If extending our annual 20 in Their Twenties awards to a 16th year has taught us anything, it’s that Kansas City has no shortage of young, talented and promising executives and entrepreneurs. We see that again with the Class of 2023, most of whom were able to gather at Ingram’s on Oct. 16 to meet each other, engage in some informative discussion about issues of greatest relevance to their age cohort, and—now that they’re all past carding age—share an adult beverage.
About that age cohort: We don’t necessarily agree with the social scientists who are trying to define recent generations in 15-year increments, but here we are. That renders the composition of those who are between 20 and 29 years old as about 60 percent Gen Z, and 40 percent late-stage Millennials.
As a practical matter, though, the interests of each group largely coincide. That covers a lot of ground: among them, workplace dynamics in the post-pandemic era, home ownership and affordability, features that draw young workers to this region, and concerns about what’s missing.
While several of this year’s honorees were unable to attend the roundtable, all were invited to weigh in on those issues. What they had to say should be of note to civic leaders and business executives who might still be trying to understand how young workers might not see job and career the same way their predecessors did.
The Pandemic Pricetag
A shared concern was the impact of the pandemic in multiple ways—on company cultures, on lost mentorship and relationships in offices where remote work became popular, and on the ability of high performers to be seen by leaders who decide on assignments, promotions, raises and other career mileposts.
Spring Venture Group’s Kendal Schmidt said the upshot of the pandemic is that employees now bear more responsibility to engage with their companies and colleagues. She’s director of employee engagement there, and said increased communication with employees, new hybrid events and non-stop efforts to gather feedback have been successful tools.
Blue KC, said Rosie Hollis, created a channel to retain the feel of water-cooler discussions. But with the hybrid work model implemented there, she sees fewer in-person meetings across departments or corporations “and less face-to-face time which really help address and resolve issues live, drive collaboration and decrease email traffic.”
At Commerce Bank, the emphasis on in-person work has paid off for Jenna TeKolste. “I feel as though I get tapped frequently for involvement in projects and experiences which are developing me to be the leader I intend to be,” she said. “What’s even better is that it’s not just me being in the office; everyone around me is, too,” allowing for seamless collaboration and growth opportunities for all.
“Zoom calls are easy and working from home is more convenient, but in my opinion the benefits of face to face meetings and watching experienced colleagues operate in person outweigh the convenience of a hybrid schedule,” said Richard Chaves, who became CEO of Parking Company of America just before the pandemic hit. “I think most employers realize this, and are slowly starting to fill their offices again.”
Zach Fischer of Peoples National Bank says employees everywhere now have fewer workplace interactions. Therefore, “each interaction/exchange you have with an employee can potentially leave a stronger impression,” he says, and it falls to leaders to help employees understand the value of their work. When they do, performance levels rise.
During the pandemic, said Luke Eckley, Apollo Insurance Group “offered our employees the choice to work remotely, and we discovered that more people preferred to come into the office because of the cultural experience and the ease of communication.” He, too, believes that many remote workers miss out, including the opportunity to establish friendships with colleagues.
Newmark Zimmer, said John Faur, was adamant from the beginning that the workplace was special and key component for the culture and success of the commercial realty firm. “I feel very fortunate to have those opportunities for face-to-face contact, mentorship, and “water-cooler chit-chat,” which has had a very significant effect on my growth and productivity,” he said, and has been a catalyst for his early career success.
“There is a learning curve to building workplace skills,” said Dentons lawyer Kamillia Scott, but “I think having meaningful and impactful in-person interactions with colleagues once or twice a week is plenty to fill the corporate culture cup.” The firm requires three days in office each week—Tuesdays and Wednesdays are highly encouraged—and is monitoring badge swipes to track attendance. “But we have yet to learn what they will do with this data,” she said.
Richard Chaves is in a house—as a renter. “I think the market is inflated. Homes that were $500k in 2020 are $750-$800k today,” he said. “It’s hard to justify that value.” He plans to rent for the next year or two and continue to watch the market for the right opportunity.
Rosie Hollis is a renter, and may be for a spell. She’s concerned affordability in a market where homes sell, above asking price, often within a week. Rising interest rates, as well, make it hard to afford a home in this area she says. Thus, “it makes it more appealing for 20’s to rent longer and move around more.” On top of that, “the finances needed to maintain or improve a home add to making buying a house less appealing and not affordable.”
Jenna TeKolste says she’s looking to buy a home, but is wary of interest rates and where prices might yet go. Even if she does take the leap, she says, “I do genuinely believe that over the next decade, Kansas City will continue to attract young adults looking for a fun, engaging place to live. So, I am less concerned about the future resale value of the home I do end up buying.”
Kamillia Scott, who has bought, moved and bought again since 2021, says buyers must determine whether the dream of homeownership is more important than getting the best rate or price. “I personally could never go back to having a landlord and neighbors above me, below me, etc.,” she says. And though higher rates leave a mark, “I know I made the right move because I love every inch of my house and never want to leave,” she says. “Plus, I can refinance when the time is right. Rates come and go. Peace is priceless.”
The pandemic, said Zach Fischer, “highlighted the critical importance of homes for everyone.” Construction of entry-level priced homes has dropped steeply, he noted, and existing owners refinanced during the low-rate era, so “I don’t expect many of those people to be putting their house on the market anytime soon.”
Lakyn Boltz takes a pragmatic approach to the challenge: “Regardless of when interest rates are predicted to drop, no home will be at any lower price point as it is right now if you wait to buy,” she said. “Even though interest rates may drop, the home value is just going to continue to increase. Does the market really ever provide the ‘perfect’ time to buy?”
If there’s a Golden Child of home ownership in this group, it might be Luke Eckley, who bought his house in what he calls the “perfect time:” September 2019.
“Home values had not gone through the roof yet and my interest rate was in the 2’s,” he said.
But there’s a business aspect to what’s going on in this regard.
“I employ a lot of Gen Z and Millennial generation folks at Apollo and I know that it’s a completely different market now when it comes to owning a home,” Eckley said. “I do think that interest rates need to come down a couple of points to get people willing to move again, however, I do not think we will have interest rates in the 2’s again.”
Those around the table generally expect that high mortgage interest rates and high prices will continue to spawn more apartment buildings and more rentals, even in single-family homes.
More to Come
Those are just a few of the discussion points covered by this thoughtful group. If you’d like to know more about early-career life in Kansas City, you’ll be able to follow their discussion in depth though in upcoming Ingram’s Education & The Workforce newsletters. If you’re not already subscribed to those, you can do so by emailing Digital@Ingrams.com.