About four-and-a-half years ago, I fell in love.
Not with a woman—I was (and am) already in love with the best wife anyone could ever have. Donald may have his Melania, and Barack may have his Michelle, but despite not running the free world, I beat them both. I have my Megan. Seriously, if you have not met Megan McKissen, you should go to OPO Startups and get to know her.
No, four-and-a-half years ago I fell in love with a place.
Lloyd and Harry’s on Main Street in St. Charles, specifically.
If you haven’t been to Lloyd and Harry’s, you should know that it has a specific type of charm—assuming you define “charm” by the amount of fried food and beer you can buy with a small wad of dollar bills.
Which happens to be exactly how I define charm.
The first time I visited Lloyd and Harry’s, Megan and I were actually living in Florida. We both grew up in the west (Arizona and Utah) and moved to the swampland outside of Palm Beach for a job. We quickly learned we were not Florida people.
The same day we purchased our home in the swamps, a recruiter called me about a job in Chesterfield. When I was 13 years old, my dad traveled for his job and worked in Festus on and off for a year. My brother and I spent a few weeks with him during the summer, and two equally spectacular things happened during those few weeks:
- I attended my first Major League baseball game at Busch Stadium.
- For the first time, a girl saw past my epic mullet to my deep inner beauty and asked for his phone number.
Needless to say, I had very positive memories of the St. Louis area.
The job was in Chesterfield, but—although I enjoy outlet malls as much as the next guy—we wanted to live somewhere a little more “historic”. After my last interview for the job, I drove over to St. Charles and headed to Main Street.
That’s where I saw the sign outside of Lloyd and Harry’s advertising (at the time) 99-cent cheeseburgers.
To understand the appeal of Lloyd of Harry’s, you should know Megan and I have three children. Translation: A lot of kids means I love cheap food. Those scrawny $9.99 organic, free-range Whole Food chickens will not do for the McKissen family. We need our chickens to be the Costco variation, the kind that apparently pass their time on the Green Mile by doing constant pushups.
So, when I got the bill for a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a Pabst that came out to $5 and change, I knew I had found our new home.
Thankfully I got the job, and we headed to Missouri in such a rush that I think we “forgot” to pay the tolls on the Florida Turnpike.
We love St. Charles, and life here has been better than we have even imagined. I eventually left my job and started a public relations and marketing business, and Megan was hired to be the Community Manager for OPO Startups.
We’ve also become very engaged in our community, and through that engagement, I’ve learned that we are, demographically speaking, somewhat of an anomaly: We are a young family who could have chosen to live anywhere in the region, but chose St. Charles.
In fact, technically speaking, I am a millennial, though on the very oldest end of that demographic.
The first time I heard the word “millennial” was in a company meeting in 2005. In the 12 years since, as far as I can tell, the stereotype of a millennial has remained unchanged. They are still living in their parents’ basement. They still feel entitled.
They are still the root of all evil.
Except, the stereotype wasn’t always true in 2005—and it definitely isn’t true now.
In the United States, the median age for first-time motherhood is 26. That’s older than the median age for first-time motherhood used to be, but still, if you are 26 years old in 2017, you were born in 1991. Want more evidence millennials are aging? As a millennial myself, I am old enough to remember the year the average first-time mother was born. It was the same year I started seeing D.J. Tanner in Full House in a slightly different way than before. It wasn’t full attraction yet, but it wasn’t unlike the feeling I got when I saw my receipt at Lloyd and Harry’s.
The point is that millennials are getting older.
And when communities have a conversation about what they can do to attract millennials—and that conversation is happening in St. Charles County—what they are sometimes really having is a conversation about what they can do to attract a 23-year-old.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a 23-year-old. We were all 23 once.
However, a 23-year-old isn’t a fully formed human being. When I was 23, I was rubbing Rogaine® on my upper lip in an attempt to grow a mustache, and I drove a salvage-title Hyundai Accent that I literally had to lean forward in when driving up a hill, just to make sure it kept moving.
Translation: At 23 years old, my economic value to the community was limited.
A conversation about millennials and a conversation about 23-year-olds has some overlap, but it is not the same conversation. Many millennials on the older end of the demographic are getting closer to their late 30s—and according to the Kaufman Foundation, the average age of a first-time founder of a company with at least a million dollars in annual revenue is 39.
Which brings me back to St. Charles County and the future of entrepreneurship in our community.
Right now, there is momentum in this county to create more startups. Statistically speaking, the founders of those start-ups are likely to be in their 30s (at least), and they are likely to have a family. That isn’t just a statistical fact—I see successful first-time entrepreneurs every day at OPO Startups. Most are millennials, most have children, most are married, and most are homeowners. They chose to build their businesses and families here, in part because the low cost of living gives them the opportunity to take risks.
If communities want to attract aspiring entrepreneurs, they need to be inclusive, diverse places with fun things to do. However, they also need to be safe, affordable, and supportive. The presence of those qualities in this community has been a big part of my early entrepreneurial success.
We may never be a hub for venture capital, and that’s okay.
We can still be a launching pad for risk takers.
Because in a place where you can still buy a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a PBR with a wad of dollar bills, anything is possible.