MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Putnam County must prevent a mass exodus of millennials in the coming years or suffer significant social and economic consequences, County Executive MaryEllen Odell said in her annual State of the County address last week.
Odell declared 2017 the “year of the millennial” in her speech given at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac, Thursday night, March 9.
Odell said the county must do what it can to prevent young people from leaving the county and said they must focus on four areas to accomplish it: real estate opportunities, leisure and travel, mobility and technology.
“From an economic standpoint, [millennials’] spending power is in the trillions,” Odell said. “We love this generation, we know what motivates them; we know what drives them. They are a very demanding generation. They know what they want and they want it right now. Everything is fast.”
There are 75 million Americans who make up the millennial generation and Odell said Putnam County needs them to maintain its fiscal health.
“In February I said that the recruitment and the retention of millennials will be the fuel for the economic engine for Putnam County,” she said. “What I should have said is it’s the fuel for the Hudson Valley, it’s the fuel for the state, it’s the fuel for the country.”
For real estate opportunities, the county executive said the area needs more transit-orientated development (TOD) projects.
“[Millennials] are going to spend millions of dollars and I want them to spend it here in Putnam County,” she said. “We need those TOD projects.”’
She cited the revitalization of the Village of Brewster as a shining example. That plan includes mixed-use buildings of 290 apartments and 32,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, as well as a shared subsurface parking structure for up to 550 cars. It’s in close proximity to the Harlem Line train station. Construction is expected to begin in late 2018.
For leisure and travel, Odell held up the Putnam County Golf Course as a drawing card for millennials.
“We want to make sure there are things that are here for them to do,” she said. “We put so much focus on this golf course because we want it to be an entertainment destination. It is a place we are very proud of.”
Odell also pointed to the presence of Airbnb in the county and the role it can play in boosting the economy and inspiring millennials to stay.
“Why are we attracted to Airbnb? We still don’t have a leisure hotel in Putnam County,” she said. “But Airbnb has been quietly here. It can transport Putnam County from a vacation county to a staycation county.”
She also cited the recently renovated Tilly Foster Farm and Educational Institute as another facet of the county plan to maintain its millenial generation.
“[Tilly Foster] wants to be part of this incredible destination,” she said. “Kids are taking culinary arts classes there. BOCES is excited, Putnam County is excited. They’ve increased programs and now comes the dining experience. We are bringing organic farming and farm-to-table [dining] to Tilly Foster. It’s an economic driver. The opportunities are truly endless.”
For mobility, Odell noted that more and more millennials are turning away from owning their own automobiles and seeking alternative transportation.
“How do millennials want to move? Most millennials don’t want a car but they want to keep moving,” she noted.
Odell pointed out that Albany is considering legislation to allow ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft to come upstate.
“It could be very helpful to the local economy,” she said.
Odell said the county is taking a closer look at all its forms of transportation, from rail lines to the bus transportation system and taxis and limousines.
“And, of course, the use of the personal vehicle and how we can make better changes to keep everyone moving in Putnam County,” she said.
The fourth tenet of her plan—technology—is key when it comes to millennials, she said.
“In order to have that technology, you have to have that backbone,” Odell said. “We all know the world moves virtually and in Putnam County, we have to stay ahead of it.”
She praised the county’s newspapers for their efforts to go digital and create internet platforms to disseminate local news.
“Our papers have moved from the shelves to the web brilliantly to get to your smart phones and your tablets and we are grateful because it will keep them here and it will keep the public informed,” she said.
She also noted of the county’s plan to improve cell service. She said that 911 answered 10,000 calls last year that came from a landline; however, 26,000 came from a wireless phone.
“[The key] is interoperability and we have to focus on infrastructure–not only to meet the needs of our future generation, but we have to do it for our first responders,” Odell said. “We can’t have them go dark. We are going to make sure we have 100 percent coverage in Putnam County to make sure our community is safe during an emergency.”
Odell said Putnam County needs to keep moving forward and remain proactive, setting examples and becoming the template for others to follow.
“[We need] to continue to make Putnam County that shining beacon on the hill, the place where freedom rings, where hopes and family are so important, the place where we are there for each other,” she said. “Putnam County is the jewel of the great State of New York. America should watch Putnam County because we are in prime time.”