Valenti brothers see Connecticut as strong underdog

Brothers Robert, left, and Joel Valenti are seen at Valenti Toyota in Westerly on Dec. 20, 2017. They have both come back home to southeastern Connecticut in the last few years to join the family business. Robert is the business manager at Valenti Toyota and Joel is the sales manager at the Mystic dealership. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Brothers Robert, left, and Joel Valenti are seen at Valenti Toyota in Westerly on Dec. 20, 2017. They have both come back home to southeastern Connecticut in the last few years to join the family business. Robert is the business manager at Valenti Toyota and Joel is the sales manager at the Mystic dealership. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Mystic — For as long as he can remember, Joel Valenti wanted to head out west and explore.

"It was a whole other part of this huge country that I'd never seen," Joel, a sales manager at Valenti Ford in Mystic, said recently in his office over a ringing phone and classic rock radio.

After graduating from Stonington High School in 2009, he earned a finance degree at Arizona State University, driving to California and Utah on weekends, "skiing all over the place" and starting a Cross-Fit gym with a friend.

"I like to be running and sweating, moving and exploring," he said.

While other millennials are fleeing the state, Joel, who just turned 27, and his brother Robert, who turns 29 next month, came back to Connecticut in recent years and want to stay.

"Right now, maybe we are the underdog," Joel said of the Constitution State. "But if you're looking at a stock, you're looking at undervalued stocks so you can buy and eventually end up on top. That's how you win. I've talked to people in their mid-20s to mid-30s, that's what I'm telling them. Stick it out. Things are going to change and get better."

The Valenti brothers grew up in Stonington playing pickup games of roller hockey with neighborhood kids. They attended Stonington schools and played a mix of baseball, golf, track and soccer while learning the importance of a strong work ethic from their family.

Robert earned a finance degree from Northeastern University in 2012 before a stint with Boston-based consultancy Sapient Global Markets. Sharing the same sense of exploration as his brother, Robert quit that job and spent a leisurely winter working as a bellman at a luxury hotel in Wyoming's Jackson Hole before finally deciding to come home in 2015. Now he's a business manager at Valenti Toyota in Westerly.

"It gives you a sense of pride every day," Robert said. "But the pressure is always there. It's a month-to-month business. After a great month, you go from a hero to zero overnight. There's no time to sit back and say, 'Hey, I did a great job,' because you've got to keep on it all the time."

Going on three years now, the brothers have rented a family-owned house in Stonington Borough, and are finding new ways to compete among coworkers, family and friends as they sell cars and trucks to the community.

Love of family and the region brought the Valenti brothers back to Connecticut.

The brothers lauded the bustling coastline and New England's history and culture blending with new art shops, restaurants and outdoorsmanship aplenty. Robert and Joel still golf and ski together when off the hook from their busy schedules.

"I love being on the water," Robert said. "This is a pretty cool location, especially in the summer. We've got the nice Rhode Island beaches right here. Lots of restaurants and stuff you can go to by boat. It's a pretty easy ride to Block Island or Montauk, and there's good fishing."

Winters a drawback

Both brothers also keenly are self-aware of their fortune, saying if they hadn't had the opportunity to join an auto business that's had their name on the building for generations, it's anybody's guess where in the country they may have ended up.

"They don't make it easy to start a business here," said Joel, who started as a salesman at the Mystic dealership a couple of years ago. "Nothing's easy here, when you look at other places with vast open amounts of land and things are just cheaper with less taxes, less regulations, less government and it's easier to get things done."

Robert said job opportunities for young people are limited in Connecticut.

"There's jobs, but not a wide array of opportunities," he said, arguing the state has driven out large companies, especially in western Connecticut. "Outside of this, I don't know what I would have done to live here and work here."

Both brothers also mentioned harsh winters as a drawback to the area, but they said they try to convince friends working out of state that summers in southeastern Connecticut are worth the wait.

They added that they didn't fully appreciate the region until they had time away, and that misconceptions about the area might deter young people from checking it out.

"People say we're New Englanders and we're tough," Joel said. "But I don't know if I always find that to be true. The community's good and you can reach out to people and say hello, and talk to business owners and they're going to be down to earth and want to help out."

b.kail@theday.com

Millennials in Connecticut

Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut, at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.

In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.

A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.

Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day is profiling seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.

Read other articles in the series at www.theday.com/2017millennials.

WHAT GENERATION ARE YOU?

Millennials: 1981-1997

Generation X: 1965-1980

Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

The Silent Generation: 1928-1945

The Greatest Generation: Before 1928

Source: Pew Research Center

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