Millennials and Money: Where Financial Literacy Failed

Looking back on your high school days, you probably remember lessons like long division or the day you finally mastered a cursive “Q.” But what about the class where you learned to balance a checkbook? Or apply for a car loan? While Baby Boomers were more likely to reap the benefits of a home economics class covering life skills and simple financial planning, Millennials are now facing a devastating education gap when it comes to basic financial literacy. Now, a pair of Worcester natives are on a mission to target this educational blind spot and help money management make sense to our future business leaders—before it’s too late.

Recent Clark University graduate, Rebecca Liebman, and her brother Michael, are harnessing the power of the Internet to tackle the problem of financial illiteracy among Millennials. They are planning to launch a website called, which would give Millennials the tools to control and understand their financial futures. Michael Liebman, LearnLux president, is currently majoring in finance at Bentley University, but his passion for figures extends back as far as age seven, when, according to their website, he “proclaimed [ . . . ] that his favorite thing to do was count money.”

“The 19–35-year-old demographic has the worst national average for credit scores.”

pigThe lack of financial literacy among Millennials has resulted in some frightening statistics. Research by the credit information service, Experian, has revealed that the 19–35-year-old demographic has the worst national average for credit scores, and a significantly unfavorable debt-to-income ratio than any previous generation. According to a recent poll by the Brookings Institution, about 50% of college freshmen surveyed are incorrect or entirely ignorant of the amount of student loan debt they carry. While many hypotheses have been put forward as to the cause of the lapse in financial education for Millennials, the takeaway is clear: Millennials must be taught to manage their own money before they can competently take the helm of larger financial responsibilities.

LearnLux’s founders may have a better handle on their finances than many of their peers, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking on this challenge alone. Their innovative approach to financial education for young adults has convinced the MassChallenge startup accelerator to select LearnLux as one of its 128 finalists for 2015. While the program is still in its testing phases, it seems clear that these young entrepreneurs are well on their way to bridging the gap in Millennial financial literacy.

Worcester hotel development brings rooms, room for growth

Over the course of the next two years, Worcester will see the opening of at least three new hotels, bringing an estimated 360 new rooms to the city. The expansion of hotel space is vital if the city hopes to draw and retain tourist and convention revenues.

XSS Hotels, a hotel development and management company, plans to open a 100-room Hampton Inn in early 2016. The company is also looking to build a 150-room Renaissance Hotel downtown to compliment the new CitySquare project. Homewood Suites will be breaking ground on a 110-room hotel located in close proximity to Union Station by the end of this year.

While the new rooms are a good step forward, they are making up for lost ground. In 2010 the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lincoln Square closed when the owners defaulted on a mortgage. Those 243 rooms were converted into dorms and classroom space by MCPHS University. Fortunately, the Crowne Plaza’s closing wasn’t due to a lack of customers. Today, seven hotels in Worcester provide 745 rooms. The need for additional lodging is displayed in the occupancy rates with 75% of beds full throughout the year, which is significantly higher than the 65% national average. This means that the 360 new rooms will help stabilize the market and keep any one establishment from being overburdened.

Extra rooms also help increase the town’s capacity for hosting large events, creating a symbiotic relationship with Worcester’s growing number of conventions and tournaments. The DCU center boasts over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space for trade shows, conventions, entertainment, and private functions.  The adjoining arena has the capacity to accommodate anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 attendees for concerts and sporting events, each one a potential customer of gas, food, souvenirs, and, of course, lodging. Developing more hotels in the area will help Worcester be a better host to these large events, and help business and the city itself earn more.

Worcester could also hope to bring NCAA regional tournaments as part of the March Madness events, or other competitions. Unfortunately, the NCAA hasn’t been to Worcester since 2005, in part due to the lack of accommodations for guests. Recently, the Massive Comic Con was held at the DCU Center and welcomed 5000 attendees, most of whom were visiting from out of town and quickly filled the city’s current hotel offerings.

Of course, new hotels are only part of the solution. Worcester city government needs to offer a streamlined approval service for new construction applications and business licenses. Tax schedules, while needing to be favorable to the city, must also be competitive and attractive for potential developers. The coming rooms are a good sign of growth, but also a reminder that there is always room to improve.

