A Hofstra University conference Friday highlighted the importance of the millennial generation to Long Island's economic future. The gathering at the first annual Suburban Millennial Jobs Conference also underscored the need for the Island to change in order to appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds.

"It's still extremely important to focus on this age group as the bedrock of our economy and the springboard to a sound economic future," Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra's National Center for Suburban Studies, told the crowd. The center co-sponsored the event for leaders in government, business and advocacy with the Suburban Millennial Institute, a Garden City-based think tank.

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An institute survey earlier this year found 30 percent of Long Islanders ages 18 to 36 planned to leave, most citing the lack of job opportunities.

But census data show that while white millennials have been leaving, Latinos and Asians boosted this generation's ranks on the Island to 577,177 in 2013, from 558,732 in 2008.

Nationwide, the more diverse millennial population will eclipse baby boomers in the workplace by 2020, when they will make up 50 percent of the workforce, said Joan Kuhl, president and founder of Why Millennials Matter, a Manhattan consulting company.

A panel discussed entrepreneurship as a path to employment. Panelist Samantha Bifulco, 19, a Farmingdale State College sophomore and the founder of the 3-year-old TerraNut snack company in West Babylon, sees many years of business ownership in her future. "Five to 10 years from now I plan to grow my business and create more employment opportunities," she said.