Tucson ranks dead-last in attracting millennials out of 54 metropolitan areas with 1 million or more residents, according to a recent survey by insurance company Haven Life.
That same survey found that the Tucson area lost more than 13 percent of its millennial population between 2012 and 2017.
That continued exit of young residents has driven some locals, like 28-year-old Tucsonan Zach Yentzer, to band together to attract more young professionals to Southern Arizona.
Yentzer, who serves as the executive director of the nonprofit group Tucson Young Professionals, believes the millennials who have stayed in the desert can persuade others to do the same.
He hopes TYP, which was founded a decade ago, can serve as a meeting point and breeding ground for entrepreneurs, employees and anyone that wants to succeed in the Southern Arizona.
A big part of Yentzer and TYP’s drive centers around forums and meetings with the area’s best and brightest minds to determine the cause of the youthful exodus and ways to address the matter.
TYP recently unveiled a course of action for the region, with four core tenets that were identified by a roundtable of 49 young professionals between the age of 21 and 45.
That list includes greater access to quality education, as well as greater job, innovation and workforce diversity; a more deliberate focus on Tucson’s brand and image nationally and a greater focus on quality of life and infrastructure in Tucson.
Yentzer, who moved to Tucson when he was 11, believes that the city can make serious in-roads in attracting young talent.
He has seen the energy shared by businesspeople of all ages during the group’s monthly meetings, with a shared vision of making Tucson a hub for business and innovation.
The three core tenets of TYP’s organization, according to Yentzer, are providing networking for members, developing business opportunities and embracing an advocacy role that promotes the successes that can be found in Southern Arizona.
Yentzer believes Tucson can rebound from its challenge in attracting millennials by showcasing its strong suits to a national audience.
“What Tucson is really good at is going to get young professionals here,” Yentzer said. “We’ve got a great climate, great food, great music, great art, great culture, great outdoors. In so many ways we’re an ideal community in that way.”
Yentzer identified Tucson’s rising cost of living and its inability to offer competitive salaries as a major stumbling block to overcome.
“Our personal incomes in Tucson and Arizona have been stagnant since the ’70s,” he said. “It’s about 17 to 19 percent below the rest of the country. As Tucson develops, incomes aren’t necessarily keeping up with the costs.”
Yentzer is confident that TYP’s advocacy and ability to bring together the city’s preeminent business minds in a shared space can help address the outstanding issues that haunt its national stature.
The ability to meet with those of similar backgrounds drew longtime Madden Media CEO Dan Janes, who has been a TYP member for a year.
Janes, who heads the Tucson-based publishing consortium, believes that organizations like TYP can serve as a great medium for attracting millennials as employees.
“We really looked at it as a talent attraction and talent development component that we could be a part of within the Tucson community,” Janes said. “Having a company of 100-plus employees based in downtown that has a significant number of millennial employees, we saw it as a great opportunity for professional development.”
Janes is impressed by TYP’s altruistic vision for the region, providing a blueprint for the future that benefits members and prospective members alike.
Janes said organizations like TYP are vital, because they break down barriers for millennials, giving them an outlet to build relationships with those in the community that share similar worldviews.
“TYP is definitely a mission-driven organization, and it’s just incredibly important for millennials these days, as they think about having a purpose of why your businesses exist,” Janes said. “And we’re fortunate to be in the travel industry and we do fully believe that connecting people to places is one of those things that is transformative to, not just communities and the investment that happens for the communities where people are visiting, but it’s kind of important for the individual that’s traveling and breaking down stereotypes and breaking down barriers, discovering new things, and discovering new stories that then become part of the fabric of their lives that they share and brings us closer together as a community.”
That community-driven vision drew Nick Morin, 26, to join the organization in March after graduating from the University of Arizona.
Morin, who founded a startup called The Growers Network, which he dubs “the LinkedIn of cannabis,” said he discovered TYP during his senior year of college.
Morin was attracted immediately by the group’s energy and the common vision for a more energized, successful Tucson.
“TYP lowers the barriers to entry as a young professional to meet different people in our peer group, but also leaders around town through their different programs,” Morin said. “So, all you’ve got to do is show up, right? As a TYP member, you show up and you instantly get value. And it’s the largest group, to my knowledge, that caters towards young professionals. They make it really easy to stay connected, to get involved, and to move Tucson towards the direction that we all want.”
Yentzer said the group’s work with other Tucson business communities, like the Tucson Metro Chamber and Southern Arizona Leadership Council, allows him and his fellow millennials to have a voice in the future of the city’s infrastructure and business development.
He believes the time for action is now, and that Tucson as a whole can repair its reputation as a business hub for the next generation of business owners.
Such a comeback will rely upon the region’s ability to move quickly to address the city’s past shortcomings and put Tucson on pace with booming metropolises, like Portland and Austin.
“I would say that Tucson is at a tipping point,” Yentzer said. “I think there’s that general sense within our membership that the decisions we make in the next five to 10 years are going to impact our next 50. We are a group that loves Tucson. We are pro-Tucson. We love this community. So many of us have strategically chosen to be here. We see the potential that this community has.”