Relaxed Regulations on Food Trucks Could Be Driving Up Business in Worcester

Massachusetts, and Worcester in particular, is a place known for embracing the American Dream in all its many forms. Now, the Worcester city administrators are looking at changing the rules governing one particular form of the big dream.

Food trucks are a novel interpretation of American entrepreneurship, allowing aspiring chefs to open a small eatery to showcase their skills and tastes, while avoiding many of the sometimes insurmountable obstacles of running a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. The concept has been gaining traction nationwide, and Worcester even held the Fourth Annual Food Truck Festival on June 20, 2015.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. announced that the city will be “crowdsourcing” opinions about welcoming food trucks and other vendors in the city. Current rules prohibit food trucks from operating near store-front restaurants, and near the DCU Center. The regulations also limit the operating hours of food trucks, and, most prohibitive of all, trucks are required to move at least 500 feet every five minutes. These regulations allegedly help prevent food trucks from competing with stationary restaurant businesses.

Food trucks are good for business, because they are business. They are the very embodiment of the American dream—small entrepreneurial business, set in an automobile, serving favorite recipes. Food trucks are more versatile than permanent eateries, with significantly lower barriers to entry.

Emilee Morreale is a caterer in Worcester, and an aspiring food truck owner. “I think its worth focusing on the fact that street food is prominent in most countries all over the world, and in our country—where we have such advanced sanitation—it’s only hurting local economies and cultures to not encourage people to capitalize on their traditional recipes or innovative ideas.” She mentions that so many TV chefs have contributed to the concept’s popularity, and that access to food trucks, “[is] truly what the people want.”

Morreale also mentions that locally-owned business keeps the local economy healthier. Right now in Worcester, “Vacant shop fronts have been available for months and years with no bites…” There is no demand from prospective restaurateurs to lease a brick-and-mortar location. Instead, changing the rules would allow more local chefs to open their own new tax-paying businesses, and share their passions on the streets of Worcester.

Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton, chairman of the City Council Economic Development Committee, said his committee plans on taking up the city administration’s food truck strategies at its next meeting, July 21.


Worcester Businesses Meet to Discuss Growth and Regulation

Four local business leaders met in Worcester recently to discuss the fact that the city is growing at a phenomenal rate, despite the tight rein of regulations on business in the area. The discussion, which was named “Acting Locally”, was hosted by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, and featured guest speakers from some of the most important businesses in the area.

The meeting focused largely on the need for Worcester business establishments to connect and focus more strongly with their local community. Participating at the conference were three distinguished members of the Worcester business community, including Frederick Eppinger, President of Hanover Insurance; Nick Smith, President of Rand Whitney; and Neil McDonough, CEO of FLEXcon. The conference was moderated by Michael Mulrain of Polar Beverages.

Loosening The Grip Of Regulation: A Common Theme

One of the most commonly voiced themes was the need for authorities in Worcester to loosen the reins of business regulation in the area. More than one of the speakers at the meeting touched upon this theme, and it was generally agreed by many in attendance that the city could afford to be a bit more welcoming and cooperative when it comes to the proposals of entrepreneurs, whether local or national, to establish new businesses in the area.

Several of the panelists noted that, for a small business in Worcester, its owner has to pass through a sea of red tape and regulations before it can win approval for their proposals from local officials. The process can take up to five years before anything is achieved. By contrast, business owners in the Southeastern region of the country, such as Georgia, can usually get approval from city officials much sooner and with far less conditions placed on that approval.

Improving The Quality Of Local Life

Despite the difficulties presented by state regulations, the local Worcester business leaders at the conference expressed their continuing commitment to improving the life of the local community and surrounding towns. Mr. Eppinger, whose company has played a valuable role in the redevelopment of downtown Worcester, applauded the City’s collaborative approach. As Nick Smith pointed out, Worcester’s willingness to work with businesses has been a contributing factor in their desire to continue investing in the development of the area.

It was agreed by all of the panelists that looser regulations on establishing businesses, combined with a strong community commitment from those businesses, is the key to ensuring the growth and continuing good health of the Worcester region.  In addition, all of the assembled panelists made encouraging comments stressing the value of local education and training for the next generation of civic and business leaders in Worcester.