Are millennials getting ready to leave big cities in droves? Some experts in demographics, economics and real estate have predicted the millennial exodus from huge urban areas has already begun. If true, the question remains: where will they go? Some may head to the suburbs, like their parents and grandparents did before them, but many will look for a different lifestyle, one that combines the advantages of suburban living with the best features of city life. Some smaller metro areas, like Wausau, Wisconsin, are banking they have the blend of economic opportunity, urban elements, affordability and lifestyle that will attract migrating millennials.
“Economy has always been a factor in generational migrations, and while the nature of work has changed, economic opportunity is still key to where people want to live,” says Christian Schock, director of planning, community and economic development for the City of Wausau. “Everyone wants to find a place with the winning formula of urban activities, affordability and lifestyle. Businesses want to put down roots in that environment, too, knowing it will draw a bigger pool of skilled workers.”
In recent years, the City of Wausau has made concerted efforts to position itself with both big city amenities and small town assets. By many accounts, the efforts are paying off. In a 2016 Pew Research Trust analysis of income equality nationwide, Wausau ranked first in the nation, with the middle class constituting 67 percent of the city’s total population. Wausau also ranked highest in Wisconsin and eighth nationally on Area Development magazine’s list of hot spots for new and expanding businesses.
Small to mid-size metro areas that want to attract millennials, as well as businesses and investors, need to address key areas, including:
In addition to the recreational and entertainment amenities often highlighted when discussing millennials, many mid-sized metros lack the diversity of housing types that can be found in a larger city which millennials might be accustomed to.
One strategy Wausau has focused on specifically is diversifying housing product. The City funded local architects to design an urban rowhouse — a housing style which did not previously exist. For over a decade, leaders proactively assembled parcels for new riverfront apartments, and continually worked with developers to seek tax credits which could be applied to renovating historic properties into unique multifamily offerings.
Rising real estate costs are among the factors that kept many millennials living in cities longer than they might have liked, experts say. Mid-sized metros have an edge in making home buying more affordable for millennials — and homebuyers of all generations.
Recognized as a leader in economic development homesteading, Wausau's Live It Up program is a partnership between local employers and the city to provide employees with a no-interest down payment assistance loan for the purchase of a home. In the last two years, the program has allocated more than $200,000 in no-interest loans to local employees.
Millennials who came of age in urban environments have a strong affinity for multifunctional spaces, and are drawn to communities that are a walkable mix of business, retail, industry and residential. While the specific physical space needs may change, their own strong sense of identity makes them inclined to seek a region that has its own established sense of self.
Wausau has leveraged more than $100 million in new downtown development over the past decade and currently has another $100 million under construction, emphasizing the city’s identity as a vibrant, growing core. Wausau’s Riverlife Village project is reclaiming more than 16 acres of urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River to house a new park, river wharf, mixed-use office space, biking paths, apartments and a family entertainment center.
Perhaps the greatest testament to a mid-sized metro’s success is the recommitment of historic businesses to local growth. Wausau Insurance was an early innovator in workers’ compensation insurance, which evolved out of the necessity for local lumber mills to share the risk of worker rehabilitation. Now part of Liberty Mutual, the company recently announced a $50 million regional facility expansion. Wausau Window and Wall Systems and Linetec, both in the building materials industry, also trace their roots to the lumber industry, and have completed over $60 million worth of expansion and doubled the size of their workforce within the past five years, providing a strong foundation for continued economic development.
“Any resident, millennial or not, is looking for ways to connect with their community. Both businesses and residents are discovering that smaller cities can even be more responsive and creative than larger metros,” says Robert Mielke, mayor of Wausau.
To learn more about how the City of Wausau is attracting residents from big cities, visit www.wausome.org.
For many young adults, heavy debt and lower-paying jobs lead to a delay in traditional life goals like buying homes and starting families. However, research suggests that Millennials’ financial worries are adding up to more than stress and disappointment, particularly once they become parents.
Millennial Parents Struggle with High Cost of Living
Better money management today can lead to brighter financial future
Two in five young parents rate their financial health as unsatisfactory and 40 percent said financial stress is putting a strain on their relationship, according to a survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education and Parents Magazine. More than half of millennial parents concede they would surrender a year of their life to have more financial security.
"Being a parent takes patience, forgiveness and a lot of silent counts to 10, but it also takes a lot of money," said Paul Golden, director of Smart About Money, a nonprofit foundation inspiring educated financial decision-making for individuals and families through every stage of life. "Many young adults start off with significant student loan debt. When you add housing, groceries, utilities, transportation expenses and health care costs, the strain increases, and oftentimes the math in the household budget doesn't add up."
The price tag of raising a child is more than $304,000 based on the projected inflation-adjusted cost of rearing a child until age 18, not counting college. Managing that financial pressure begins with planning for the future and truly understanding the costs associated with adding a baby to the family or buying a new home, Golden added.
"Regularly paying attention to your money and practicing major life transitions before they happen is an important step toward achieving financial health," he said.
As a parent, you have many financial responsibilities to balance, but planning for the future can help prevent unforeseen expenses from tipping your scales.
Debt reduction. Make a plan to pay off excessive debt, particularly credit cards. Tackle your lowest balance first to gain momentum then take on the next smallest. Additionally, pay attention to higher interest rates that are costing you a lot of money.
Use a budget. Get a budget and spending plan in place to keep track of your expenses. Try an envelope system with monthly allowances for groceries, entertainment, utilities, etc.
Start saving. Build an emergency fund. Aim for a small, achievable goal as low as $500 then set the bar higher. Participate in your employer-sponsored savings program to boost retirement savings, especially if there is a match. Make it an automatic payroll deduction and increase it when your paycheck goes up. As far as your child's college savings, save what you can, when you can. Every little bit will help when education bills come due.
Child care. Consider establishing a flexible spending account if one is offered by your employer. Parents can use pretax dollars to pay up to $5,000 in child care expenses in most states.
Review insurance and important paperwork. Create a will either by using an online program or hiring a professional to name your child's guardian, and designate at what age any payouts, savings or investments will be distributed. With health insurance, notify your employer within 30 days of the birth to ensure that the child is eligible for any dependent benefits. Purchase appropriate health care coverage to protect your family. Review your employer's life insurance plan and determine if it is adequate for your needs. If not, consider purchasing additional life insurance.
Save for the future. Put money for short-term expenses (1-5 years) in safe investments, such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit. These low-interest-rate investments will not grow dramatically, but they will not lose money, either. Money you will need beyond five years should have the opportunity to grow at a risk level you are comfortable with. Use a combination of steady-earning savings accounts and more volatile stock and bond mutual funds to help protect you against long-term losses.
Get started with these tips and learn more through self-directed courses at SmartAboutMoney.org.
How Much Does Having a Baby Cost?Along with preparing for the costs of clothes, furniture and baby items, take time to review your health care and employer benefits and policies relating to time off work.
Spread the costs.
Know what's covered.
Account for time off work.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
National Endowment for Financial Education
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