Dear Mayor Tom Hanel,
I am writing to you to express my concern regarding a comment you made during the Nov. 21 Billings City Council meeting. Your statement, “If millennials want to move because Billings is boring, I’ll sell their home for them,” is disappointing at best.
You, as the mayor, are the figurehead and vocal proponent of our great city. With that title comes great responsibility. You are responsible for advocating for the betterment of the largest city in Montana and for fostering relationships with the community. To so blatantly disregard an entire generation of hardworking Americans speaks volumes to a community that stands ready to make incredible progress.
Millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States, numbering more than 75.4 million as of 2015. With those numbers, why would you seek to alienate or relocate an entire generation that will be the torch bearers of our great city?
Billings has fallen behind in attracting residents compared with other large Montana cities. With a population growth rate of less than 2 percent in 2015, we have attracted less than half the new residents that Bozeman was able to gain that year.
Like many of my peers, I work hard and play hard. We spend our days accomplishing more tasks than seem possible. We work two or three jobs, all in an effort to pay down the debt we have been saddled with. At the end of the day, we gather, we commiserate, then we alleviate our stress, and we do all this downtown. It may be a visit to one of the breweries, then perhaps power hour at Hooligan’s, or karaoke at the Crystal, but we work and play downtown.
The concept of putting in a hard day’s work and then imbibing at your local watering hole isn’t a new idea. This is where we connect with every previous generation, one drink at a time. The choice for millennials, in deciding which place to frequent, is an issue that is slowly improving with every new establishment.
We aren’t Bozeman, we aren’t Missoula, but we aren’t ashamed. A good friend of mine, Bryce Turcotte, used to say that Noise & Color, his culture and entertainment magazine, had a motto, a vision. That vision was “to drag Billings into the 21st century kicking and screaming.” It may be hard to see, but it’s happening.
Though the changing of the guard is inevitable, the transition is anything but smooth. Leadership at any level, whether private or public, has a responsibility to usher in positive change and welcome the next generation with open arms. Our elected officials are held to an even higher standard.
It is not only their responsibility but their civic duty to embrace individuals from all walks of life and seek progress by uniting with the working class. This may come as a shock, but the new working class are Facebook-using, emoji-typing, over-educated millennials.
Our generation is strong, and just as your generation had to fight, so too will we. We are the generation of startups, and we strive to innovate. We are the generation of communicators, we are social and socially connected. We are the generation of results, we expect things to get done and we have the tools to get what we need accomplished. We are the generation of acceptance; gone are the walls that separated us from one another.
As a millennial, as a citizen of Billings, and as a steward of this great state, I urge you to retract your statement and issue an apology. I want this city to be known for its tolerance and its progress, so please allow us to continue moving forward.
Alexander Clark is a Montana transplant who has lived here for the better part of a decade. He is an outdoor adventure leadership student at Montana State University Billings and also works with local underprivileged youth, in addition to being a father.