Gen Z

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | April 18, 2019
Economic development and community based planning is a long proposition.  We often will engage in planning procedures today that don’t bare full fruit for a decade (or two).  In other words, if we are looking at a twenty year plan to realign housing to community needs, we can’t look at the needs of the present (or worse, the past).  We have to project what needs WILL be, based on the information we receive from emerging generations.
So, this article will be a little different.  Main Street has two full time employees (one from Gen X, and one that is a Millennial), but we also have two very bright interns from Gen Z.  The following statement may sound simple, but if you are trying to target a specific market, it is pretty important to include that market in your decision making process.  The world is full of failed strategies that were based on one group making decisions for another group without a solid understanding of the wants/needs of the people they were producing products/services for.  In an effort to avoid those mistakes, we asked our interns to explain their generation in relation to business and lifestyle strategies that we may impact.  Here is what they had to say:
We hear previous generations say “This (new) generation is…” typically followed with some variation of how we negatively impact things or change standards that they enjoy.  What most people don’t realize is that it is hard to understand the motivations of a particular group, unless you are actually part of the group.  Generation Z is a generation unlike any other.  Experts in generational demographics can’t agree on an exact date when Generation Z started (most place a date of birth in the later part of the 1990’s), or when the next generation following us begins (a birth date anywhere from 2010 to 2015).  What they can agree on is that our generation is very different from those that came before us.
We are Emporia Main Street interns.  The nature of our jobs are much more diverse than the stereotypical “fetch coffee and run errands“.  We interact with many different community members,

governmental officials, and business owners on a consistent basis.  Our interactions are with many people from different generations, economic means, philosophies, and values systems.

I am Hannah Price, and I am a Senior Nursing Major at Emporia State University.  I will soon graduate and join the workforce as a registered nurse.
I am Alanie Stalcup and I am also a Senior.  My major is Communication with a minor in Ethnic and Gender Studies at Emporia State University.
Together we have collaborated on a basic explanation of Generation Z based on our educational backgrounds, personal experiences, independent generational research, and our time with Emporia Main Street.  Our goal is to explain our generation in more detail so that generations can work together more effectively.
Technology shaped Generation Z in ways unlike our predecessors.  We have always had access to internet based technologies, and we know how to quickly and easily solve a variety of problems because we understand how to access information.  We quickly adapt to technological innovations, and we are willing to teach those around us to elevate those in our social circles.  Access to technology has allowed us to mature faster than previous generations, but has also resulted in interpersonal social isolation.  Although we enjoy face to face interactions, our generation is much more willing to limit social interactions to smart phone usage, social media, or email prior to any kind of “in person” meeting.
Generation Z would rather spare the “awkwardness” of a blind interpersonal interaction, and reserve face to face meetings for after we have met someone through technology based platforms.  Part of our hesitancy to interact in traditional interpersonal terms is our generation’s focus on safety.  We grew up in a post 9/11 world, where sensational news programs were flooded with school shootings, kidnappings, terrorist attacks, and warfare.  We typically choose jobs, housing, and leisure activities with security considerations in mind.
Diversity is part of our Gen Z reality.  Although we tend to be more fiscally conservative than Millennials, we understand that we will mark the last generation in our nation where the majority demographic will be white, and we embrace all forms of diversity.  We don’t care about things like color, sexuality, and religious preferences as defining characteristics in the same way previous generations did.  We simply want to be viewed as individuals, respected, and our opinions valued.
Both of us will be graduating soon, and we will both look for jobs in the “real world“.  Remember that

Generation Z was significantly impacted during our formative years by the “Great Recession“.  Our memories of the economic downturn have resulted in 66% of Gen Z’s focusing on financial security within their careers, with 34% choosing their jobs based on “things that they enjoy“.  We understand that we will be the first generation to feature “episodic careers“, where we are forced to potentially change professions several times over our working lives.  Our focus on financial stability means we want to be paid what we are worth, and benefits are important considerations when we accept employment.  Employment sites are common on the internet, and we are aware of opportunities that exist all over the world.  We will leave a job if our needs aren’t met, and we are unlikely to stay in a job if expressions of mutual loyalty are not reciprocated.  Unlike previous generations, we don’t expect to stay in the same job with the same company our entire lives, because we’ve seen corporate downsizing, mergers, outsourcing, and closures throughout our formative years.

Gen Z is much more entrepreneurial than the Millennial Generation.  We are 55% more likely than Millennials to want to start a business.  Individuals in our generation have a tendency to gravitate towards organizations, businesses, and communities that emphasize our entrepreneurial, progressive, and adaptive ethic.  We are career focused, but our focus on security, when coupled with increased student debt accumulation, and other income adjusted factors mean that many traditional life events will happen later for us than previous generations.  We will wait a little later in life to buy a house, get married, and have children.  In the interim, we will focus on building a career, paying down debt, renting in a vibrant neighborhood within walking or biking distance of our interests, and engaging in the world through area technical resources.  Focusing on economic security and career development can sometimes drive us our of our hometowns and into places that best benefit our preferred career path and lifestyle.
We are environmentally conscious, and we integrate an environmentally friendly ethic into our choices of housing, jobs, and modes of travel.  Our use of technology as a basic part of our development means that we are aware of global threats and opportunities and local issues if information is made available through appropriate forums.  We understand how to sift through information quickly, and we use the information available through reliable sources to inform our decisions.
Gen Z is more populous than Millennials or Gen X.  We were shaped by different events and technologies than previous generations.  We are fast moving, expect results, and are highly adaptable, but we have valid expectations because we know our worth.
We want to thank Hannah and Alanie for their contributions.  It is vitally important for businesses, organizations, communities, and regions to meet target markets “where they are“.  We hope that Generation Z description above that was compiled by members of the generation, can help your business or organization adapt to current and future expectations.  Growth can only occur through thoughtful adaptation, and we all need to try and understand future generations as we work with them to build a better community.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.


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