When Greg Yankee moved to Midland a year ago to take over as Executive Director at Little Forks Conservancy, he recalls people in town were very welcoming. In particular, everyone was quick to share tips on the excellent local schools in Midland.
There was just one problem. Greg and his then-partner (now wife), Tara Clifford, didn’t have any kids.
It didn't take long, however, for Yankee and Clifford to find plenty of things to do in the city. The couple was soon paddling and hiking, visiting cultural institutions and getting involved in the community.
Greg Yankee. Photo by Ben Tierney.
Which got Yankee thinking. Why was everyone in town so eager to promote the schools as the best thing about Midland, when there were so many other things to love?
“It’s not just the quality of schools that makes a place family-friendly,” says Yankee. “Many attributes of those places are also exactly what adults without children are looking for; opportunities to get outdoors, easy ways to get involved in the community and meet people, low crime, and low cost of living relative to professional opportunities.”
Yankee, with a law degree from the University of Michigan and nearly a decade of experience in the land trust movement in Colorado, could have moved anywhere. He and Clifford chose Michigan, and Midland, because of the opportunities they found in the area, both personally and professionally--not just because it’s a great place to raise a family.
“Within a couple of weeks of moving to Midland, we’d gone to a symphony and an exhibit opening,” recalls Yankee. “Those same institutions also offer How the Grinch Stole Christmas and more kid/family-focused programming, but the fact that they are here in the first place--and also offer adult-focused programming like Beer, Brahms, & Bourbon--was a factor in our decision to move.”
He’d like to see Midlanders embrace the aspects of their community that go beyond it being a safe place to raise and educate a family.
“I wonder if there is a needed shift by the Midland community to get away from the non-stop pro-family marketing push when that’s already known,” he says.
What people don’t know about Midland, says Yankee, is what it has to attract and retain younger millennial talent like himself who are often delaying starting a family.
Paul Barbeau, president of the Michigan Baseball Foundation and Executive Director of the nonprofit Momentum Midland, agrees.
He sees Midland’s future as looking very different from its past.
“For decades, the model for Midland economic success and vibrancy has been largely dependent on Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, and a few other large employers maintaining or adding jobs in the area,” says Barbeau. If local organizations invested in fantastic community amenities and infrastructure, that was enough to keep the model working. Increasingly, those employers are facing factors beyond Midland’s control including globalization, automation, investor pressures, and more.”
Barbeau is part of a movement of Midland activists and leaders to leverage the city’s assets to make it more attractive to young talents like Yankee and Clifford.
Paul Barbeau. Photo by Ben Tierney.
“We believe Midland needs an updated model moving forward to remain competitive and vibrant,” says Barbeau. “As a community, we certainly should continue to support our large employers, but we also need to be a community of choice for entrepreneurial activity. That means being the place that talented people choose to start or grow a small business.”
Part of that effort is building on key elements of Midland’s urban and natural amenities, taking what’s already here and making it even better.
“If you look around, places succeeding in this area have a few things in common--vibrant downtowns, diversity, a well-connected trail system that serves most parts of the city, and neighborhood-scale development focused on a mix of uses,” says Barbeau. “We are working hard to maximize those community attributes to support the talent attraction and retention efforts of our large employers and to become a more attractive place for small, entrepreneurial activity.”
And that’s what Catalyst Midland is all about--telling the stories of people and organizations working to move Midland towards its next act. We’ll be sharing features, community profiles and news about development, innovation, placemaking and more.
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