Chamber annual meeting puts Millenials into focus
The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce elected a new leadership team Thursday morning, and then gained powerful insights into the attitudes of more distant leaders, the “Millennials” or “NextGen.”
Susan Kruthers of Central Vermont Medical Center was installed as chairwoman of the Chamber board of directors, succeeding Steve Gilman of rbTechnologies after two years at the helm.
Gilman said he enjoyed the opportunity to work for the betterment of the local economy and was pleased the Chamber introduced new recruiting tools, had the highest membership growth since the economic crash, successfully opposed new local option taxes, and continued its support of a regional public safety initiative.
He said a new “shop local” effort involving 90 area businesses has great potential.
The retiring board chairman credited his officers and directors and individually thanked those leaving the board: Tim Ross, Nancy Zorn, Mike Donovan and former board chairman, Robert Lord, Jr.
The membership re-elected Leslie Sanborn to the board, as well as newcomers Curtis Ostler of Norwich University, Byron Atwood of DMS Machining & Fabrication, Gary Hass of The World, and Jim Breer of Better Home Inspections.
Ostler also led the presentation “NextGen: Understanding and engaging new generations of people and technology,” tapping the founder of Local 64, a partner in Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, and a Norwich cadet lieutenant colonel for additional perspective.
Essentially, those who think today’s youth are in a world all their own are correct, Ostler explained. They have grown up with technology that earlier generations are struggling to understand or are simply ignoring.
The smartphones they carry have access to more information than the FBI did during President Clinton’s administration, and they communicate better worldwide than General Norman Schwarzkopf could during the Gulf War.
Ostler said those born after 1985, the Millennials, are confident, upbeat, self-expressive, open to change and connected — to each other and to the world in ways previous generations could not imagine.
He noted that the Internet and social media have no boundaries. Posted information is immediately available worldwide, instantaneously. The spread of information fuels the pace of change.
Keith Paxman, co-owner of Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, posted messages on Facebook describing the soon-to-be business and sharing its logo. It had 1,500 followers before Cornerstone opened its doors.
Reacting to his descriptions of what was to come and expressing their own desires, Facebook friends helped guide the “pub” more heavily toward “restaurant.” The business changed before it even opened, Paxman said.
The pace of social change is also accelerating. A century ago, women couldn’t vote. A few decades ago, women’s basketball was played by different rules than men’s basketball.
Today, women will enter the front lines of combat. Cadet Lt. Colonel Emily Baugus said male officers under her command never questioned her leadership. Captain of the women’s rugby team, Baugus is pursuing a degree in construction engineering management and expects to serve as a helicopter pilot. One of her friends is preparing to pilot fighter jets.
Times have changed. First came the telecommute. Then came “work anywhere.” That has now been followed by “working together independently,” according to Lars Hasselblad Torres, the man behind Local 64, which is a membership-driven co-working space in Montpelier. Hasselblad Torres said “work-at-home” people, independent contractors, and creative spirits need local interaction to exchange ideas, make connections, and share experiences.
That evolution barely spans 20 years. Businesses that don’t connect with Millennials will lose remarkably resourceful employees and will fail to reach a huge and growing customer base.
Operating without using the Web or social media is like running a business without a telephone.
“If you will not, or cannot [utilize new technologies], hire someone who can!” Ostler said.
The presentation was extremely well received by more than 120 business and community leaders attending the meeting at the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center. Ostler and his co-presenters graciously remained following the meeting, taking individual questions for an additional 20 minutes.
George Malek is executive director of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.