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A New Generational Sheriff Comes to Town with a New View of Government Relations

In early October, a critically important demographic event occurred in the United States, one that will forever impact all of our lives. According to the population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the size of the Millennial Generation now exceeds the Boomer Generation.

Millennials, generally defined as between ages 18 to 34 in 2015, are projected by the Bureau to number 75.3 million, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Boomers (ages 51 to 69). The Gen X population (ages 35 to 50 in 2015), currently lost in the middle, is projected to outnumber the Boomers by 2028.

To add even more fuel to the discussion, another cohort, Generation Z, is already leaving its mark on the economy and the marketplace. Generation Z, defined loosely as the group born beginning in the late 1990s, stands to dwarf the Millennial generation and will ultimately number close to 80 million, again according to the U.S. Census. Mintel Research pegs the spending power of Gen Z already at close to $200 billion annually if one factors in their influence on parental or household purchases.  Generation Z is just starting to really exert that influence, as evidenced by the back-to-school shopping season. Roughly 9.7% of parents say their Gen Z children influences 100% of what they buy, up from 7.6% in 2014.

One can only imagine how badly Boomers are likely to adopt to their new minority, especially give the self-centeredness, bravado and excesses with which they have exercised their majority over the past quarter century. That prediction aside, however, facts are facts. The majority now belongs to the Millennials and it is theirs to do with as they please.

Over the past year, an immense amount of research and discussion has occurred and has been reported regarding the behavior of Millennials in every possible aspect of their lives. What they eat, how they sleep, what they expect and how they act. As might be expected in many cases, this generation’s behaviors are nearly 180 degrees off the norm established by the behavior of the boomers.

Millennial behaviors with respect to real estate-related experiences are very noteworthy and will be the subject of a number of future columns.  This column however, will address a subject that is of equal importance, at least in the REALTOR® community, that being government relations.

Power in the form of campaign dollars and lobbying has been the norm and standard of government affairs programming established during the past several decades of Boomer power and influence. The process uses dollars and accumulated influence to effect specific outcomes relative to specific policies, legislation, regulation and elections. The theory is that those with the most bucks will ultimately win the issue.

It now appears as though the Millennial approach to government affairs will be significantly different. While the Boomers, both liberal and conservative, assumed that government entities could solve the growing challenges of self-governance the Millennials are under no such illusion.  Having spent many years studying and witnessing the failures of the traditional governance process (as evidenced by the current congressional environment), Millennials appear to be of the opinion that a more invasive and participatory form of government affairs is in order.

Politically active Millennials across the country at the local, state and federal levels, understand that public authorities are struggling to address many pressing social and economic issues in the face of party politics, restrictive philosophies, constrained funding and/or ineffective legacy systems.

More to the point, according to research conducted by the MSLGGROUP in 2014, 73% of Millennials don’t believe governments can solve today’s issues alone, and 83% want the private sector to get directly involved by partnering with government to provide real, sustainable and “honest solutions.” That’s why in 2015, forward-thinking corporations, organizations and other entities will step up to the challenge of real, meaningful change in the government arena by promoting “hands-on” organizational partnerships and involvement.

The rapidly emerging concepts behind this process call for a process that starts by identifying actual government failures, shortcomings, and defaults. That step is followed up by creating partnerships or coalitions that work directly with government entities to not merely influence them but to actually get involved in initiatives that will lead to real, positive and lasting change.

If the initial response of your brokerage or organization’s government affairs function is to suggest that such an approach simply will not work, then you have stepped on a land mine early in the game. Entertaining a simple denial regarding whether this new approach will work or not suggests that the legacy players get to remain in control of the process. Few cogent citizens and fewer yet Millennials functioning as voters, members, investors or contributors would suggest that the legacy system is either effective or worth saving. The traditional Boomer position is simply to throw more money at the political status quo. From a millennial perspective, the starting point for this discussion is that something different must be done. The failure of legacy participants to embrace this need to “disrupt” the current process merely signals to their Millennial friends and partners the beginning of to their last stand.

While the Boomers at the same stage of their development would likely have fought the civics for control of existing organizations, the attitude of the Millennials will be significantly different. They will not support what they perceive as a losing entity. They will simply use their support to promote a new one. Rehabilitation requires way too many resources to end up with a compromised solution.

Boomers across the board might give some thought to starting their minority with a bit of humility and grace. Over the mid-term future, they are going to discover that their power and influence as a group is going to diminish in favor of the Millennials. The only question is whether this transition will occur within the boundaries of the current REALTOR® movement. The level of their ultimate power will, to a great degree, depend upon the relative class and manners with which they have managed this transition. If Boomers decide to engage in a futile struggle with the upcoming Millennial members of their organization on generational terms, then their ultimate demise is likely to be complete at the very moment in time that their dotage prohibits mind to mind combat. Better Boomers should start a campaign of cooperation and collaboration designed to provide the highest and best residual influence possible.

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Jeremy Conaway

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