By ANNIE KNOX
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ In the 1990s, Salt Lake City was known as a 9-to-5 town that lay dormant on weekends. Now, patio bars buzz on weekend summer evenings and visitors are shopping and dining in greater numbers.
But business leaders on Friday said Utah’s capital needs to do more to attract 20- and 30-something residents known for spending locally to continue the trend.
Leaders at a gathering hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the city boasted that Salt Lake has what it takes to woo younger residents: a light rail system, high-tech jobs and world-class skiing just beyond the city’s eastern edge.
“It’s happening,” said Chris Redgrave, host of Zions Bank’s radio program. But to maintain the momentum, the city needs to expand its public transit system, build more rental housing and liven up its nightlife, she said.
David Burstein, who writes and lectures about millennials, the age group encompassing teenagers to adults in their early 30s, coached the room of about 200 businesspeople, city leaders and others on courting the demographic.
“They’re people who have a deeply, deeply committed sense of community,” he said, more likely to hit farmer’s markets and arts fairs than their predecessors and less likely to get married, buy cars and have kids. They tend to spend money on restaurants and daytrips.
But some questioned how well the group serves employers.
Brent Williams, CEO of insurance company Dental Select, said he seeks to hire more tech-savvy millennials to head the business’s marketing and IT arms. But in scanning resumes, he found they spend only a few years in one post before moving on.
“They seem to be bouncing around all over the place,” he said. “I’m wondering, are they going to be gone in a year?”
The answer is likely a “yes,” Burstein said. “In many cases, there may not be anything you can do. Whatever you may be able to offer them,” such as flexible workdays, “may not be enough.”
The discussion comes on the heels of a snapshot of Salt Lake City’s economic health, released earlier this week. It showed retailers brought in $800 million last year, buoyed by the lavish 2-year-old City Creek Center. Younger residents, suburban visitors and tourists fueled the growth.
The open-air shopping center opened in March 2012 and was built by City Creek Reserve Inc., a for-profit firm owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is believed to have cost at least $1.5 billion, though the church has never released a figure.
Other developments have followed. Last year, dozens of new office buildings, residential complexes, hotels and theaters broke ground within the 500-acre central business district.
Tony Coppola, 28, returned to Salt Lake City two years ago after travelling abroad.
“I came back, and I just noticed it had gotten more of a big-city feeling,” he said.
Coppola, a merchandising manager at a brewpub, recently bought a house downtown, he said, and frequents downtown farmer’s markets and the city’s annual craft fair.
“Little bars and restaurants are opening up,” he said. “These kinds of community events are catching on.”