NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- New developments. New businesses. New attractions. Are they enough to catch the attention of millennials and get them to make a home for themselves in Hampton Roads? If so, what challenges do the burgeoning group face?
Next Generation Hampton Roads looks at issues affecting millennials who try to establish themselves in the area. Those issues include the cost of living.
13News Now examines the hurdles economic development groups face in creating a tech workforce comprised of millennials and explores the lifestyle opportunities the region offers.
13News Now Presents: Next Generation Hampton Roads.
Millennials are an integral part of cities all across the country. Different cities are trying to figure out what attracts them and how to keep them.
Some believe quality of life, job availability and cost of living are some of the major contributing factors to an attractive millennial city.
The cost of living aspect is something some experts Hampton Roads is struggling with.
Michael Gray is a realtor with Long and Foster.
Niche.com recently ranked the best cities for millennials and Norfolk and Virginia Beach barely made the top 100 list. Experts believe the cost of living could be one of the things holding the cities back.
In Norfolk, the average person makes $25,000 a year. Meanwhile the average cost of rent is nearly $1,000 a month. In Virginia Beach the average individual is taking home $33,000 a year, while the cost of rent is about $1,300 a month.
“We need to make sure we have affordable housing so we keep the millennials here, because I can see them going to other cities,” said Gray.
Other cities like Alexandria. The city in Northern Virginia is just a few miles outside of DC and 200 miles north of Norfolk. It ranks as the 3rd best place in the country for millennials to live, according to Niche.com.
In Alexandria, the average cost of rent is $1,500, which is only $200 more than Virginia Beach. However, people in Alexandria are earning an average of $51,500 each year.
While Alexandria may not be the most comparable city to Norfolk, Durham, NC on the other hand is. There the average person makes $27,000 a year and the rent is about $850.
Experts say with this trend, it is likely millennials will eventually be priced out of places like downtown Norfolk and Town Center in Virginia Beach.
Tiffany Tritch is a financial advisor in Norfolk with the UP Center. She helps millennials get their finances under control using a certain rule.
“Ten percent should go into savings, 20 percent is for any debt such as student loans, 30 percent is for your housing and then 40 percent of your budget should go to everything else,” said Tritch.
For someone bringing in $25,000 a year, that means they should only be paying about $600 - $700 a month for rent.
“All good things must come to an end. You can’t just keep going up without something bad happening,” said Gray.
Real estate experts believe a lot is at stake is changes aren’t made.
“If the millennials move out of the area, you’re going to see a lot of these restaurants start to struggle because baby boomers cook. You’re going to see restaurants and businesses start to struggle because they are the ones that spend the money,” he said.
Many cities are working to find the right combination to keep millennials.
“Something is going to have to happen. Either prices will have to plateau or go down or people are going to have to get paid more to be able to afford to live,” said Gray.
There’s a game of catch-up going on right now in the city of Norfolk, and the Greater Norfolk Corporation feels it has the ideas to even the score when it comes to attracting millennials to the city to live, work and play.
GNC President Chuck McPhillips says the area is missing a young entrepreneurial spirit that can help drive the region’s economic future. He hopes to throw young talent a lifeline with an Elizabeth River Trail.
Think of it as a tech corridor along the Elizabeth River that links the brain trust of ODU, EVMS, CHKD, TCC and Norfolk State University with tech start-ups along the way.
“Alongside this will be this colony of tech-oriented companies, a multi-tech trail paralleling the Elizabeth River Trail,” said McPhillips.
It’s the same type of tech corridor McPhillips says you see in similar metro areas that have experienced stronger job growth, such as Raleigh-Durham, Chattanooga, and Austin.
“It’s to diversify our economy, lead a more creative, innovated economy where we make new things, where we get more patents, where we start-up more companies than we have historically done... diversify our economy away from our dependence on the military.”
Right now, the region ranks dead last among 100 of the largest metro areas in the United States in recovering from the Great Recession, with more than 7,000 fewer jobs now than in 2007.
One city that boasts a strong digital corridor is Charleston, SC. According to the city’s 2016 Wage and Job Growth survey, the average wage among tech companies is reported to be $88,066. That’s up from $70,000 in 2015.
More than 73 percent of tech companies reported that they added jobs last year.
Blue Acorn is an e-commerce website development company and one of the tech companies thriving in the low country. According to its website, the company was so small seven years ago, a person would have to ask someone to leave before he or she could enter. Now they sit on Williman Street in a 20,000 square-foot office.
The average age of the 100+ employees is 30. The office campus features open spaces, multi-purpose desks, beer on tap, ping pong tables, a dart board and basketball goal.
Communications manager Bethany Kelly is one of several employees who settled into Charleston from out of state. Workers come from all over the country, drawn to Charleston’s thriving tech industry.
