Blog: Sean Mann

Issuing the call for city champions is Sean Mann, director of the "Let's Save Michigan" campaign to promote core communities in the Great Lakes state. This week he wades into the sexiness of density and the need for better collaboration between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Post 1: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

That oft-rehashed Faulkner quote crosses my mind a lot as I pass through Michigan's cities.

Our cities have become the sad international poster child for the failed American dream. And I'm not only talking about the decay of Detroit but also the abandoned factories that dot the entire state, the shuttered strip malls, and expansive sprawl that rapidly shows its age and shortcomings.

These everyday gaping wounds are in part the harsh realities of international economics, but also an undeniable reminder of our history of hubris and poor foresight.

Writing about the decline of Michigan is nothing new and I certainly don't have to rehash all the economic gloom and its underlying statistics that surrounded this region and state for the past decade. However, there is one statistic in particular that weighs on my mind daily: nearly half of Michigan's college graduates are leaving the state within a year of graduation, and just as alarming, we are perennially near the bottom in inward migration from other states.

This is a much talked about topic across the state from blogs on this site to the chambers of the capitol to the barbeques of baby boomers discussing their children's new lives in Chicago, Portland, or New York.

If we think about the omnipresence of our history, it is worth remembering that young people leaving Michigan is nothing new. It has gone on for generations. I myself got out of Michigan as quickly as possible after graduation. But unlike nearly all of my college classmates, I actually decided to come back.

We live in an age where talent is more important than ever before and we can't afford to become less educated and less entrepreneurial in an increasingly competitive global economy.

A few years ago we got a lesson about the importance of having talented people in Michigan that I'm afraid we've already forgotten. In 2007, Comerica Bank, formerly the Detroit bank, moved its headquarters to Dallas. Justifying the move, the CEO of Comerica said nothing of tax rates, but stressed a need to "continue attracting and retaining talented employees" to stay globally competitive.

I don't judge anyone for leaving. Instead I see it as a clarion call for us to get our act together. For close to a year now I've been heading up the Let's Save Michigan campaign, which was born out of the necessity to address the decline in Michigan's human capital -- not just lament about our situation, but advocate policies and actions that will help turn Michigan back into the type of place young and talented people want to live in.

There is no silver bullet to solving what ails Michigan and anyone that suggests so is a snake oil salesman (or a politician). The solutions are more elusive and complex, ranging from a series of legislative initiatives that vary between the ambitious (totally revamping taxation and economic development policies) to the mundane (making transit more rider friendly) to the personal decisions we can make on a daily basis (shopping on our main streets).

In a crass sense, history can be boiled down to a series of notable moments and places that defined an era where there was a perfect convergence of necessity, individuals, and scale. I think more than anywhere else at this moment, Michigan in its efforts to redefine itself has the potential to define this era. The opportunities that this historic moment presents literally keeps me awake at night.

Through the Let's Save Michigan campaign we try to convey that sense of opportunity that Michigan has to offer because we aren't just surrounded by the gaping wounds of our past but the everyday possibilities of what we can create here in Michigan.