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State reaching out to millennials to hear their concerns

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 24. 2017 12:47AM

CONCORD - Rep. Amelia Keane said she calculated the average age of the state's legislators at around 60 years old - down from 66 two years earlier.

"We're below retirement age, which is good," said the Nashua resident, who at age 26 is a member of the millennial generation. "We're kind of missing that age of millennials, students and young professionals who have families or work 9 to 5 and are not reflective in the State House."

Well, the governor wants to listen to Keane's generation.

Sununu, 42, last week established a 25-member Governor's Millennial Advisory Council, which holds its first meeting Wednesday.

Now governing the nation's second-oldest state, Sununu found himself as the nation's youngest governor - other than Puerto Rico's - when he was sworn into office last January.

People interviewed last week said a conversation with millennials is needed to plan for the state's future.

"There is a need to look to what's coming down the pike," said Tracy Hatch, president and CEO of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

"I've got three millennial children myself," she said. "I think my kids' generation puts perhaps more of a premium on making time for their families, making time for community service and doing it ... in a way that the'yre not burnt out and overwhelmed and unable to be productive in each of those areas successfully."

Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, considers the council's activity as a learning experience.

"While the Legislature certainly could benefit from broader representation from young people, I think the short-term value of a millennial advisory council is it will provide current legislators a platform to directly connect with millennials to understand what policies resonate with them," Skelton said.

"This is an 'all hands on deck' issue for the future of our state where the business community, educational institutions, and policymakers all need to be in sync on strategies and initiatives that will enhance our ability to attract and retain young professionals and families," Skelton said.

"I think the council should first attempt to inventory all the key issues impacting our state's ability to attract and retain young people and then narrow its focus to two or three recommendations the Legislature can get to work on next year," he said. "Housing availability, multi-modal transportation, and the cost of higher education are all key issues young people are concerned about."

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said the governor had reached out to local chambers of commerce looking for names of "civically engaged millennials" to serve on the council.

Asked whether council members of the technology-obsessed generation could meet via Snapchat, or Livestreaming through Facebook or another platform, Vihstadt said: "While this has not yet been discussed, we're confident that the council will be open to new and innovative ways of meeting as a group.

On Friday, the New Hampshire Democratic Party put out a statement questioning Sununu about engaging that generation.

"Sununu cannot claim to be interested in hearing about millennial issues while denying repeated requests to meet with them as governor," it read. "Sununu's policies have been squarely at odds with millennial concerns, from failing to freeze our state's record-high University System tuition costs, to signing a bill that directly targets student's access to their legal right to vote in the state, to denying transgender Granite Staters protection from discrimination, to vigorously opposing expanding passenger rail service to Manchester."

Vihstadt said the governor has been listening.

"From creating a statewide, full-day kindergarten program to establishing the Governor's Scholarship Program, and increasing funding for the Community College System, Governor Sununu has signaled to millennials that their concerns and ideas are a top priority," Vihstadt said. "The aim of this council is to generate a dialogue between the governor and millennials so they can engage directly on the issues and initiatives that Granite State millennials care about.

"The governor will give due consideration to any and all proposals, initiatives, and suggestions that the Governor's Millennial Advisory Council ultimately brings forward," he said.

Will Stewart, executive director of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, said: "As the state's leading organization dedicated to attracting and retaining young workers, we are hopeful that the Governor's Millennial Advisory Council will support our ongoing efforts to encourage young workers to stay, work, and play in New Hampshire."

Hatch said the Nashua chamber helped form a group, iUGO, comprised of young professionals.

"It's brought our young professionals access to leaders in the community and leaders in their industries that they want to form a connection with," she said.

Keane, the full-time executive director of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, said she likes the concept of the council but hopes suggested policies to keep and recruit millennials, such as adding rail service from Massachusetts to southern New Hampshire.

Several people, including the governor's office, said they hoped the council remained apolitical.

Reporter Paul Feely contributed to this story.

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