Blog: Dan Gilmartin

Dan Gilmartin is our guest blogger this week. He is the youngest executive director in the 108 year history of the Michigan Municipal League. Dan previously served as the League's deputy director and as an advocate in Lansing and in Washington, where he concentrated on transportation, land use and urban redevelopment.

Check back here each week day to read Dan's thoughts on regionalism and how we can build the kind of community that attracts knowledge-based workers.

Post No. 1

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 else. 

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.