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Making Way for the Millennials
Banding Together for High-Speed Broadband

9_29_16Tired of stratospheric Manhattan rents that seem to have maxed out, the Millennial Generation, born between 1980 and 2000, have come of age and are starting to seek greener pastures in Westchester, according to Joan McDonald of the Westchester County Association. Millennials, now 25% of the national population, “live work and play differently from baby boomers,” she said. “They work out of their homes or remotely and developers are seeing this trend.”

McDonald, accompanied by Bill Mooney, and Julia Emrick, also of the Westchester County Association, met with the New Rochelle City Council on September 12, 2016 to present the results of their research on the Millennial Generation. By understanding how this generation, differs from the Baby Boomers, the City will be better able to position itself for “smart growth.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were 75.4 million Millennials (ages 18-34) in 2015, edging out the Baby Boomers, (ages 51-69) at 74.9 million. According to a Brookings Institution study, by 2020, one in three Americans will be a Millennial*.

Millennials are well-educated -34% have a college degree and significant student loan debt. As a group, they tend to be underemployed in the current economy*. Many have no interest in owning cars and access to mass transit is important to them**.

Millennials are also technology dependent and communities that invest in key infrastructure such as high-speed broadband internet service will be well-positioned to see their economies grow in the 21st Century. Access to high-speed broadband is a critical need for hospitals, educational institutions offering distance learning, bio-science and other high tech industries.

In 2011, The Westchester Association launched The Blueprint for Economic Development targeting housing, land use, innovation and broadband for smart growth, to appeal to Millennials, said McDonald. The Association is now proposing a “Non-binding Sister City Smart-Growth Pact,” to explore the ways in which Westchester’s four largest cities can work together to create the synergy needed to attract investment from high-speed broadband internet companies to spur our economy going forward. The Compact discussions have just begun, said McDonald, and it would likely take 2-3 years before a consensus is reached.

 

Collectively, the four cities represent an estimated 480,000 households. When Westchester businesses are added into the mix, the four cities would have excellent potential leverage in negotiating with prospective providers, according to McDonald and Mooney. The four cities are still growing, noted Mooney and the goal is to attract businesses with high-tech needs to our city centers.  

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) increases per acre once high-speed broadband service is in place, said McDonald, noting “cities that have higher intensity broadband see a savings of 10% in delivering services over time.”

“This will change the face of Westchester. It will change the way we do business and the way our kids are educated. This is a chance for Westchester County to get ahead of the curve. We will brand the region, something we have always wanted to do,” said Mooney. “Our business community deserves this. When I presented this to our business roundtable, I have never seen them so excited.”

In discussing the advantages, Mooney explained that internet service has to be turned on, while high-speed broadband is always on and delivers dramatically greater capacity. Where current cable service delivers up to 6 megabytes per minute, high-speed broadband delivers up to 1000 megabytes per minute through fiber-optic lines. A movie that currently takes an hour to an hour and a half to download can be downloaded in 8 seconds with high-speed broadband. This service is also more affordable to a wider range of consumers.

Health Care and education would be the biggest beneficiaries, he pointed out. “High Speed Broadband has had an enormous impact on students and seniors in particular, he said,” noting that the hospitals they have spoken with are extremely excited about potential access to this.

“Fifty cities across the country now offer a gigabyte of internet,” said McDonald. “Huntsville Alabama has established a Cyber Energy and Bio-Tech Initiative; Chattanooga TN has a 140 Acre Innovation District downtown and Raleigh Durham is a hub for innovation & technology. Google is looking to build city-wide fiber in Nashville, Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham.”

Cities that can successfully attract high-speed broadband investment have “a minimum of 100,000 homes and businesses, stable governments, projected growth in population and business and utility partners in infrastructure, including poles and right of way,” said McDonald, quoting Blair Levin, of the Brookings Institution.

Mayor Noam Bramson explained that New Rochelle is currently exploring bringing in broadband high-speed kiosks downtown and that the compact would need to be non-binding.

Councilman Ivar Hyden observed that New Rochelle is competing for the same residents, as the other three cities. “Why should we help Mount Vernon White Plains and Yonkers?

Bramson pointed out that unless we are bundling sufficient demand to providers, we will not be targeted for the significant investment that is needed for the new technology.

Mooney feels that the technology is so important, that the benefits to all, outweigh these concerns. The over-arching goal is to keep high-tech companies in the area. As the costs of doing business in Manhattan and the Bronx continue to rise, Westchester has opportunity to attract hi-tech businesses looking for more cost-effective space, to our city centers.

A memo-of understanding would need to be developed with the Westchester County Association, Mount Vernon, White Plains and Yonkers, if the Council decides to pursue this.

* Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation by Richard Fry;  Pew Research Center (pewresearch.org) April 26, 2016
** Millennials Postpone Car Purchases by Gregg Laskoski Oct. 23, 2014 US World & News Report
*** **MILLENNIALS: TECHNOLOGY = SOCIAL CONNECTION neislon.org 2.26.2014

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