Elliot Ledley, 24, right, co-founder of the 2 Shoes App, offers advice last week to Tim Martin, 26, programmer and marketer with start-up Vendur, an e-commerce platform. Both work on their start-ups at the CoLab Workspace, 17 E. Pennington St., downtown.

There’s a new vanguard in the Old Pueblo and its members have never used a mimeograph or a rotary-dial telephone.

They work in coffee shops rather than offices, juggle multiple hand-held devices as they finalize business deals and make weekend plans without uttering a single word.

While Tucson is often recognized as a great place for retirees, outdoor enthusiasts or cultural aficionados, Money Magazine says it’s one of the top five cities in the country for millennials, people who reached adulthood around the year 2000.

“Young people may dream of working in New York or Los Angeles,” the magazine wrote in a recent article, “but with costs of living far beyond what most Americans can afford — and projected job growth below average for big U.S. cities — it’s hard to make the case that either the Big Apple or City of Angels offers young people the easiest living or the best shot at success.”

Money’s list of top cities for millennials focused on places with populations above 300,000, above-average projected job growth, affordable living expenses and a high concentration of amenities. Plus, somewhere young professionals can find plenty of fun bars, restaurants and leisure activities.

“Though it might seem sleepy to outsiders, Tucson is a bit of a hidden gem for millennials,” Money wrote. “The population of locals aged 20 though 34 is considerable, 24.4 percent. While some of those residents are students at the University of Arizona, others work in the city.

“Career opportunities are a big draw in the city, where Moody’s projects job growth of about 11.1 percent over the next five years.”

Hustle, bustle and Roses, too

New York native Elliot Ledley, 24, arrived in Tucson seven years ago to attend the UA.

As a student he interned at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and at the Arizona Center for Innovation. That’s where he met other young people and learned about the community. He decided to stay.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” he said. “Everybody that I work with and meet is very approachable.”

Like many millennials, technology allows him to explore more than one career path.

Ledley is the director of marketing and community relations for the United Way. He is also part of a national team that manages 2shoesapp.com, which offers speakers a way to engage “live” with their audience so they can frame a presentation to what most in the audience want to know.

A participating presenter tells the audience to go to the website and log in to get the presentation’s complementary documents and interact with other attendees.

To keep up with East Coast customers, Ledley works on the program from the CoLab Workspace downtown before he begins his day at United Way.

A transplant to Tucson his sophomore year of high school, Billy Kovacs, 28, stayed because he believed he could promote the city to other millennials.

“I’ve had offers to go to Los Angeles or New York but I’ve always looked at the opportunity to make Tucson great,” he said. “Why do people just get a degree and leave? I want to be part of trying to keep them here.”

Kovacs was born in Anchorage and grew up in Orange County.

In 2013, he opened Prep & Pastry restaurant on North Campbell Avenue with a partner and sold it a couple of months ago. He works for two of his family businesses, including doing marketing for Irvine, California-based Scientific Testing Technologies, which offers slip-prevention testing for large buildings seeking OSHA and ADA compliance.

His brother works in California and “we Skype a lot,” Kovacs said. He uses shared office space at Connect Coworking downtown.

His family also owns Sandor Vineyard in Turkey Creek, near Willcox, where Kovacs pitches in as needed.

The reason he’s stayed in Tucson is because of its calmer pace and warmth of residents.

His favorite thing about the city?

“The people — the depth of character,” he said. “Everybody goes 35 or 40 miles per hour and stops to smell the roses a little more than in bigger cities, where it’s all hustle and bustle.”

Two things he would like to see are less political bickering and more support of education.

“No young person is going to want to move here, have a family and stay, if we don’t have proper eduction,” he said. “And we need to integrate our university and business community to offer internships to college students.”

That’s what kept Brooke McDonald in Tucson after moving here in 2005 to attend UA.

Despite growing up just up the interstate in Phoenix, the 28-year-old said she didn’t know that much about Tucson until a professor urged her to get involved in community projects.

“That was the first time I went off campus,” McDonald said. “Once I started getting connected, I realized Tucson is such a supportive place. That’s why I personally love it so much.”

She volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and worked at University Medical Center.

McDonald said she was saddened whenever she saw graduates pack up and leave. Along with the professor who pushed her off campus and into the community, Robin Breault, a business was born.

“Community projects kept me here,” McDonald said. “What could I do to help prevent brain drain?”

The two opened LeadLocal, which started as a matchmaking business for UA students and businesses.

Now they consult with nonprofits and public agencies to create internship programs and provide leadership development.

“Employers need to provide strong internship programs and mentorship opportunities,” McDonald said. “Tucson is an awesome place for young people to live.”

As a member of Tucson Young Professionals Alliance, she helped create the “ignite520” effort to promote Tucson to young people.

“I do consider myself a Tucsonan,” McDonald said. “As long as I can contribute and make an impact, I want to stay.”

Building a place to stay

Tucson ranked 4th in Money’s Best Cities for Millennials.

Austin, Texas topped the list with projected job growth of 13.3 percent due to tech and telecom employers such as Dell, IBM and AT&T.

Atlanta, Georgia, came in second with its low cost of living and Delta Airlines’ strong local hiring.

Columbus, Ohio, was third with Money citing its green landscape, creative food venues and walkable lifestyle — no need for a car.

Seattle was fifth for its vibrant nightlife and walkable convenience. Although cost of living is higher, so is the city’s generous median income of nearly $67,000.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was pleased about the nod to Tucson.

“This recognition is a byproduct of purposeful efforts to rebuild and rebrand our community,” the Tucson native said. “We have a vibrant downtown, alternative modes of transportation, aggressive city incentive programs to attract new business and promotion of the arts, the outdoors and of history.

“We will continue to build a community where our young people want to stay and can stay.”


Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.