Millennials are the second largest age group in St. Louis County behind the baby boomers. And there's reason to argue that while St. Louis is good for them, they are also good for St. Louis.
Today in St. Louis's Abby Llorico sat down with a panel of millennial community leaders to talk about how they see their generation helping to shape the future of the region.
Here are some of the things they had to say.
ON THE FUTURE:
Emily: A huge word for St. Louis is "potential." And it’s both a blessing and a curse. Growing up I was told, "oh my gosh you have so much potential." I remember feeling really great about that and then feeling at a certain age, like, I don’t want to have potential anymore. I want to be there. And I feel that way about St. Louis, where we should be there. But because we're not, we will continue using the term "potential" to describe us.
ON WHY STL IS GOOD FOR MILLENNIALS… AND MILLENNIALS ARE GOOD FOR STL:
De: St. Louis is home though. I feel like I became my own person here. Which makes me feel super connected. I was one of those young doe-eyed kids who knew that I wanted to change the world. I always knew that, but St. Louis became the space, the environment, the support network.
David N.: Putting people in a box just limits what they can do, and it’s hard to break that, so in that sense I don’t like being called a millennial. But in the sense that I was born in that age range then yes I guess. Millennials are in a sense a group of people that don’t have a boundary. Like, the virtual boundaries have been broken, and you can learn everything at any time. There’s people that don’t have the resources, but there’s always some way of learning, and I think that millennials can bring that opportunity to different people who don’t have that opportunity at the moment. To learn and get more educated.
De: I think there’s a willingness amongst us in general to really think about, "well, what else can we do," or "what’s not here and how can we create it?" There’s a spirit of innovation across our age group that is global, and because we have all of this technology at our advantage, we can do a lot with it.
David A.: They don’t just care about the money, they actually care about making an impact. So what’s so powerful about that is that if the companies understand how to attract millennials, they are going to make a massive impact in their company if they get with the community. If we create the space, and environment, this is a space where they can move forward and create the most good.
ON LIVING HERE:
David A.: (I grew up in the metro east.) You know, it’s been really encouraging for me to look at the Cortex district and looking at the entrepreneurship scene and expression and movement that we’ve seen within the space, of innovation.
Emily: I was raised in the county so it’s kind of hard for me to say. Growing up and being told that the city is dangerous and old, and then moving here, living here, working here, and realizing there are these new institutions like the Cortex district. There is innovation happening here.
Blake: So I grew up in the Bay area in California, just a few miles outside of Berkeley, which is dramatically different culturally in many ways. I came here for school. And there’s a reason I’m still here, which is very simply: I think that participants in the St. Louis community have almost an arbitrage opportunity. We get to get in at the proverbial ground floor, and just be in the growth in construction of something that genuinely is exciting. Tying that back to the, call it 'millennial mindset,' my team and I, largely want a few things. We want to grow personally, we want to have an impact on other people, a positive impact, and then we want the opportunity to reach some kind of financial attainment as well. And I think that St. Louis, as much as or more than most cities, especially most relatively high growth cities, really does offer that.
ON FUTURE DEVELOPMENT:
De: I think of all the empty storefronts, all the empty Schnucks spaces across the city. What would it look like to transform those spaces into something that can actually bolster economy and those areas that have undergone disinvestment for so long? How can we innovate with that with the people who live there?
Emily: And you know, I think that last part, with the people that live there, is a huge one. Because I see a lot of innovation, I see a lot of growth happening in St. Louis, but it also becomes growth that is catered towards the upper class. Or growth that is catered toward the educated. The people that can afford to go to this fancy expensive restaurant that’s now in destination point but nothing around it, or nothing decided, that our options for the lower middle-class.
David A.: I’m just going to share this really quick story: my brother is in Sydney, Australia. And he was walking down the street in Sydney, sees a homeless guy, and the guy goes "where are you from me?" He said "I’m from St. Louis." And the guy says, "oh my God how is the racism?" A homeless guy in Australia!
De: I have a friend in South Korea who checks in on me and it’s always about the racism here. Do you still feel safe even living there.
David N.: I was about to move here, my friends, the only things that they sent me were links about how dangerous the city is how racist the city is. It's not a good feeling when you were coming from a different country and you already have that in mind.... For example, I was talking Spanish with a friend the other day and somebody said like, ‘Hey, speak English, you’re in the states.’ That happened to me Saturday night. And, I just said listen--and he was a person of color, by the way which doesn’t have anything to do--but I said "Hey, we need St. Louis to be multicultural." And once he heard that he just fist-pumped me and was like, yeah, you’re right about that.
ON BECOMING A MORE ATTRACTIVE CITY TO YOUNG PEOPLE:
De: There is something special here. But a lot of the people that I know who I’ve met in school left, because there is this sense that there’s this historical internal grudge across different people, different demographics. The city is so segmented. You see that with the perpetuation of so much inequity on the north side of Delmar. You see that with how North County looks drastically different from West County. You see it in the growing disinvestment in certain areas where there are no more grocery stores... And I think that becomes a turn off for a lot of millennials. I think the power of us as millennials, especially those of us who are not from here, is that we don’t have those types of assumptions and grudges about different places and people in the city.
Emily: Even just asking somebody something as simple as what high school did you go to is an intrinsically racist thing to do. I don’t think that many St. Louisans understand that, because it’s so ingrained in like "oh it’s a St. Louis thing to do to ask you where you went to high school?" Which is really asking you how rich are you, which is really asking you which class you exist in, and will exist in.
Blake: I think that it really is the incentive side that’s missing. So often St. Louis comes across as pushing away as opposed to increasing incentives.
About our panel:
Blake Marggraff, CEO of Epharmix / CA native who came here for school: “I founded the technology group called Epharmix, which creates digital health tools. That aligns really closely with what I care about, which is, of course, putting my time toward areas where I will have the greatest positive impact.”
David Alexander, Art & Innovation Entrepreneur / Metro East native: “I launched an organization called Legacy Impact Network, in 2016. And specifically we connect college leaders with Christian CEOs and executives to be mentored. We connect them to events, resources that they need to be successful in their careers. One of the things I’m really passionate about is the intersection of art and entrepreneurship. I tell people: it’s kind of like my creativity is my inspiration, and my entrepreneurship is my activation.”
De Nichols, Civic Director and Board of Director Forward Through Ferguson / Mississippi native who came here for school: “In the midst of all the social issues that are going on in the world, I organize artists--protest artists, or "artivists"--to create objects, artifacts experiences, that really speak to a lot of issues. And I just had a piece that was collected by the Smithsonian, and earned St. Louis visionary award. So I’m also in that space: seeing how does art, how does creativity at large, intersect with so many of our social issues of today?”
David Neuman, Sales Manager, NRGene / Panama native who came here for work: “I've always been passionate about human equality. Coming from a different country and coming to the states and realizing firsthand what some of the problems are in the United States, and people not being aware of the real problems, and living it face on. It really helps you understand what’s going on and try to make everybody understand that we are all equal, so I’m very passionate about that.”
Emily Elhoffer, “Dream Consultant,” Tech Shop STL / St. Charles County native: “I work at a place called Tech Shop, kind of like a gym, except for makers. So entrepreneurs, hobbyists, artists, inventors, can get access to machines that they wouldn’t have access to by coming into use our space.”