Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal Zoe Helms, who works at 5th Street Bagelry in Pocatello, is a millennial. She says millennials like living in Eastern Idaho because of its small-town feel, but she worries that many millennials get trapped here.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
Zoe Helms, who works at 5th Street Bagelry in Pocatello, is a millennial. She says millennials like living in Eastern Idaho because of its small-town feel, but she worries that many millennials get trapped here.

By Shelbie Harris,

Would it surprise you to know that Eastern Idaho is one of the most popular regions in the United States for millennials?

Throughout the area, the younger generation is projected to grow 26 percent by 2025, compared with the national average growth of 3 percent, according to the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho group, also known as REDI.

In Rexburg alone, more than 81 percent of the 26,000 people living there are under 30 years old. The city’s median age is 22, which is 15 years younger than the national average.

“With an abundance of outdoor recreation activities, education and career opportunities as well as a safe, family-friendly environment, Rexburg’s millennial population is flourishing — creating a unique opportunity for businesses and another incredible asset for the state of Idaho,” said Megan Ronk, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce.

But what draws millennials to East Idaho?

Many millennials — loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 2004 — attend Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg and Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Furthermore, research indicates younger graduates choose to reside in the Eastern Idaho Innovation Corridor, anchored by the Idaho National Laboratory — the top nuclear national lab in the nation — and home to growing companies including Melaleuca and Progression.

Dustin Reed, a millennial enrolled in ISU’s Energy Systems Technology and Education Center program, which involves energy systems instrumentation and engineering technology, said that for members of the younger generation who do decide to stick around, the job market is strong.

“The INL has visited my program and hosted a resume workshop that’s specifically orientated to show students what they’re looking for,” Reed said.

The opportunities for career growth and skyrocketing BYU-Idaho enrollment numbers point to a further rise in Eastern Idaho’s millennial population, and the region is changing to adapt to the influx, according to REDI.

There are plans for investments in new retail shopping, restaurant space and condo living, along with new sports fields and venues to host shows and concerts. And the Snake River Landing Convention Center is projected to begin construction this year.

Another millennial, Madeline Woodhouse, said ISU has great Science and Engineering programs, as well as employment opportunities after graduation.

Woodhouse noted that the region’s low cost of living is also an incentive for millennials to enter the local career ladder.

“Many people don’t understand what it’s like to live in an expensive city where it takes 45 minutes to get to anything recreational, like Denver, Colorado, for example,” Woodhouse said. “I go mountain biking and stop in to The Sand Trap for a beer after. That’s all I ask for.”

Reed also said the cost of living in Eastern Idaho is much better than larger, metropolitan areas. When he lived in West Seattle, Reed said his rent was more than $1,400 a month for a 1,000 square-foot apartment, more than double what he pays in Pocatello.

Someone who enjoys the many recreational opportunities the area offers, Woodhouse said the job opportunities coupled with the easily accessible outdoor adventures could potentially draw younger people in.

“I think there’s lot of opportunities for jobs here,” she said. “Plus, you can go run up City Creek or be up in the mountains in 10 minutes and I just don’t think people realize how lucky we are here.”

 But Woodhouse isn’t as optimistic when it comes to why so many millennials are setting up shop in Eastern Idaho.

“I just don’t think that they’ve moved away from their parents yet,” she said.

Another millennial living in Pocatello, Zoe Helms, who is originally from Indiana and has lived in both Idaho Falls and Twin Falls, said it’s harder for millennials to leave this area because it feels like most of the jobs don’t really lead to many opportunities unless you find the right one.

“I think millennials actually get trapped here,” Helms said. “It is difficult to find a job here unless you’re going into manual labor. I feel like there are a lot of agricultural and technical jobs, but it’s very specific on the types of jobs available.”

She added that for those who do like this area, it’s because of the small-town feel — everybody knows everybody and it’s just comfortable for people.

When she learned of the statistic regarding Rexburg’s population of millennials, Helms said it’s likely very much a byproduct of the Mormon population.

“BYU-Idaho is a very easy college to go to,” Helms said. “Which makes Rexburg like the Mormon capital of Idaho.”

The mayor of Rexburg, Jerry Merrill, said Rexburg is home to many young scholars who are passionate about living and working in this unique region.

“Our small-town community appeals to a massive group of millennials because of their access to higher education, career opportunities, affordability and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation,” he said. “They feel welcome and excited to interact here.”

In tandem with the “Millennial City USA” theme, REDI has launched a social media campaign to tell the story of Eastern Idaho’s attractions and lifestyle assets through the eyes of rural millennials. It can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.