Life as a fashion stylist in New York City gave Maya Oren, 27, her big city fix. Now, she runs a business out of New Haven, Connecticut, and calls West Hartford her home. Oren, who grew up in Woodbridge, said Connecticut has a “quaint, comforting feeling to it – like a familiar, warm hug.”
It’s also easier on the wallet.
“You walk out the door in New York City and you spend $60. It’s nuts,” said Oren, who rented what she called “a 100-square-foot box” for $1,100 a month in the Big Apple. Now, she has a 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment for $1,445.
Oren initially tried to launch her business in New York City, but said she felt like “a small fish in a big pond with a thousand other people doing very similar work.” In Connecticut, however, she was able to meet the people she needed to launch Mojalvo, her visual content creation agency specializing in food and hospitality.
“I give all of the credit to my success to starting here in Connecticut,” she said.
Connecticut is banking on Oren and other millennials (born between 1981 and 2000), to eschew big cities in favor of the land of steady habits, in part to increase their savings and also to fulfill their dream of entrepreneurship—and boost the state’s economy in the process. Attracting millennials to live and work in the state takes a multipronged approach that involves career opportunities, public transportation and housing.
Take, for example, Harbor Point in Stamford’s South End, which has access to the Long Island Sound and is expanding its complex to include an additional 2,000 units.
“As a result of this redevelopment, they have created communities within which residents can walk to stores, restaurants, as well as providing social activities within the area including art festivals, yoga classes on the water, and outside movie screenings,” said Lisa Mercurio of the Business Council of Fairfield County.
The Council, meanwhile, is addressing concerns from local businesses that are keen to hire college graduates but are unable to compete with the lifestyle activities offered in New York.
“Employers wanted to provide their interns with a perspective of what the city and region has to offer as a place to live and work,” she said. “The city of Stamford has developed very active sports leagues targeted at both interns and young professionals.”
The Council has also launched what it calls a ‘Road Trip to the Real World,’ where students from Fairfield County colleges tour companies in the area, including Americares and Nestle Waters, to learn more about what they do and what they are looking for in new hires.
Officials believe such efforts are paying off.
Kim Bishop, executive director of Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs [HYPE], said that in the last two years, the organization is seeing more millennials coming to Connecticut from out of state. “And they’re not coming just to work, but are looking to get engaged and to become a part of the city.”
Shana Schneider, founder of FitStyle by Shana and a member of the New Haven women’s networking group HVN Lady Project, said about 30 percent of the Lady Project’s members are millennials.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of millennial members because they are deciding to come back after college. They see New Haven’s energy, how much it has to offer, and just how accessible it is,” Schneider said. “New Haven is a supportive place for starting new companies and we see a lot of that happening here.”
Co-working spaces include The Grove and The District; mActivity, a new fitness center close to downtown that offers a community working space along with gym membership; and the New Haven Free Public Library that just received a major grant from the state to further develop its innovation programming.
Why Connecticut needs millennial workers
The Connecticut State Data Center projects that as the baby boomer generation ages, a generational shift will occur in Connecticut as millennials remain a nearly stable population. The population born after 2000 is projected to continue to rise from more than 637,000 in 2015 to 1.8 million by 2040.
Growing sectors like manufacturing will need more workers, including millennials, and Connecticut manufacturers say they need to fill more than 13,000 positions by the end of 2018, a survey by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Inc. found.
“Healthcare and social assistance is the largest sector for all workers [including] for those aged 25 to 34,” said Patrick J. Flaherty, assistant director of Research and Information, Office of Research and Information, Connecticut Department of Labor. “Seventeen percent of all workers are working in Healthcare and Social Assistance compared to 19 percent of millennials.”
Bloomfield, Conn.-headquartered insurance juggernaut Cigna Corp. is just one of many global companies that need millennials in the workforce in order to continue to innovate and grow.
“We have in place extensive recruitment and career development programs to attract young talent, who can bring energy, focus and new ideas so that Cigna can better connect with our markets both in the U.S. and in 30 countries and jurisdictions around the globe,” said Joseph Mondy, Cigna spokesperson.
Mondy said Cigna has been relatively successful in recruiting young workers by providing challenging assignments, job rotations, ready access to senior management, training and development opportunities and encouragement for involvement in community work and social responsibility initiatives.
“We offer a variety of internships that offer all these approaches plus good pay and even paid housing during summer,” Mondy said. “We wind up hiring about 90 percent of our interns to full-time positions.”
Meanwhile, Farmington-headquartered United Technologies Corp. [UTC] recently introduced a parental leave policy that provides paid time off for both parents after the birth or adoption of a child— a key factor in attracting a younger workforce.
“We actively and visibly promote sustainability and social responsibility, which we’ve found are both key attractors for millennial talent,” said Laurie Havanec, UTC vice president for talent, highlighting the group’s success in recruiting millennial workers.
Not all millennials love Connecticut
Aubrey Scheffey lived in Connecticut from 1989 to 2009, and was 23 years old when she left the state.
“I graduated college in 2008 just as the recession hit. At the time I was living with my parents in Connecticut and couldn’t find a job. While that was a struggle for me, I had long disliked Connecticut and planned to leave it,” Scheffey said. “The recession did not cause me to leave, it delayed my ability to do so. When my fiancé got accepted to University of Illinois at Chicago, I followed him. I had been ready to follow him to Alberta, Canada—anywhere but Connecticut.”
Scheffey’s greatest frustration was city planning and transportation.
“I was continually frustrated by the amount of driving I needed to do. None of the cities near me seemed self-sufficient,” she said. “I always needed to go to Manchester for some items and Glastonbury for others. Manchester did invest in sidewalks for their Main Street and there was an effort to introduce bike paths through the state—but the paths were recreational and useless for transportation, often being completely isolated from town centers or not intersecting with roads for miles.”
This, to Scheffey, made the feeling of living in Connecticut isolating.
Now the director of student development projects at Harry S. Truman College in Chicago, Scheffey said the cost of living does not worry her as she finds ways to save money.
“I feel a connection and sense of belonging to my community and workplace,” she said. “Even in the beginning when I had no friends or contacts I did not feel the same loneliness as I did for most of my life in Connecticut.”
Samantha Chundur, an architect and urban designer in Berkeley, California, said the key elements of smart cities—mixed use, walkability, bikability, compact development, public space, transit and transit-oriented development—are in line with the way millennials want to live now.
More than 60 percent of millennials, and 50 percent of Americans, want to live in a place where they don’t have to use their cars often – according to America in 2015: A ULI Survey of Views on Housing, Transportation, and Community.
“This directly translates to building communities that are centered on walkability and mixed-use —where jobs, housing and services are within easy access,” Chundur said. “Mixed-use includes not just a mix of land uses, but also a range of density and housing options; social diversity is an essential factor as well. The underlying goal is sustainability, connectivity, and improving our quality of life. Fundamentally, smart cities are about people.”
And that’s what Hartford, New Haven and Stamford are hoping to achieve through mixed-use development projects and an emphasis on becoming bike-and-pedestrian friendly.
Philadelphia native Jessica Tucker, 25, who lives in Hartford and works for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. in Windsor, touts her new hometown’s walkability—but likes the fact that it doesn’t come with the congestion of a big city.
“We enjoy living in Hartford, being within walking distance to the Connecticut Science Center, Hartford Library, a movie theater, and great restaurants. Easy jump into I-84 and I-91. Love that we’re close to places like New York City and Boston, but there’s less traffic, more affordable rent, and we’re close to cute towns such as Glastonbury and West Hartford, for shopping, eating, and having fun,” said Tucker, who moved to Connecticut from New Jersey three years ago, where she had her first job out of school at Mars Chocolate North America. “My favorite weekends are when we get tickets to the Yard Goats game on a Friday night – we can walk to the stadium from my apartment complex, then head out with friends in Hartford afterwards.”