I’m a city guy. Call it a curse, but I’m that guy who when he is out
of town rents a car or just wanders off on his own to check out the
small town neighborhoods and the big city downtowns. I’m looking for
clues as to how some places really come alive with energy, while others
just seem to survive. Is it the people? The culture? The
architecture? Having searched for awhile, one thing is abundantly
clear to me--our region has a lot of the right stuff in place to
thrive. It may need some polishing (OK, it really needs it), but much
of what makes a place significant is right here around us. How we move
it forward is up to us.
You have heard many of the arguments that attracting and retaining a
talented workforce in a region is a top priority when competing for new
economy jobs. Put me on the list of believers. The supporting data
from those regions that draw highly skilled, high paying jobs versus
those that don’t are just too obvious to ignore. Either you have the
talent, you attract the talent or high paying jobs are going somewhere
So how do we improve our talent base and improve our prospects of
incubating and attracting more knowledge-based businesses? One answer
that is often overlooked by the economic development “experts” is to
invest wisely in the communities where we live.
Place matters. Period.
A recent survey by CEO’s for Cities determined that two-thirds of
college educated 25-34 year olds decide where they want to live first
and then look for a job. It’s amazing how that statistic has changed
from a generation ago. They are highly mobile and they can often do
their work from just about anywhere, so they choose to live in areas
that provide walkable downtowns, non-traditional housing options,
access to mass transportation and lots of cultural amenities.
So why should they choose Detroit? Or Ann Arbor? Or Rochester? This
is a fundamental question that community leaders and residents of
Michigan should be asking themselves if they expect to successfully
compete in the global economy. And I believe that it is important to
point out that it’s a much different question than those that have
historically dominated discussions at city halls and local chambers of
commerce. A big part of the answer lies in our collective willingness,
or recent reluctance, as a state to invest in our own future.