“The Charleston tech community is growing every day. There are tons of jobs available,” said Kelly.
That is exactly how McPhillips wants people to talk about Norfolk someday and soon.
The yearning to develop an innovative spirit is slowly starting to spread. Every day, creative minds are drawn to a fairly new business, 757 Makerspace in Norfolk’s Ghent community. The business consists of a large warehouse space where members can come and create using the facility’s tools and machinery.
“There’s everything from laser cutters to 3D printers to CNC machines to woodshop to metal shop to t-shirt machines to a synthetic biology lab,” said 757 Makerspace owner, Beau Turner.
On a recent Thursday night, ODU Senior Drew Labell is creating a vehicle that can drive through high water. He says he feels like a mad scientist.
“I mean, this... this place, I discovered it about three week ago. I‘ve been here ever since.”
Anyone sitting on a dream that he/she is afraid to pursue will be inspired by 31-year-old Hamilton Perkins.
The Old Dominion University grad, who holds an MBA from the College of William & Mary, has garnered national attention with his dufflel bags.
Yes, a duffel bag, a duffel bag that doubles as a backpack. What’s really unique, however, is the story behind Perkins' creation.
The so-called “millennipreneur” (millennials who are start their own businesses) wanted to come up with a better travel bag but in a socially conscious way.
“What if I could combine a good product design with a problem we're already facing?” wondered Perkins.
He turned his attention to the problem of plastic crowding our landfills and partnered with Thread International, a worldwide company that works to transform plastic from developing communities into quality fabric.
“They are creating entrepreneurship in Haiti and Honduras as pilot countries. The supply chain starts there, and it comes here where we actually do all the design work, you know, general marketing. We sell direct over our website," explained Perkins.
Each one of Perkins’ bags is made from 16 bottles from Haiti. The larger bags sell for $295, smaller ones for $95.
Perkins said he's cutting carbon emissions, reducing waste, and creating jobs in the U.S and Haiti, where the bags are manufactured.
The part of the design of which Perkins seems to be most proud is the inside lining. It's made from recycled vinyl billboards. Each one still bears the design of the original billboard.
The Hamilton Perkins Collection just got its start last summer, when Perkins created a crowdfunding site that hit its $10,000 goal in less than a week. He left his job in the banking industry and moved into the ODU Innovation Center to pursue his passion full time.
Since then, he’s been featured in several national publications including the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.
His next challenge is “Style With a Purpose.” It’s a campaign to push bulk orders among companies looking for new promotional items.
He’s has also started manufacturing T-shirts out of bottles with hopes of expanding the line in the near future.
You get mixed reactions from millennials on the Hampton Roads social life.
On a fall Friday night, happy hour in Norfolk's Neon District draws a respectable crowd. There's live music, beer and food for sale. For some, the party will continue across the street at Work Release, a club on Granby Street. Some will go to Scotty Quixx, a few blocks down the street, or perhaps Baxter’s. Others may join the crowd in Virgnia Beach at Watermens, Hot Tuna or maybe Lunasea.
Among the crowd is Cory Mrozinski and his friends. They're hoping for a fun night, but aren't very confident.
"On a Friday night, I try to stay out all night... but usually by 10 o'clock, it's pretty dead," Mronzinski said.
As Shalana and Cheyenne Smith -- no relation -- wait to enter a club on Granby Street, they have a slightly better perspective.
"There's not too much to do, but you have to know people. You have to have connections."
What they all agree on is the social scene is too spread out, with isolated pockets of activity.
"People in Norfolk, stay in Norfolk. People in Virginia Beach, stay in Virginia Beach," said Mrozinski.
On a typical Friday night in Charleston, SC -- a city that has had more success in attracting millennials as residents -- the scene is a lot more energetic on King Street. According to Niche.com, Charleston ranks 19th best city for millennials. Virginia Beach sits at 80, while Norfolk is 97.
Bar after bar has a line of people waiting to get inside to dance. The ladies are dressed in heels, the men wearing slacks. At 9 p.m., millennials Amanda Sapala and Megan Balot are just getting started.
"Never run out of stuff to do. There are always new events, places to go, new restaurants every single week popping up," said Sapala.
Balot chimed in, "When you come out on a Friday night, you never know who you're going to meet, and that's exciting."
But that doesn't mean Hampton Roads is a social scene dud. Young groups are popping up and sponsoring get-togethers and meet-ups. New clubs are opening.
For Tim Petten, who grew up in a rural part of Suffolk, the social scene is just right.
"It's a lot of fun, if you know where to look," he said.
Petten's friend Chris Warren wants more variety.
"While there's a lot to do between Norfolk and Virginia Beach and all the festivals, you're kind of doing the same thing over and over again."
Here are some of the places where millennials told 13News Now they like to go: