He Said/She Said November 2014

Placemaking the Key to Keeping Young Talent

By Karissa Chabot-Purchase

Despite the fact that Michigan has some of the best higher education institutions in the nation, young people continue to leave the state almost immediately after graduation, taking their talent and high-quality, hard-earned diplomas with them.

The all-too-well-known “brain drain” has been detrimental to Michigan’s efforts to growing our struggling communities into the rich, dynamic hubs of activity many of them once were, because — and as research has shown time and time again — retaining a well-educated, talented workforce acts as a powerful magnet for new business and new investment. Proposals meant to tackle this issue continue to emerge from a variety of individuals (everyone from local, state and federally-elected officials to leaders from the business community), but so far Michigan hasn’t really jumped on board with one or even a set of initiatives aimed at addressing the issue.

One approach that seems to be getting a bit more attention lately is the idea of embracing a Placemaking strategy for our communities. For those unfamiliar with the term, Placemaking is the idea that we ought to focus on developing communities that cater to residents (not just to cars and businesses). It focuses on designing and developing spaces that draw people in because they’re attractive, interesting, comfortable and meaningful (think lively, bustling neighborhoods and unique, inviting public areas). Placemaking capitalizes on a community’s existing assets and potential and very purposely involves input from the real “experts” in the field — the people who live, work and play in a place.

If Michigan’s goal is to better attract and retain young talent in our state, it’s time for us to think carefully about what exactly it is that young people want in the communities that they choose to set their roots in. After all, research suggests that an increasing number of young people decide where they want to live first and THEN look for employment; they’re not necessarily just moving to where the jobs are now that our economy is rebooting and more job opportunities are becoming available.Discussions suggest that young people are flocking toward communities that provide an array of transit opportunities (well-funded and maintained roads, public transit, walking and biking options); spaces that have a centralized “hub” (walkable, easily accessible downtown areas with amenities like shops, grocery stores, and dining and entertainment options); a variety of housing options (think mixed-use and green living options); and diverse cultural offerings, among other things. Identifying those (and other) features empowers us to then start providing them to residents through carefully devised Placemaking strategies and, in turn, netting some of the young talent that we might otherwise continue to lose to places like Chicago, Washington D.C. and elsewhere.

While it’s certainly only a piece of a larger puzzle, how we imagine our communities is a very important part of making Michigan more competitive in what will surely be an increasing battle for young talent.

Entrepreneurship is Crucial to Keeping Young Talent Here in Michigan

By Michael Rogers

One of the ways we can retain talent in our state is to continue our efforts to make Michigan friendly to entrepreneurs. We are seeing an accelerating trend of high school and college students saying they want to start and run their own businesses. Why? Part of it is that they’ve seen the impact that the Great Recession had on so-called secure jobs. They’ve concluded that working for a big firm is no guarantee that they’ll have stable employment. Instead, they are deciding that they should take control of their own futures by working for themselves.

Also appealing to young people is the heroic image that entrepreneurs have, particularly in the high-tech sector. Do they really think they will become billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg? Probably not, but they do sense that society and their peers admire self-made women and men who not only are making lots of money but are also having a significant positive impact on the world around them.

How do we make Michigan the kind of place where young men and women feel like they have an opportunity to be successful entrepreneurs? Much of it revolves around cultural change. We’ve come a long way toward fostering an entrepreneurial culture, but work remains to be done to discard the old habits of our industrial past — the idea that a young person’s highest aspiration should be toward stable, lifetime employment in a giant corporation. We need to continue to focus on narratives of how small businesses are rebuilding cities like Lansing and Detroit. We need to leverage the sparkling entrepreneurial success stories of the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch program (conducted by MiQuest), now in its 11th year.

And we need to continue the excellent work that has been done in the tax and regulatory realm. Eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on most small enterprises was a great shot in the arm for entrepreneurial startups. The effort that has gone into rationalizing and streamlining our regulatory structure gives entrepreneurs more time to focus on growing their businesses and creating jobs instead of dealing with red tape. In the years to come, we need to keep pushing forward to ensure that state and local governments are nurturing and encouraging entrepreneurship and making it really easy for start-ups to succeed.

Finally, we need to continue leveraging Michigan’s assets as an affordable, livable state. We may not have California’s climate, but neither do we have earthquakes and wild fires. In our state you can afford to own a home on a spacious lot and have access to great schools. It doesn’t take you two hours to commute to your job in one of our vibrant cities and you’re within easy driving distance of the Great Lakes.

Michigan is on a long-term trend line of an aging population. Retaining talented young people — and not losing them to places like San Francisco, Chicago and Boston — is vital if we are going to have a strong, vibrant economy in the future. Entrepreneurship is an important ingredient to achieving that goal.

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