Valley Millennials: Who's Leaving, Who's Staying, and Where Does That Leave the Rest of Us?
Love them or hate them, the fate of the region increasingly rests in the hands of 20– to 37-year-olds.
In addition to Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Year,” it would be helpful if the viceroys of vocabulary would designate a “Word of the Past,” in which we could retire terms like “totes,” “awesomesauce,” and “literally.”
Here’s a candidate for 2018: Millennial, aka those born between 1981 and 1997.
“I do cringe a little bit when I hear it,” admits Geoff Brault, 31-year-old co-chair of the Hudson Valley Young Professionals Advisory Committee. However, he is less interested in the swooping generalizations made about his generation than he is in engaging them at the local level.
“The mission statement for Hudson Valley Young Professionals is five words: ‘Live. Give. Work. Play. Stay,’” says Brault. “There’s a lot of young people that come here, and then leave; but there’s also a lot of young people that come here and want to stay, but don’t have a way in.”
Geoff Brault and his colleagues on the HVYP Advisory Committee aim to make it easier for young adults to forge ties to the area.
Brault, a native of Philadelphia who now resides in Poughkeepsie, says the goal of Hudson Valley Young Professionals (HVYP) is to create more incentives for residents to remain in the region. “I moved around a lot as a kid,” he says. “I moved around a lot right out of college, traveled a good bit, [have] seen a large part of the country — this is a really good place to live.”
The organization, which is an all-volunteer committee of the Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce, helps foster personal and professional connections, give back to the community through scholarships and fundraising, and aid in revitalization efforts. With approximately 400 members and growing, Hudson Valley Young Professionals has clearly filled a gap for residents in the region.
Samantha Tseng, a 21-year-old college student and freelance illustrator/animator from Beacon, is all too familiar with this gap. After graduating from high school, Tseng found it challenging to maintain the friendships she relied on throughout her childhood.
Since then, she has become involved in Beacon’s community in an attempt to meet more people her age, but has yet to be successful. “I’ve attended community, political, and cause-related events. It is rare that I meet anyone under 30,” she says.
Her experience corresponds with current population data. Although Beacon is commonly presented as one of the younger cities in the area, 2016 U.S. Census estimates indicate that the median age for residents is 41.5 years old. Sixteen-and-a-half percent of residents fall between 25-34 years old, while just 6.9 percent are age 20-24.
“I have no doubt that Beacon is getting younger overall as people move here from New York City and other areas,” says Tseng. “However, it takes time for these shifts in population demographics to happen so that the average age of a Beacon resident is under 35 or 30.
“Mind you, there is nothing wrong with having older friends,” she adds. “I have many and appreciate their experiences and willingness to befriend me, but not having friends who are undergoing the same struggles as you in life can be frustrating.”
Lace Mill Photo By Chris Kendall; Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory Photo By Caylena Cahill
Last December, Tseng decided to take matters into her own hands. She created Hudson Valley Young Adults, a social group for residents aged 18-35 to meet and engage in different activities together. “So far, the response has been very positive,” says Tseng. “… About 20 or so community members joined within the first 24 hours of the group being started. We have about 40 people now.”
Social media groups — such as Hudson Valley Young Adults — are vital to staying informed about events and activities happening in the area, says Joe Cascino, 27, of Wallkill. An inventory analyst for a major automotive company, Cascino grew up in Cornwall and has since lived in a variety of towns including Kingston, New Paltz, and Saugerties, before settling on Wallkill for its quiet location and close proximity to anything he needs.
Yet being socially informed does not guarantee activities happen nearby or all that frequently. Given the vast geographic area covered by the Hudson Valley, opportunities that interest a younger demographic almost always exist, but often require some degree of travel. Cascino says he rarely spends weekends in Wallkill. If he’s looking for something to do, he usually ends up in Kingston, New Paltz, Newburgh, or White Plains — or at The Shamrock Tavern in Cornwall, one of his favorite spots to hang out.
After experiencing changes in her social life post-high school, Samantha Tseng has started a Facebook group for young adults in the Hudson Valley to meet and connect with each other.
New York State Assemblyman James Skoufis says this needs to be addressed in the Hudson Valley moving forward. “[In Orange County] if you want to go out, enjoy a drink, have a night out on the town, and be in a positive atmosphere, there’s one place to do that in the entire county — and that’s the Newburgh waterfront.”
Skoufis, who at age 30 represents districts across Orange and Rockland counties, says increasing the number of activities and entertainment options available for young adults is one part of a three-pronged approach toward increasing the Hudson Valley’s appeal among young adults. The remaining two elements are affordable housing and efficient mass transit.
Our region has long been a desirable location for families both young and old — something we should embrace, according to Skoufis; however, this has resulted in too few affordable options for young adults, especially outside of cities like Newburgh and Middletown. “We need more condos, town homes — and look, that falls on the local municipalities,” he says. “That’s not a state-directed item. These are planning issues, zoning issues, for town or village boards. We’re not voting on what kind of zoning Cornwall has up in Albany. That’s a locally driven process.”
