Sanford, N.C., Looks to Woo Youths

The city is working on revitalization efforts to create a booming downtown economy where the growing population of millennials can thrive.

by Zach Potter, The Sanford Herald / April 17, 2015

(TNS) -- With millennials overtaking baby boomers as the largest population group in the United States this year, the city of Sanford is looking at ways to cater to the "social media generation."

"According to data, they're the largest population in Lee County," said Sanford Mayor Chet Mann in reference to a presentation Downtown Sanford Inc. gave to the Sanford City Council Wednesday. "It's vitally important not to ignore that and to provide the things that attract them, the amenities they're interested in."

According to the Pew Research Center, a millennial is someone born between 1981 and 1997, and Downtown Sanford Inc.'s Executive Director David Montgomery's presentation to the council showed millennials constitute 35 percent of Sanford's population.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicted that the millennial population in 2015 will reach 75.3 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, in the country.

"They are a market, and they are a growing market," Montgomery said Thursday. "And their numbers are only going to expand as time goes on."

Rodger Sauls, CEO of the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity, agreed that providing incentives for millennials to remain in or relocate to Lee County was an important part of economic development as technology continues to advance.

"It's not unusual to find that the younger generation has grown up in a society where all they know is the Internet age, social media, those sorts of things," he said. "And that's the way of the future. It's where things are moving, so it's important for us to have people that represent that generation."

Montgomery mentioned the creation of "third places" as one of the key ways to attract younger residents to Lee County.

"Parks, coffee shops, things of that sort," Montgomery said. "Restaurants and microbreweries are a big appeal."

Montgomery's presentation broke down the millennial generation into three subsections: entrepreneurs, "boomerang kids" who returned to their hometowns after college and minority and immigrant groups.

Many of the city's revitalization efforts, Mann said, targeted millennials directly.

"The downtown incubator project we're trying to do with the bonds, that's aimed right at that entrepreneur class," he said. "[Millennials] want a place where they can live, thrive and enjoy downtown. That speaks right to us that the revitalization we're doing is a big key to starting the process of creating products that would attract them here."

Mann said the streetscaping projects came into play as well, given that part of Montgomery's presentation examined a variety of uses for alleyways.

"In the past [alleyways] have been seen as places to hide things like dumpsters or utilities," Montgomery said. "They typically have a negative connotation of dirty and unsafe, but we see them as opportunities to enliven downtown."

Mann said that adding lighting, landscaping, seating and artwork like murals to alleys throughout downtown was a big part of the city's revitalization efforts.

"There are a dozen alleys in the downtown revitalization area," Mann said. "We could fix those up, create some usable space, some beautiful space, there. We could include outdoor dining, decorative lighting, those sort of things that give the city an image you want to project."

Other ways to serve the needs of millennials Montgomery suggested were free Wi-Fi, diverse music and art offerings and a pedestrian-friendly downtown.

"They are our next generation," Montgomery said. "They are going to be the movers and shakers, and we need to plan our city accordingly."

©2015 The Sanford Herald (Sanford, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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