Montgomery needs to attract a younger crowd, planners say -- Gazette.Net


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Montgomery County has a “Gen Y” problem, planners believe.

They suggested Monday that one way the county could retain more young adults would be to create more expansive walkable, “10-minute living” communities near Metro stations where people work, live and play.

Only 19 percent of Montgomery’s residents is between ages 20 and 34, lower than several neighboring jurisdictions, leaders of the Committee for Montgomery heard during a board meeting at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. Arlington County’s population has 36 percent in that age segment, while Washington, D.C., has 31 percent and Prince George’s County 23 percent. The national average is 21 percent.

However, the growth in Generation Y, a demographic group sometimes referred to as millennials, in Montgomery between 2010 and 2012 at 3.6 percent was still slightly higher than Arlington, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties, though not nearly as much as Washington’s almost 6 percent.

“We are at a tipping point,” said Gwen Wright, director of the Montgomery County Planning Board, who has also worked as a planning official in Alexandria, Va. “It’s tipping in hopefully a very exciting direction.”

Generation Y is an important demographic to communities because people in the 20- to 34-year-old group tend to be part of a “tax-base engine” and not use a lot of services such as health care and schools, Wright said. The county is above the national average in its share of residents between ages 35 and 64.

Members of Gen Y tend to use public transportation, walk and bike more, embracing options such as car and bike sharing, said Shyam Kannan, planning director for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Whether residents can walk to a Metro station, restaurant, pub, retailer, health care facility and even a library is one of the most important factors on where millennials live, said Kannan, who was a principal at Bethesda real estate advisory firm RCLCO.

Montgomery County formed a nighttime economy task force to examine how to boost the county’s nightlife scene — for the young as well as older people — that has met since May. A recent unscientific poll by County Councilman Hans Riemer, an ex-officio member of the task force, found that many people want better nightlife options in Montgomery.

Besides seeing its population age, Montgomery has witnessed a slowing in general. The number of residents increased 31 percent between 1980 and 1990, while the growth slowed to 15 percent between 1990 and 2000 and 11 percent from 2000 to 2010.

“This signals a maturing community,” said Roberto Ruiz, research manager for the county planning department.

Most counties have seen population growth slow in recent years, though some not as much as in Montgomery. Frederick’s slowed from 31 percent in the 1980s to 30 percent in the 1990s and 20 percent in the 2000s.

Montgomery also became a majority-minority county for the first time in 2010, with more than half of residents non-white.

The Committee for Montgomery — a coalition of business, labor, educational, civic and community leaders — seeks to look at local economic development issues in a broader, “more holistic” approach, said Carla Satinsky, committee chair. Upcoming meetings will focus on business climate and the workforce.

Board members of the group include Ron Wills of EagleBank, Charles Washington Jr. of Pepco and Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

kshay@gazette.net