Goodbye boomers, hello zoomers.
For Logan this week, that means summer citizens from Arizona and elsewhere have headed home while Utah State University students are arriving for the fall semester, resulting in a dramatic change in atmosphere.
Of course, not all of the incoming students are members of the 24-and-under age group known by demographers as Gen Z, or zoomers, and a good number of Logan’s summer seniors predate the baby boom that started in 1946, but you get the idea.
Wednesday night, the seasonal transformation was on full display with a sea of freshmen walking the streets of downtown and partaking in the annual “Taste of Logan” event staged by businesses to welcome USU newbies with free stuff, music and activities like riding a mechanical bull.
One of the stops on the tour was the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau, which was giving away packets of Goldfish crackers from Pepperidge Farm and filling in students about local attractions like Logan Canyon and unique valley eateries. The organization’s headquarters in the Historic Cache County Courthouse had around 1,000 freshmen come through, which thrilled Tourist Bureau Director Julie Hollist Terrill, a big fan of both the young and the old who descend on Logan each year.
“To have the students come en masse is just remarkable, and it’s fun because they are so excited,” Hollist Terrill said. “The summer citizens bring with them a lot of great things, including their willingness to be involved in all of our community events and participate in every way, and they also bring with them a lot of money, which they leave behind. But when the students get here, all of a sudden we have youth and exuberance, and it’s a complete change from one to the other. But they are both equally exciting and fun to be around.”
Another annual sign that USU’s fall semester is about to begin is a marked increase in shoppers at area supermarkets as students fan out to stock their refrigerators and pick up other supplies.
“I don’t actually see the shift in university students unless I go into the North Walmart,” said Laura Silvester Van Noy, one of a number of Herald Journal Facebook visitors responding to the questions “Do you look forward to the return of USU students each fall?” and “What do you think the university atmosphere adds to Cache Valley life?”
Van Noy tacked a smiley face to her response along with the comment, “They are welcome.”
Lauri VonNiederhausern greets the annual autumn migration with excitement and a sense of Aggie pride.
“I love the energy and positive vibes they bring to Logan,” she wrote. “We moved from Alaska to Logan in 2001 so my husband could attend USU. He graduated but we never left. We will always be an Aggie family and it makes me so happy to see blue and white all over town.”
Darcy Pehrson Ripplinger agreed, but with one reservation, remarking, “I love having the students and the university. I just wish they would leave their cars home, that’s all.”
For Ella Heap, the downside of a thriving university is related to housing as well as cars. She wrote:
“Too much extra traffic and issues with parking on the streets during the winter from multiple students living in housing with only two parking spaces. This is already becoming a year-round issue however, due to the excessive amount of multi-family housing units being built in every possible open space left in our valley. We have a great university, so I wish we could just keep the students and stop building all these large multi-housing areas."
In addition to seeking reader input, The Herald Journal reached out to a handful of local community leaders to gauge their feelings about the return of students and the university’s overall impact on Cache Valley life. One of those was Cache County Executive David Zook, who stressed the economic benefits of being a university town, which includes a big pool of potential employees for local businesses.
“We’re glad to have the students here. They bring an energy to our community that brings a lot of enthusiasm and optimism of youth, and they’re really critical to our economy,” he said. “We really need them for jobs in the workforce. … There are literally thousands of jobs available in the valley right now and we hope the students coming back will apply for those jobs and help to support our local economy not just by buying things but by becoming part of our workforce.”
He went on:
“Our economy here in Cache County is far stronger than it would be if we didn’t have the university. For one, we have a number of research projects, technologies, things like that that have spun out into local businesses, and then we also have a number of students who came up with an idea while they were studying at Utah State and started a business here. So many of our local businesses are here as a result of Utah State University.”
Logan City Council Member Jeannie Simmonds, a longtime USU employee now retired, suggested Logan’s identity is essentially inseparable from the university since it has been here so long — graduating its first class of students in 1894.
“I think it helps to make the community what it is, and it adds a vibrancy and adds just a wonderful mix of people that come to the valley. When I worked at USU, I will tell you that 90 percent of them (the graduates) say it is the best place they ever lived,” Simmonds said.
The only problem with having a student population of nearly 20,000, as Simmonds sees it, is “it’s a challenge for housing.”
One Facebook commenter suggested the student influx makes Logan more liberal, but Hollist Terrill wondered whether the university’s faculty is more responsible than students for injecting some progressive ideas into an otherwise largely conservative community.
“I think we probably see an impact on the culture more from the professors than we do from the actual students because they are young and not really involved with the politics of our community,” Hollist Terrill said. “I don’t know how much students’ voices are honestly heard in swaying things one way or another, whether or not they are conservative or liberal, but I do think we see more diversity obviously coming through them and through the employees and professors in the university.”
Though a prominent Cache Valley Republican, Zook said he appreciates the cultural and intellectual variety fostered by the valley’s institution of higher education.
“If you look at small rural communities that are a little bit off the beaten path like Cache County is, normally you would probably have a more homogeneous community, but the fact that we have the university here gives us a lot of diversity of opinions and racial diversity,” Zook said. “I think that’s a positive for our community to have a variety of ideas and people from all over the world, different languages spoken, different cultures mixing. I love having the university here because it adds so much to our community in the way of athletics, arts and entertainment, education, our economy. There are some many aspects of our community that are strengthened because we have that university here.”
Comfort with diversity is one of the defining traits of Gen Z, according to sociologists, although the group has also been described as “the loneliest generation” because, having grown up in the digital age, much of their interaction is conducted on phones instead of in person.
Despite their perceived shyness, Zoomers have shown a penchant for political activism on both the left and right. They are also known to be shrewd consumers and pragmatic planners as a result of seeing their parents weather the Great Recession and other economic speed bumps.