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Trigaux: Can Florida find right mojo to lure top millennials? One survey doubts it

Ruan Cox Jr., an industry alliances development associate a Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, is also a millennial ambassador with StandUp Tampa, working to attract talented millennials to this market. [Handout photo]
Ruan Cox Jr., an industry alliances development associate a Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, is also a millennial ambassador with StandUp Tampa, working to attract talented millennials to this market. [Handout photo]
Published Apr. 5, 2017

Are innovative millennials a potent part of Florida's future? That answer remains stubbornly elusive, no matter how much we want an influx of youthful vigor and smarts to power this state and region's economy ahead.

Making Tampa a magnet for millennials is a permanent pitch in Mayor Bob Buckhorn's speeches. Economic development groups for many years have pondered better ways to make Tampa Bay more appealing to adults 35 and under, both to retain homegrown talent and to attract the young and the smart from afar.

Emerge Tampa and St. Pete Young Professionals were born to empower young business professionals and groom them for leadership. The newer StandUp Tampa group features millennial entrepreneurs serving as regional economic and lifestyle ambassadors.

Despite Florida's insatiable quest to become more of a mecca for millennial talent, the Sunshine State gets no respect in a new study released this week. WalletHub — measuring all 50 states for affordability of living, education, health, quality of life, economic health and civic engagement — zinged Florida with a near-the-bottom ranking of No. 42 on its "best and worst" states for millennials.

Is WalletHub right? My anecdotal sense is Florida's ranking is harsh. I see lots of younger people who appear to be reasonably prosperous all across the Tampa Bay area.

"I would put the opportunities available to young professionals in Florida and specifically St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay up against any other market," says Greg Holden, 36, vice president with Manning & Napier Advisors, past chair of the St. Pete Chamber Board and a past chair of its Young Professionals program.

Still, I hear complaints from local officials who like the revival of downtown Tampa but fear all the new housing, amenities and jobs offer too little in price or opportunity for millennials.

On the other hand, I often visit Washington, D.C. — No. 5 on WalletHub's best/worst list and a metro area where I once lived and worked — and I am routinely stunned at how many young people are flocking there. The same goes with Denver, since I was there a few weeks ago, with Colorado ranking a healthy No. 9 among states for millennials. D.C. and Denver have young adults to spare.

As a generational whole, millennials are better educated than their parents but are distinctly worse off economically

"Millennials have come of age and entered the workforce in the shadow of the Great Recession, significantly reducing their job prospects and earning potential for decades to come," warns the WalletHub researchers.

At No. 42, Florida landed just below South Carolina and above Georgia in the WalletHub rankings. Among the various measures that make up Florida's overall rank, the state did best (No. 34) in millennial economic health and worst (No. 46) in "civic engagement" — a measure of voter turnout and volunteerism.

If WalletHub's right, Florida will face tough times keeping or attracting talented millennials in the numbers it needs for the future. On the other hand, as one economic development executive pointed out after examining the WalletHub survey, how much credibility is there to a survey where the No. 1 or "best" state for millennials is North Dakota?

"There might be a reason that North Dakota is so affordable since not as many people want to live there," suggests Holden.

Roberto Torres, a Tampa entrepreneur and a StandUp Tampa ambassador who represents the city to millennials in other metro areas, says he hears from friends who want to move to major metro areas for specific reasons. "I have not met or heard from anybody who, right after college, wants to go to North Dakota for a job or to start a company."

Point taken.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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