Dan Vallancourt, 25
Executive Assistant at Twentieth Century Fox Television
Public transit to and from New York City continues to play a crucial role in how individual towns, villages, and cities fare as well. Until the Hudson Valley can offer competitive wages and diverse professional opportunities, providing affordable housing with easy access to the metropolitan job market will remain critical. The contrast in growth and prosperity between towns on the Metro-North Hudson line and those on the Port Jervis line speaks for itself.
Even lifelong residents who know what the region has to offer find it hard to remain here. Both Cascino and Tseng are considering leaving the Hudson Valley in favor of affordable areas with more professional opportunities. Cascino, whose primary reason for residing here is to be close to his father in Cornwall, says, “Pennsylvania has a bit of lure for me, as a few friends live there and they seem to enjoy it.”
Economics play a large role in his reasoning. He anticipates that cost-of-living expenses in New York will continue to increase. According to a 2017 study, New York ranks third in most people moving out of state, making the list of top outbound states for three consecutive years. “To me that screams [that] taxes will slowly and surely increase to make up the deficit,” Cascino says.
Joe Cascino and his father, Joe, at one of their favorite spots, The Shamrock Tavern in Cornwall. Cascino says his main reason for remaining in the Hudson Valley is to be near his father.
His preoccupation with finances is a trademark of the millennial generation. Half the generation came of age in an economy that betrayed their parents; the other half was betrayed directly. Since there have been virtually no consequences for the executives who ran the economy into the ground during the recession, there is little reassurance that the past won’t repeat itself.
A 2017 report from the advocacy group, Young Invincibles, found that millennials earn about 20% less than young adults did in 1989. Some research indicates this will become a long-term trend in which millennials earn less over the course of their careers.
On top of posing a financial challenge, residing in the Hudson Valley involves a degree of opportunity cost. Born and bred Hudson Valley residents seem more poised to leave in order to pursue different opportunities, experiences, or culture. As Brault puts it, “A lot of people who grow up in a place want nothing more than to leave that place.”
This is where Hudson Valley Young Professionals comes in. The organization engages young adults in local politics and government, community revitalization efforts, and economic development.
This poll was administered on www.hvmag.com from November 2017-December 2017 and received 289 responses.
Recreation, Events, Entertainment & Activities: 53 (out of 289 responses)
Improved/More Employment Opportunities: 43
Increased Affordability: 29
Social Opportunities: 16
Restaurant Variety: 14
Improved Infrastructure: 9
Small Businesses: 8
Public Transportation: 7
“I think young people want to live in walkable, urban communities,” says Brault. He notes the remarkable success of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, an affordable housing initiative and community hub located in the Middle Main section. “The Underwear Factory is one of those anchors that can really turn around an entire area,” says Brault.
“It’s getting there,” he says. “The pieces are in place. And it’s a long, slow process. And a lot of the things that need to happen aren’t that sexy.” Among the less-than-thrilling bureaucratic endeavors he lists are projects like laying pavement, ensuring public safety and security, as well as lighting and sewage design.
Assemblyman Skoufis confirms that the Hudson Valley has arrived at a crossroads. A tremendous amount of work lies ahead, but there have been breakthroughs. He cites the recent legalization of ridesharing services like Uber, a cause for which he advocated strongly, as a major improvement — particularly for young adults, for whom the traditional taxi service is now antiquated and cumbersome. Also exciting is the region’s rejuvenated reputation as a vacation destination for New Yorkers.
Other potential boons include a proposal for the Gardens at Harriman Station, a transit-oriented development designed to cater to young adults. The self-contained community would be built adjacent to the Metro-North station and feature stores and restaurants, as well as walking and biking trails; about 20% of apartments would be priced below market rates. At press time, the plan is currently awaiting approval.
New Paltz: 2 min | Newburgh: 3 min | Troy: 5 min
Beacon: 6 min | Nyack: 7 min | Hudson: 10 min | Athens: 12 min
Mahopac: 16 min | Pine Bush: 23 min | Goshen: 25 min
*Wait times recorded at 10 p.m. on a Friday
As the region rounds this critical corner in its history, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future — so long as local municipalities update plans and infrastructure in constructive, strategic ways. In Skoufis’ words, “The consequences of the status quo will be the status quo.”
And although some residents are loath to admit it, the status quo can prove dire. “Ironically, since we last spoke there have been a handful of people on my Facebook feed that moved away from New York to places like Florida and Arizona,” says Cascino.
For Tseng, the decision between staying and going is more about necessity than choice. “What makes me love my hometown of Beacon is the people who live there,” she says. “They give Beacon character and meaning. Losing a number of my Beacon friends due to life events and physical changes that have happened to the city has made my home feel more like a foreign place.”
She’s not leaving the Hudson Valley without exhausting all of her options; her hope is that Hudson Valley Young Adults will help herself and others create lasting friendships and countywide social networks. “If my sense of home could be fully restored again, I would be much more compelled to stay than leave.”