Matt Chalker and students in the Fab Lab at CSUB

The M Word: Millennials

We’re talking, of course, about Millennials; the youngest generation currently in the workforce.

Millennials will also soon become the U.S.’s largest living generation, which makes this demographic important for economists and local businesses around the country. So bad rap or no, this group of people will be deciding the future of Bakersfield and Kern County in a number of ways. Where they want to live; where they want to work; what they want in their life; these are important answers to have if a community wants to hold onto such a large workforce. And thankfully, we are.

The term for people born between the early ‘80s and late ‘90s has thus had many negative connotations because of how quickly technology and the media has changed how young adults act and interact, giving rise the stereotypical “Millennial.”

Which can make it hard for anyone in that generation to get and keep a job when many baby boomer employers think so little of that age group.

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A 2013 Beyond.com survey of over 6,000 job seekers and veteran HR professionals differed greatly on their perceptions of the Millennial generation. For example, of the Millennials surveyed, 82 percent of them said they were loyal to their employers while HR workers claimed that they felt only one percent of Millennials were loyal. One! Additionally, 86 percent of Millennials described themselves as hard-working while those same HR folks said that they felt that number was around 11 percent for young people.

But these generational growing pains are par for the course. And it’s ultimately not as important as overlooking stereotypes and educating and retaining these young adults in order to keep our economy growing, which is why the Kern Economic Development Corporation (KEDC), CSUB and BC, and even our downtown housing market is shifting some focus onto making sure our area looks very appealing to this demographic.

“We’re currently the most affordable county for young people in the entire state,” KEDC President Richard Chapman explained. “According to a November 2014 Trulia study, the Bakersfield-Delano metro area…is the top metro in the state for affordability for Millennials. Almost fifty percent of young adults can afford a 1,400-square-foot home in Kern County.”

This is obviously favorable to living in the Greater LA or Bay areas, where renting a small apartment can cost upwards of $2,000. “Nationwide,” Chapman said, “midsize cities are attracting more Millennials as pricey destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles no longer have the allure they once did.”

Kern County, in fact, ranked number two for millennial job and population growth in a recent Pew study. So Chapman and other business-minded people are focusing on how to keep them here long term, which means greater economic benefits across the board—taxes, large workforce, housing.

The latter of which is a crucial element in this puzzle. Hopefully you’ve heard of the 17th Place Townhomes.

Austin Smith, project manager for the development, agreed with Chapman that it’s important for Millennials to stay here. “For our region as a whole, specifically, and our city, we need to attract this young talent—these young professionals—to come to Bakersfield. Otherwise we aren’t able to diversify our economy and we’re subject to a commodity cycle.” Smith, part of the Millennial generation himself, said that he understands the negative view of Millennials. He said, “When any generation comes of age, there is naturally a conflict with the prior generation.”

Matt Chalker and students in the Fab Lab at CSUB
Matt Chalker and students in the Fab Lab at CSUB

With a background in urban planning, Smith and his wife moved back to Bakersfield after college because they are passionate about Bakersfield (another trait older generations feel Millennials lack). “We wanted to make a contribution in the best way we can,” he added. And because of his training, he felt that was to help revitalize the downtown area.

For years, there has been demand for housing downtown, especially from young people who want to live near restaurants, bars and pubs, and businesses for a more cultural experience.

“Downtown was selected to be the place for these townhomes because of the amount of built-in amenities. We’re not building from scratch on farmland—it’s an already urbanized area with restaurants, shops, art galleries, employers, and recreation. The demand was there.”

Smith detailed that the reaction from the community has been very positive. “People from all age groups, not just young people, have shown interest.”

Smith elaborated that in order for Bakersfield to be able to attract an educated workforce, downtown housing is an important factor. “Most people who have moved from other large cities, or who’ve come from living on a college campus, they want that urban lifestyle that includes living downtown and until recently, it wasn’t possible.

“This is just a start. Our project is large for downtown because it’s a relatively small area and nothing like it has been built before. In the scheme of things, relative to our entire city, it’s a small complex, but I do think it will get the ball rolling for downtown housing.”

For Smith, it all goes back to lifestyle. “It may be that Millennials think a bit differently. You used to go to a city that had the most job openings and seek out a career and a lifestyle. Now, people often choose where they want to live based on lifestyle and hope the job follows. So there needs to be opportunity for housing and jobs here.”

And jobs might be the trickier piece of the puzzle. How do you get young people to want to come to Kern County for schooling and future careers?

17th Place Townhomes will have 44 beautiful units, available for renting starting in summer 2016.
17th Place Townhomes will have 44 beautiful units, available for renting starting in summer 2016.

One such way is offering the latest and greatest in STEM training and jobs. STEM careers are a hot commodity, and because both oil and agriculture rely on science, technology, engineering, and math, our area is ripe for helping to propel young people into careers that will keep them based in Bakersfield and Kern.

“With recent top ten rankings for STEM jobs and high-tech GDP growth, Kern is emerging as a recognized technology hub across several industry sectors including aerospace/defense, energy, food processing, healthcare, and logistics,” Chapman detailed. In East Kern, technology incubators like the Mojave Air and Space Port support more than 60 companies and 3,000 jobs.

In Bakersfield, two recent openings have helped garner attention. “CSUB’s Fab Lab is an advanced digital fabrication facility, consisting of a suite of fabrication and rapid prototyping machines. The venture was the result of the Fab Foundation and Chevron successfully partnering with MIT,” Chapman explained. “Additionally, Mesh Cowork, a new Bakersfield incubator, allows entrepreneurs and independent workers to be part of an innovative and collaborative community. The shared environment offers low-cost space along with the contacts and resources to grow a fledgling business. According to Emergent Research, the number of global coworking facilities has been growing quite rapidly over the last five years, basically doubling in number each year.”

Matt Chalker, Fab Lab specialist and liaison at CSUB, said, “The Fab Lab is our on-campus digital fabrication and rapid prototyping facility. In a nutshell, it’s the space where we use computers to control machines and make all sorts of cool things! In the past year since we opened, we have had over 1,100 people participate in activities in the lab, making everything from simple laser cut keychains to quadcopter drones and large art installations.” It’s a boon for our area as those students interested in STEM careers will take a close look at Bakersfield when it comes to college.

“I think enabling students to create (almost) anything they can think up is an incredibly empowering idea. Holding something in your hands when it only existed on a computer screen a few minutes prior is both awe-inspiring and addicting and I think quite a few students will stick around Kern County if they continue having that opportunity,” Chalker explained.

And the plan is to also extend that opportunity to the community at large. “We are not quite open to the public at large yet but it is something I am actively working on and hope to make possible in the next few months. Ultimately, I would love to create a community in which people from diverse walks of life and levels of expertise can learn from one another and collaborate on some cool projects!”

Andrea Medina, Director of Grants and Outreach for CSUB’s School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, & Engineering, said the department, “offers many hands-on, real world degree plans for our undergraduate and graduate students. Our engineering program alone continues to expand each year with degree tracks in Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Management, Engineering Sciences, and Petroleum Engineering. Because our student to instructor ratio is small compared to other universities, CSUB is in a very unique position to offer our students a truly applied educational experience.” But that’s not all. “We have direct relationships with many of the companies in the industry, like Chevron and PG&E, for internships and research opportunities. To use a term from our Geology Department (which offers degrees in environmental studies, hydrogeology, and petroleum geology): our students are ‘shovel ready’ upon graduation!”

Additionally, Aera Energy’s $500,000 donation to Bakersfield College late last year has established the Aera STEM Success Center. The new Center will incorporate modern technology, printing, computers, and plotting services, plus study areas and supplemental instruction opportunities. “Once completed, the new Aera STEM Success Center will be part of a technologically advanced STEM neighborhood with a high-tech environment, all to increase access to STEM education for Bakersfield College students.”

In a press release, BC President Dr. Sonya Christian said, “Fundamentally, Bakersfield College is focused on STEM as a pathway to success for our community…It is our firm belief the development of a STEM Success Center will promote STEM careers among all students, serve as a gathering point for students pursuing STEM education, and provide educated and trained employees—a valuable resource—to all employers.”

All this is great news. Kern County seems to be well positioned to meet the future needs of the next generation of workers, who’ll want to live and play here, too.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Of course, he was talking about the people that now make up the Greatest Generation, those who lived through the Depression and World War II, but with the recent recessions and political strife and wars overseas, it’s easy to see how that quote can apply to those who find themselves being called a Millennial.

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