Bendix and the need to appeal to Millennials

Credit to Elyria Pride. Click the image to visit their page.

Credit to Elyria Pride. Click image to visit page.

It has been quite some time since I updated Rage and Love and it’s time to take a different direction.  I started this blog to have an outlet for both my political views and my personal goings on that allowed me to express myself in a longer form than is customary on Facebook.  Both took a backseat to a rather time-consuming job for the last year and a half, but that’s a topic for another time.  The gist is that I’m back and my focus has shifted toward local politics, an area where an individual can still make a difference, and I’ll be using this platform to explore some of the differences from which the city of Elyria could benefit.

The headline on today’s print edition of the Chronicle details Bendix and their relocation potential.  Bendix employs 450 and provides a decent chunk of change to the city via income tax revenue.  They have also been a good corporate citizen recently, donating to the return of city fireworks earlier in 2014.  In a time when most industry has moved on from the Rust Belt, it comes as no surprise that the city wants to incentivize Bendix to keep and expand their world headquarters in the city.

Bendix, however, doesn’t seem too concerned with incentives.  According to Mayor Holly Brinda, “Their major concern is they have solved their recruitment problem, but they are concerned about retaining this talent. They want a building that can attract and retain millennials.”

Millennials, of course, are today’s young adults, a generation that has gone beyond the typical cultural shift between generations to an outright rejection of their parents’ standard aspirations.  Buying homes, new cars, seeking stable employment, and putting career first have fallen out of favor, and while there are any number of theories about why that may be, the important thing is that attracting and retaining talent from this generation requires a truly fresh perspective and a willingness to let go of tradition in favor of progress.  Where could Elyria — a city which saw a large population drop in adults under 45 between 2000 and 2010 — adapt and invest in ways that could help attract Millennials?

Rejuvenate Downtown Storefronts

Millennial mistrust of large corporations is well-documented.  Chains are out, shopping local is in.  Midway Mall will never again be the bustling center of commerce that it once was, but the authenticity and friendliness of small, specialized downtown storefronts can attract a generation looking for something real.  Farmer’s markets, butchers, food trucks, vintage shops, wine bars, and coffee shops are the domain of this generation.  If that sounds like a pricier alternative to the discount mega-retailers preferred by boomers, that’s because it is… but Millennials are happy to pay the price for authenticity over a packaged, focus-grouped plastic experience.

Tax revenues and grant money should be directed into not only repairing (or replacing) some of the crumbling buildings along and around Broad Street, but also subsidizing the opening of new shops for first-time entrepreneurs.  Giving an economic incentive to a young person with a dream may not massively expand your tax base, but it creates the kind of inspiration that transforms the culture of a city and attracts consumer dollars… and the type of talent Bendix and others seek.  Remember, all those storefronts used to be quite popular.

Expand Public Transit

As mentioned, young people simply aren’t buying new cars anymore.  In many cities — even moderately sized ones — public transit has matured and become the method of choice for young people seeking mobility in the United States.  Gone are the days where the middle class in this country shunned public transit as a hotbed of undesirables.  As a matter of fact, the next generation is more aggressive toward achieving social justice than any before, and the entire idea of “undesirables” is somewhat foreign to them.

Funding for Lorain County Transit is consistently rejected at the polls, including May and November this year alone, both times by the same wide 4500 vote margin.  If the city wants to attract new residents under the age of 35, massive expansion of public transit is non-negotiable.  Folks from anywhere in the city should be able to get to work at Bendix, to classes at LCCC, and to those new shops downtown, in a timely manner and without a car of their own.  If ninety percent of the population of Elyria can’t catch a bus within eight blocks of their house by 2018, we’re not trying hard enough.

Foster Modern Business and Social Experiences

A consistent complaint around the editorials and message boards and barstools consists of suggesting that Elyrians stop “spending all their money in Westlake and Lakewood and Ohio City and Tremont when they should spend it here.”  After all, we do have businesses downtown, right?

On October 10th, the Chronicle ran a story about food trucks offering diversity downtown.  On October 11th, the Chronicle ran a story about food trucks potentially hurting business downtown.  The reversal was strong enough to cause whiplash.  The problem here is that nobody seems to know about the wide variety of downtown food establishments that cater to diverse tastes… because they don’t exist.  There are a couple of options, of course, and no disrespect is meant to them.  However, to think that the downtown restaurant market is so saturated that it can’t tolerate any more competition is ridiculous, and it’s a case study in failure and bad policy.

So we want to attract Millennials, right?  Here’s where the above paragraph becomes an even bigger problem:  Millennials love food trucks.  They also like their meals locally grown and sourced.  Don’t forget wine bars and craft beer and locally roasted coffee and socially conscious menus and a dozen other things that our city does not offer.  Example:  In Elyria, you can get a pitcher of Bud Light anywhere, but where can you enjoy a tall brew from Franklin Brewing, a craft brewer that is actually right here in Elyria?  Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the closest is North Olmsted.

We have some work ahead of us if we want to make Elyria more welcoming to the generation sought by Bendix and other forward-thinking employers, but it’s not an insurmountable task.  The most difficult part of the process is to shatter our old way of thinking.  Elyria does suffer from a certain amount of stubbornness, with the food truck debacle highlighting the damage that can be done.  If we can break down the wall we’ve built to slow down progress, we can not only help Bendix expand, but attract other brands looking to set up shop in a growing and progressive city with reasonable property costs.  It all starts with us.