We’ve all read the statistics and heard the news. Michigan and its economy are struggling. Our college graduates are leaving the state with their talent, energy and entrepreneurial spirit in tow. The fruits of our state’s investment in public education are packing up and leaving for what they perceive to be greener pastures. These are not just statistics, my friends- each one of these college graduates is a young person with a story and a dream. Along the way, something derails the part of that dream where the young person’s career is flourishing here, close to their families and in their home state, with its beautiful lakes, premier sports teams, affordable historical housing and international flavor. I know, because, not so long ago, I was one of those young people with one of those stories.
When I graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, bachelor’s degree with honors in one hand, internship lined up in a top Detroit law firm for the summer and admission & partial scholarship to Duke University School of Law in the other, my dream was clear. Finish law school, find a position practicing law in Detroit and then find a way to give back to the community with my pro bono time until I had paid off the law school loans and could spend all of my days doing work that would help rebuild the city which I’d grown up in and which I loved. Let there be no doubt, I LOVED THIS CITY, for better or for worse, and I still do. Back then, I would have added, “‘til death do us part.” But it was not to be, like a fickle lover, Detroit has not once, but twice, burned me in the job market.
The first time, it was a painful experience but I found another offer and like so many of our young graduates, I moved away. I had finished my first semester of law school and began my search for a summer internship. With straight A’s from a top law school, hiring me should have been a no-brainer, but summer jobs in the top Detroit law firms were either not available for first year law students, or even worse, I was told that people from my out-of-state law school don’t stay in Detroit so they wouldn’t hire me.
Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy.
If Detroit law firms wouldn’t have me, however, several of the country’s other top law firms were knocking on my door, so I followed the opportunity and I spent that first summer interning at the prestigious global law firm, then known as Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, in their main office just a few hours away in Cleveland, Ohio. The training that I received at Jones Day that summer opened doors around the country and around the world that were not open for me in Detroit, and, because of that one fateful summer, dream effectively derailed. I next moved to Washington D.C., Chicago, London and Dallas sharpening my skills at another of the top global law firms and in the corporate law departments of Boeing and Harley-Davidson.
My dream was not completely off the tracks, however, and I kept Detroit close to my heart. In the Spring of 2006, the right opportunity presented itself, and I moved back the Detroit to join the legal Department of Comerica as a Vice President & Corporate & Securities Counsel. I was living the dream: I bought a house in Corktown, I joined the board of a local nonprofit, Southwest Solutions, found other volunteer outlets, cheered for the Tigers and all was well with the world.
Alas, it was not to last.
We’ve all heard about Comerica’s headquarters relocation. My position was one of the first to move. Luckily, by this time, I was better equipped to fight for my dream. I worked my network of contacts, and found the perfect position to allow me to stay in Detroit and advance my dream. I now spend my days building connections and working on plans to promote internships and keep our college graduates in the state. There will be lots more about that program- the MORE Program, Michigan Opportunities and Resources for Entrepreneurs, in tomorrow’s installment.
The lessons the region needs to take away from my story and those of others like me are many, but this week I’m going to focus on just a few. I’m going to talk about internships – why they are good for business and good for retaining talent. I’ll also discuss my program and other tactics that are in place or that should be to help Michigan retain our college graduates in the state.