Our View: Growth needs to consider our youth

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DMC EDA Communications and Community Relations Director Mary Welder speaks to a group of students from Mayo High School's SAFE Club on Thursday, May 19.

On Thursday, a group of students from Mayo High School's Students and Family Engagement Club (SAFE) filled the modern trappings of the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency's downtown offices. They were there to learn and lend input.

For months, maybe even years at this point, we've been hearing about the need to attract millennials to the city. With an estimated 35,000 new jobs coming in and an existing shortage of workers, retaining and attracting the next generation's best and brightest is crucial.

The SAFE group, full of college-bound students, is exactly the kind of crew we hope winds up back in the city after graduation. The club helps students who are the first of their families to go to college with college applications and interview tactics, while also exposing them to a huge swath of experiences, from tours of downtown economic development agency offices to bird-banding at nature centers.

This was not DMC's first foray into millennial engagement. For a whole semester, DMC EDA staff met with a class of Winona State University students tasked with crafting social media strategy proposals aimed at luring millenials to the city. The resulting trio of proposals included a giant coffee mug that moves from place to place in the city fostering conversation, a bus that goes from campus to campus exposing students to the Rochester lifestyle, and an iconic landmark designed to display in social media posts, somewhat akin to Chicago's Millennium Park egg sculpture.

While those might be good ideas, it's also crucial that we not become a city people hope to escape from after graduating.


Angelina Estupinan, a freshman who wants to serve in the military before going into the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, said Rochester's "not really" a town she'd want to return to, though her intended careers do not offer much choice in the matter, anyway.

"There's not really anything to do, basically," Estupinan said.

That was a sentiment shared by much of her SAFE group.

When asked what they like about the city, the students listed just two things: bubble tea and coffee. When asked about their complaints, the list was longer. Students bemoaned a lack of teen activities, cultural festivals, transportation options for the carless, parades and places for teens to hang out away from schools, libraries or malls.

When asked to rate their satisfaction with the city on a scale of one to five, one being the worst score, most students raised two fingers. One student raised four.

Mena Yousif, a junior, wants to own her own small business after graduating.

"I might just stay here," she said, noting her family is here, and it's safe.

"I think safety is a really big thing," she added.


Yousif thinks the city's singular focus on the medical industry needs a counterbalance, and she pointed out the lack of public outdoor seating in the downtown core — things we have heard from people far older than the high school junior.

It leads us to ponder whether millenials really are so different than generations that came before them.

After all, when asked whether they knew what prototyping is, none of the high schoolers raised a hand.

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