June 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Courting the millennials

Peter Hayden, 24, a loan officer at Quicken Loans, is living with his parents in Eastpointe, but once he pays off his college loans, he may move to Chicago or Washington. 'They may offer more in terms of job growth and potential,' he said. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

Millennials are tired of their image as entitled gadabouts frittering away their lives on iPhones bought by their parents.

Here’s some good news for the oppressed generation: Cities like them. They really, really like them.

In Michigan and elsewhere, a flurry of recent conferences and studies have focused on how to attract the money-challenged, computer savvy horde.

At 80 million strong, they’re the wave of the future, growing bigger and more powerful every year.

They’re already helping drive a national realignment as people move back to cities after a half century of moving away. Millennials account for 25 percent of the growth.

“The influx of young people into cities is the biggest part of the story,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, a real estate professor at Columbia University.

As cities and businesses compete for the young adults, they have their work cut out for them.

Millennials are cocky, expect a lot and aren’t shy about asking for it, according to a global survey by Deloitte in January.

Even if the elusive prey is captured, it’s hard to hold onto.

If they’re not happy, they will leave their jobs or city in a New York minute, the poll found.

Peter Hayden, 24, a loan officer at Quicken Loans, is living with his parents in Eastpointe — for now. Once he pays off his college loans, he may move to Chicago or Washington.

“They may offer more in terms of job growth and potential,” he said. “Detroit is a hard sell to lure firms.”

Detroit has other challenges, including its woeful public transit system.

Public transportation is an important factor when millennials decide where to live, they said in several surveys.

Some can’t afford a car so buses and other transportation are critical.

Caitlin Bialowicz, 23, a senior at Eastern Michigan University who lives in Southgate, said Metro Detroit needs to get away from its car-first mentality.

The area needs to follow the lead of such cities as Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids and develop more walkable communities.

“Detroit has always been the Motor City,” she said. “But given where it is now, that’s not true anymore.”

Another poll also contained some alarming news for the auto industry.

In a national survey by the Global Strategy Group in April, 80 percent of millennials said they would like to live in a place where they didn’t need a car.

Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are the children of baby boomers, another generation known for self-centeredness.

It may not be a coincidence the younger group receives most of its criticism from the boomers, who, being parents, perhaps can’t help themselves.

The millennials are just as numerous as the boomers but more educated and diverse, according to national surveys.

Unfortunately, this younger group is trying to forge careers during bleak economic times that began with the recession of 2008.

Many remain unemployed. The lucky ones struggled to find jobs that pay a pittance. And everyone is mired in debt.

Mike Parr, 24, of Lincoln Park, received a master’s degree in public administration in April from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

He’s waiting to learn the status of a federal contract that would allow him to work as a data analyst for a limited time.

“Everyone wants opportunity. If you go to school to college or vocational training, you should have an employment chance here,” he said.

'What millennials want'

So how can Metro Detroit and its companies attract millennials?

Like other generations, they want to live in cities with good schools, low crime and robust job markets, according to surveys.

Given their tenuous finances, they’re looking for low-cost housing.

They want walkable communities, plentiful parks, attractive streets and lots of internet access.

Charles Frontera, 26, who owns a Warren eyeglass shop, also wants city leaders who are closer to his age.

“Old people are so out of touch with what millennials want,” he said.

“We’re not lazy, slobby kids who hang out in their parents’ basement because we want to. We want respect, jobs.”

For the record, Frontera, who bought Clear Sight Optical three years ago, has his own home.

Using a different approach

While the millennials’ criteria for selecting a city are common enough, it gets a little trickier with jobs.

What they’re looking for is different from past generations.

Companies need to use a different approach to recruit, and then manage, the group, business leaders said.

Given the bleak fiscal times, no millennial will be making as much money as Mark Zuckerberg anytime soon.

So they’re looking for other things from the workplace.

They want jobs that won’t consume their lives, that provides flexible hours, that lets them have an active social life, according to the national surveys.

Eddie Lee, 31, a budding entrepreneur from Detroit, said he was recently chatting with his dad about the difference between their generations.

“There was a time when people were chained to their desk,” he said. “They wanted to get super rich really quickly.”

“Now people want flexibility over how they spend their days.”

Millennials also don’t want jobs that bog them down with grunt work, the surveys showed.

Despite their low position, they want the chance to do meaningful work that has a positive contribution on society.

They also want the chance to develop their skills and receive training to become a supervisor.

They want a chance to be like Frontera.

He was working part time at the eyeglass shop while earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wayne State University.

When the owner wanted to sell the business, Frontera jumped at the chance. He took the money he was saving for law school and bought the business.

Good-bye, courtroom. Hello, small business.

“I have no plans to go anywhere,” he said. “I’m pretty solid here.”

FDonnelly@detroitnews.com
(313) 223-4186

Charles Frontera, 26, owner of Clear Sight Optical in Warren, says older ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)