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Millennial Engagement: Why We Need This Generation as Public Servants

August 15, 2016  |  Deke Copenhaver
To anyone who knows me it's no secret that I’m extraordinarily passionate about engaging millennials in helping to shape the future of Augusta. It has always been truly ironic to me to have sat through many strategic planning sessions which have centered around engaging this generation where there hasn’t been anyone in the room under the age of forty-five. I’ve often reminded people that if our cities are going to recruit and retain the best and brightest young minds it's this generation that must have a strong voice in the decision making process of how our local communities grow and evolve. Simply put, in sales you don’t tell someone what they’re going to buy, you do market  research to ascertain their buying preferences and trying to market our cities to millennials can’t effectively be done without valuing their input.

Over the past several years I’ve developed great friendships and working relationships with many young leaders throughout our community. They’re entrepreneurs, CEO’s of successful technology start-up's, restaurant owners, vice-presidents of successful companies  and elected officials who share in common the fact that they’re all under the age of forty. Recently I hosted a local radio talk show which I built completely around featuring these leaders who are dynamic, forward thinking and passionately engaged in simply making Augusta a better place to call home. In getting to know them I’ve come to admire their “we first” style of leadership where they don’t view their own individual successes as a competition to outdo each other, but rather see them as a collective victory which they can all be proud of. A refreshing mindset to say the least when I’ve witnessed firsthand how a “me first” style of leadership can stifle progress in organizations and cities alike.

In developing these strong ties to millennials, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of our communities would be very fortunate to have more individuals from this generation serving in elected office. First off, they are motivated and creative problem solvers who would rather take action than form a committee to address any issue they encounter. Simply put, they are doers and not talkers and having served as mayor for nine years, I can speak from experience in saying that I certainly would have liked to have worked with more people who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get the work done as opposed to forming another study committee.

Another quality I find admirable is that this generation of leaders has developed a much more global mindset as opposed to the provincial mindset held by some in leadership positions who came before them. Remember, this is a generation where social networking has long been a part of their daily lives which has resulted in them seeing themselves as being part of a much larger online community while exposing them to different cultures and different ways of thinking throughout their formative years. Here in Augusta one of the most exciting things to me is that many of our young leaders have lived in cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Charleston, and have chosen to return to Augusta, bringing with them a wealth of experiences, in order to make a difference in the city they love and call home. Once again, in my humble opinion a more global and holistic approach to governance by elected officials would undoubtedly be a breath of fresh air for any city.

Finally, they’re team players who don’t seem to let their egos get in the way of accomplishing their collective goals. As I mentioned earlier, their “we first” mentality has certainly helped lead them to great successes early in life as they always help to lift each other to greater heights. Having witnessed politics firsthand for many years, I can attest to the fact that municipal governments everywhere could use more team players at the elected level who focused on serving the greater good of their cities as a whole as opposed to focusing on simply serving their own particular districts or constituencies.

This past Thursday, Augusta welcomed in the Georgia Forward YoungGamechangers for their Fall 2016 Program. Comprised of fifty of the best and brightest young minds under the age of forty from all over Georgia, the program proactively addresses persistent issues facing Georgia’s cities with a proven track record of success in communities throughout the state. In spending a great deal of time with the class over a two day period I am extremely encouraged at how the program will positively impact our city as unleashing the creativity and varied skill sets of the class will undoubtedly lead to great things to come. In what is obviously no coincidence, one of the items the class will be addressing is how to make Augusta more appealing to recruit and retain millennials. I have no doubt that the class members experience will positively impact the cities they call home and I fully intend on using the next five months to encourage our local participants, as well as those from around the state, to consider offering themselves for public service at the local level.
 
DEKE COPENHAVER
Deke Copenhaver is Principal with the Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.