Youth rising.

Author:Dodson, Jim
Position:The Future of North Carolina: MILLENNIALS - Cover story
 
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Beaufort retailers Richie Carroll and Christina Baker and other young North Carolina entrepreneurs are optimistic and tech-savvy, with big dreams and high ideals, writer Jim Dodson concludes. But do they have staying power in a fast-changing world?

On a balmy morning during Beaufort's annual holiday parade, Christina Baker and her husband, Richie Carroll, sit by the front window of the Beaufort Linen Company--their luxury home goods shop on the town's picturesque waterfront--to reflect on a year of radical change.

"We opened our doors for business exactly one year ago today," explains Christina, 29, a 2009 N.C. State University business school graduate who bailed out of a promising career as a private wealth management consultant to chase her dream of owning and running a retail business with her husband.

"We planned out every detail as well as we could," adds Richie, 36, who left the same Raleigh investment firm months earlier than his wife to oversee the transformation of a prime spot once occupied by the town's lone drugstore. "But it was still kind of scary to think we were leaping out there on faith, not knowing what we would find."

"I think my parents were a little anxious that we were abandoning good corporate careers we'd worked hard to get," Christina says. "But they understood why we had to do this. We had faith in God, each other and instincts. We were ready. The timing just felt right."

Christina and Richie could be poster children for a generational change sweeping over the landscape of American culture and business, the maturing of a dynamic millennial generation that social demographers and economic forecasters agree will reshape how Americans do everything from raise a baby to start a business. As of last June, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's millennials topped 83 million, representing a quarter of the country's population, or roughly 8 million more than their baby-boomer parents, formerly the largest and most influential generation. The precise definition of a millennial varies: The census defines millennials as those born between 1982 and 2000, though other sources peg their birthdates anywhere from the late 1970s to the mid-2000s.

Depending on whom you talk with about this shift, the coming of millennials either holds the promise of transforming the nation into an economic powerhouse fueled by new technologies and a more integrated way of living--the "Next Great Generation," as the authors who coined the word "millennial" back in 1987 put it--or represents a group of bright young people with big dreams, rich experiences and high ideals--yet no practical clue how to make their aspirations happen.

"Whatever you think of millennials, whichever view you embrace, they are an extraordinary group of people, so different from anything that's preceded them," says Wake Forest University Provost Rogan Kersh, who has studied the rise of millennials in American culture for nearly a decade.

"The millennial view of life and work is already radically changing the way we all will work in the future," Kersh says. "They have big hearts, broad talents and much greater exposure to experiences and ideas than any group before them. The big unresolved question remains what they do with these assets--and whether this turns out to be a good or not-so-good thing for our economic future."

Kersh, 51, adds with a chuckle: "If I could offer just four words that describe the millennial way, it would be this: They are not us."

Make no mistake, they are coming in unprecedented numbers. More than 10,000 millennials turn 21 every day, and 40 million are already in the workplace--probably sit ting right next to you. They are the first generation to have access to the Internet during their formative years and grow up shaped by technology. Though they have yet to reach the traditional peak age of entrepreneurship (40s and 50s), more than half report they plan to start a business within the next five years, and 35% already working have started their own businesses on the side. More than a quarter are self-employed.

LIKE CHRISTINA AND RICHIE, Alex Hubenthal, 24, embodies the rising "Innovation Generation," as one national business journal recently called millennials. After graduating from business school at the University of Central Florida two years ago, Alex and two fellow grads formed Finology Analytics Inc., a data analysis firm targeting the hospitality industry. Alex, the company's chief financial officer, moved home to North Carolina to kick their business plan into gear.

Perched at the counter at the Dean & Deluca coffee shop in downtown Charlotte with his tablet and double espresso at his elbow, Alex is fresh from a weekly meetup seminar titled "Starting and Financing a Venture in N.C." at the popular Garage at Packard Place, just around the corner on South Church Street.

The startup incubator, one of at least a dozen similar enterprises that have taken root in mostly urban settings across the state over the last five years, is housed in a former showroom that once sold Packard cars. About 3,000 people have been involved in networking and meetup groups that started in 2011. With its edgy, youthful vibe and five floors of wood-and-glass shared meeting and workspaces kitted out with everything a budding entrepreneur could possibly need, from Wi-Fi to bottled water, Packard Place is essentially in the business of fueling entrepreneurial dreams.

Finology's goal is to bring advanced analytics to local restaurants and small businesses that can't afford the...

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