Bay City touting community, downtown, and affordable housing to recruit young professionals

It’s a familiar narrative, perhaps even a tad cliche. Many a high school graduate dreams of moving somewhere warmer, somewhere bigger, somewhere far from one’s hometowns where freedom and new opportunities are boundless. However, when Bay CIty is your hometown, there are many reasons to stick close and trade in the fair-weather fantasies for a tight-knit community with big-city offerings.

Madison Jarmon, formerly Madison Clements, did fall prey to the old narrative, albeit briefly. After graduating from John Glenn High School in 2015, Jarmon admits, “I wanted to leave. I thought of going to North Carolina or somewhere warm with my life. My parents definitely wanted me to stay close, and my brother is young, so they wanted me to be in the area.”

After dual-enrolling at Delta College during high school, Jarmon decided to attend Saginaw Valley State University. “I was a first-generation college student, and SVSU is close to home and felt comfortable. Small class sizes were important to me, and once I got there, appreciated all of the relationships I was able to build. I met my husband there, connected with future employers, and started working toward a law degree.”

It turns out, the law degree was not meant to be. Jarmon, 23, interned for Saginaw’s Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, during her sophomore year, followed by another internship with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce during her senior year. It was here that a new calling presented itself, not without a bit of nudging from her college advisors and Chamber President and CEO Ryan Tarrant.

“Madison came to us through the Ludington Fellowship at SVSU. She worked half-time on research and policy and assisted in putting together our first policy book, which has helped with our advocacy work. We recognized her talent and wanted to collaborate with the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce, so we hired her on after graduation as Director of Governmental Affairs shared between the two offices,” says Tarrant.

After gaining experience with the chambers and establishing more local business ties, Jarmon’s mind began to turn toward remaining near her roots. “Once I had the internships and met the community, I could feel the pride, and there was support from everyone I met.  So many community members were appreciative of keeping young talent in the area.”

During her year as a full-time chamber employee, Jarmon was able to network in the community and beyond, regularly going to Lansing as an unregistered lobbyist to advocate for policy positions and then bringing relevant information back to update local chamber members. Her role was instrumental in developing the new governmental affairs position, and Tarrant doesn’t deny that it was hard to let her go when the time came.

“Our goal at the chamber is to recruit and retain talent. We typically ask for a soft two-year commitment, but when an opportunity for Madison came up with Consumers, it was an opportunity for the chamber to put their money where their mouth was.”

In April of 2020, Jarmon chose to embark on a career in Bay City with Consumers Energy and is one of the youngest people in the state to hold the position of Community Affairs Manager.

“I manage the Bay and Thumb regions, serving as a face for Consumers in the communities. Having started in 2020, most of my focus has been on COVID relief, grants, and nonprofits,” Jarmon says. “The position is both proactive and reactive in nature. I am a spokesperson for solar farms, I work with non-profits and local chambers, and I am in communication with organizations like Bay Future.”

Jarmon’s experience is one that leaders in the community are hoping to replicate. “There are big businesses in the area looking for talent, but they aren’t finding people who want to work in those roles or who are qualified,” Jarmon says.

Tarrant tells of a similar story in the Bay Area. “One of the top challenges of the last couple of years has been workforce. We are in need of candidates who can step in and do the jobs. Positions and help wanted signs are everywhere. It’s a great time to look at opportunities to come back.”

Acutely aware of this deficiency and motivated to work toward economic growth in the region, the business community is actively working to retain local talent, or recruit it to the area. “There has been a concentrated effort to keep young, talented professionals in the community. Madison is a great example. Consumers hired her at a younger age rather than choosing, as many have historically, to go with someone older and with more experience.”

Another group, Bay Area Energize, is actively working to engage young adults and encourage leadership in the community. An offshoot of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Tarrant notes that the group was put into motion over a decade ago after the last recession when many young people moved out of the area.

Jarmon, also a currrent member of Energize’s Steering Committee, says that a main goal is getting college-age students to come to the networking events and to see how awesome the area is. “There is a golf outing, a boat cruise, luncheons with guest speakers, and soon we will be launching mini-seminars online where steering committee members will speak on different topics like career development and entering the job force.”

Fortunately, most of Bay City’s appeal speaks for itself, a fact that both Jarmon and Tarrant recognize. “It’s a big town with a small hometown feel. Bay City is such a nice area and has so much to offer: arts, festivals, a walkable downtown, and wildlife at the beach. I decided to stay here, but my husband, who is from Macomb County and came here for college, decided to set roots here even prior to meeting me, which really speaks to the appeal of the area.”

Tarrant hopes that more young professionals like the Jarmons see the draw and begin careers in the Bay City community.

A native himself, Tarrant says Bay City has grown and changed for the good over the years. “High school and college-aged kids are found enjoying Wenonah Park. Living spaces are within walking distance of many restaurants and small businesses. Other communities of similar size don’t have these amenities. Big cities, like Detroit or Chicago, have higher costs of living, and while the restaurants and shops are close, the commute to get there takes time. Here in Bay City, we have the same amenities, but not at the big city premium. Our housing market is hot right now, and we are still very affordable compared to other communities ... Eventually you start to realize Bay City is very unique.”

In addition to her Consumers position and serving on the steering committee for Energize, Jarmon also coaches the Varsity Cheerleading Team at John Glenn High School, investing her time and talent with young people here in Bay City. Jarmon says, “Since I grew up here I want to help talent stay. It will improve the economy, and as a native I am invested in the area and helping it grow.”