Council Focuses on Concerns of Millennials in N.H.

Oct 5, 2017

Austen Bernier, 23, is a member of the Gov. Sununu's millennial council. He works for the National Forest Foundation.

Gov. Chris Sununu held his first meeting with his newly-created millennial advisory council last week.

Austen Bernier from the National Forest Foundation was one of 25 Granite Staters appointed to the council.

He's 23 years old and lives in Albany.

NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Bernier this week about being chosen for the group and what he hopes it will accomplish.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

You actually suggested that Gov. Sununu put this council together in the first place. Why do you feel it's important for it to exist?

When you look at the issue of millennials across the state, we're a large force, you know. We're becoming the largest bloc of workers in the national and New Hampshire economy. And when you look at New Hampshire as a climate for a place where millennials can come and start a life, it's not so amenable at times, you know.

And what were some of the issues that came up last week at your first meeting?

Yeah, so we actually we got right down to business at the first meeting, and we came up with four specific subgroup issues sets, if you will. Basically we boiled it down to workforce development, conservation and transportation, education, student loans, the issue of student debt in New Hampshire, and then housing.

And how many people are on this council?

There are 25. For the purposes of this council, and depending on who you ask, everybody says something different, but they're defining millennials as anybody born between the years of 1980 and 2000. So we've got one senior at UNH, and then up into the higher end of that age range—so you know, late 30s I suppose.

So are you satisfied with the diversity of professions and backgrounds among the council members?

In some ways the council does a very effective job capturing diversity. You know, I think that across age ranges within the millennial generation and geographic diversity across the state. And diversity of professions, I think, was very well captured in the council, and I think in those ways I am very pleased. When you look at other types of diversity, I mean obviously we are not a particularly racially diverse state, but I think that we could have potentially done a better job in capturing racial diversity on the council. Not to say that we didn't at all, but that is one particular area where maybe we could have done a better job.

I know that you live in the North Country. What kinds of issues are millennials facing in that region compared to a more populous area of the state?

It's hard for millennials who have a ton of student debt to come and settle in Conway when there's really not a whole lot of jobs that can pay them enough for them to start setting up some roots and setting up a life without working a second or third job.

In the North Country, you know, it's important to make some distinctions. I live in Carroll County in North Conway, and the scene here is very distinct from what you find north of the notches, you know in Coos. And so I think that jobs is a pretty big issue in the North Country generally speaking. I think that that issue is a little bit varied from Carroll to Coos. You know in Coos County, and I don't want to speak for them, but it seems that the issue is we just need jobs at all. They lack economic opportunity, and they need you know jobs for people to work. Here in Conway, for example, it's a little bit different. There's certainly no lack of jobs. I like to reference to the fact that in the local paper, The Conway Daily Sun, there's usually four or five pages of help wanted ads. There's just not enough people to fill them. The issue here and you know the kind of tourism center is more of a lack of the right jobs. And so it's a lot of retail, and it's a lot of front desk, and inn—you know hospitality jobs. There are a lot of seasonal jobs. And so it's hard for millennials who have a ton of student debt to come and settle in Conway when there's really not a whole lot of jobs that can pay them enough for them to start setting up some roots and setting up a life without working a second or third job.

And I imagine that's an issue around the state in general, because in a state that relies so heavily on tourism of course you do have seasonal jobs. You have lower paying retail and hospitality jobs. But how do you attract a 25 or 35 year old who may be thinking of starting a family and needs to plan some permanent roots? How do you get that kind of workforce development?

Precisely. I think that's the question that we’ll be stabbing at.

The governor's office said they were accepting applications, and the governor himself said his office was flooded with calls from people who were interested. But many of the members seemed to be pre-selected. I mean, how does the council plan to evolve other millennials across the state that maybe did want to have a voice?

Yeah, so we talked about that a little bit at the meeting, and you know for starters the meetings are open to anybody. So millennials are welcome to come and participate. But beyond that we talked about ways that we could, you know, incorporate some of the voices from our hometowns, our own communities and our home counties, and bring those sort of opinions to the table. And so I think there may be some opportunity for listening sessions, you know, locally and then we can bring that feedback back to the governor's office.