. The only thing the policy did was burden black bicyclists, according to the DOJ report.
Worse, after the DOJ listed 22 recommendations for the Tampa police, Mayor Bob Buckhorn asserted, “I am never going to apologize for being aggressive in the crime fight. It’s just not going to happen,” the mayor said. “I don’t think it warrants an apology. I do think it warrants corrective action.”
Mind numbing to a generation that prioritizes tolerance and diversity.
—Unfettered political, business, and media (with one notable exception) support for doling out millions in tax dollars to sports teams owned by billionaires. In fact, not one, NOT ONE, of the nine candidates running for the Hillsborough County Commission in 2016 unequivocally opposed using public funds for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.
Their support ran the gamut from minimal (Pat Kemp) to double speak (Jim Norman) to the farm (Ken Hagan). Commissioner Hagan has been the chief water carrier for Rays owner Stu Sternberg in the stadium “search.” Despite a law setting term limits, Hagan has served 16 consecutive years on the County Commission and announced he is running for another term in 2018. The point man for special interests, he has bucked all odds.
Heresy to a generation that prioritizes economic justice and deems professional sports low in the pecking order.
—Local leaders and the media perpetuating the myth that Millennials avoid purchasing automobiles. There’s a good chance some don’t really believe that but by repeating the fabrication, they hope to get a recalcitrant citizenry on board with a tri-county light rail system that will ultimately cost at least $15 billion funded by an increased sales tax. And these auto-aversion falsehoods, parroted by area media, repel Millennials who resent the mischaracterization.
But Millennials haven’t rejected the automobile as a means of transport: our five big city millennials own six vehicles (one also drives a motorcycle). They look at automobiles as utilitarian, not an in-your-face status symbol. A comprehensive report in the L.A. Times states Millennials want in-vehicle technology, are willing to delay an automobile purchase but not forego it, and favor Uber over mass transit. Tampa Bay leaders act clueless when it comes to Millennials and transportation.
Troubling to a generation that is proud of its values and doesn’t want to be mislabeled through ignorance.
Immediate action from the power structure here is essential. Though Millennials wed later than other generations have, they are–get ready for it–aging. In our Millennial quintet, one is married and two are formally engaged. If the power structure here waits five years to implement a realistic, comprehensive plan, the Millennial age range will be 23-39. Then local leaders can go back to the drawing board and try to figure out the proclivities of Generation Z.
For example, this plan for mini-apartments targeting Millennials in downtown Tampa with zilch parking is based on a gross misconception. Even if it was grounded in some fact, time mitigates against any chance of success. I would hate to be the loan officer who approved this sure-fire fail.
The first step in becoming a Millennial magnet is to acknowledge that an issue exists. Pay-for-play articles that misrepresent what Tampa Bay really is exacerbates the problem. If such ploys motivate a few Millennials to explore our area, they would soon be disillusioned. Some would say that Visit Tampa Bay is only doing its job by placing these stories but it causes more harm than good. In a rare display of rationality, none of the local mainstream media–that we know of–reprinted or broadcast the fable.
The next step, attacking the problem, will prove more thorny. Leaders here will have to more closely align local business and social culture with the group they want to so desperately entice. If they are unwilling or unable to accomplish that, Tampa Bay can be written off as a Millennial destination.