From Anita Brown-Graham, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues in Raleigh:
Maren Epstein was sick during her freshman year in college. As she interacted with nutritionists, she became interested in the field. When she graduated in 2011, Maren opted to forgo the classified job ads. She opened her own business, H20: Flow, which offers colonics-based nutritional treatments. With a starting wage of $100 an hour, Maren expects to expand her business in the next year.
As those graduating high school join the nearly 50,000 college students who received a degree in North Carolina this year, many of the members of Generation Z will enter the working world. More and more these young people, who like Maren were born between 1990 and 2002, will turn away from typical Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 occupations and either start their own companies or embrace the gig economy by freelancing for someone else.
For some, there will be little choice. Jobs are still hard to come by, with the states unemployment rate hovering at 9.4 percent as of May. For many, however, the preferred option is starting My Own Thing.
Graduates are brimming with creative ideas and entrepreneurial ambitions. If the rest of us find ways to support their good ideas, we will undoubtedly help to create the great companies of the future.
Across North Carolina, there are efforts to cultivate My Own Thing options locally.
To support new businesses, for example, the AdvantageWest economic development regional partnership formed the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council to support budding local businesses with education, mentoring and networking, communications and capital formation. More recently, UNC Greensboro began its Growing Entrepreneurs by Mentoring Students program to provide students with local entrepreneurs as mentors able to share tips on starting a businesses. The N.C. Rural Centers New Generation Initiative, a three-year program to transform youth and young adult engagement in rural areas, also seeks to support entrepreneurship activity.
There are also efforts to support those who join the Gig Economy, sometimes called the 1099 Economy. These are the growing number of North Carolinians who dont have a regular job but instead work on individual contracts with employers or customers. Estimated to be up to 20 percent of our workforce, this group has replaced the traditional W-2 paystub with IRS form 1099.
Coworking spaces are one creative approach to supporting the Doing My Thing movement. Providing an open space where individuals across multiple fields can work together, coworking spaces encourage peer-to-peer networking and collaboration. This creative and supportive culture plants the seeds of successful innovation. The Gen Z Coworking Task Force created by Institute for Emerging Issues identified 15 of these spaces across the state, as well as best practices for starting one.
With more coworking spaces and other supports, Generation Z may well be on the way toward launching a new infrastructure of economic activity in North Carolina. Good luck graduates.