Blog: Jeff Helminski

Jeff Helminski has some ideas about how to attract young professionals to SE Michigan. He is the Managing Partner of The Moravian Companies, co-founder of the Young Professionals Leadership Council, and the youngest member of the Oakland County Business Roundtable. Go on, click the link. You know you want to read what he has to say.

Jeff Helminski - Post 1: Why I Live Here

Michigan is at a crossroads. There are important and difficult decisions to be made. We each have an opportunity and, I believe, a responsibility to play a leadership roll in what those decisions will be.  I will share with you this week my thoughts on why I chose to locate in Michigan, the critical importance of young talent in our state and a few ideas about what we as a state and as young professionals can do to move Michigan forward. 

One other thing that will be helpful to understand as you read on is that any reference I make to Detroit means all of southeast Michigan which includes Ann Arbor and other non-Detroit proper areas - even though there are elements from each side that prefer to disassociate themselves from the other. 

Ann Arbor in particular is a critical part of the future of SE Michigan and Detroit benefits from the intellectual and innovative elements of Ann Arbor. 

Symbiotically, without Detroit (and a strong Detroit) Ann Arbor is an isolated outpost lacking many of the big-city benefits it realizes by having a large metropolitan area as close as Detroit. 

Why am I here?

Before I get into the throws of this blog I have been asked to write, I will try to provide some perspective on the experiences that color my view of the world and, more importantly, the lens through which I view the issue of moving Michigan forward.

I, along with my younger brother and sister, was born in Cadillac but raised in Muskegon by amazing parents. My dad was a teacher and coach at a Catholic school, my mom stayed home to raise the three of us. They managed to raise a family of five on today’s equivalent of $33,642. We qualified for food stamps but my parents wouldn’t take them. They felt they were able-bodied people who should be responsible for taking care of themselves. I didn’t realize we were "poor" at the time. I never knew any better.

Eventually, my father left teaching and became a life insurance salesman. By the time I was in the 8th grade, we were situated in more of a true middle class lifestyle. We once even got to take a vacation to Sea World in Ohio!  

Jump to undergrad: Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. University, after which I was on to the prototypical automotive career as an engineer at General Motors - mostly manufacturing engineering. I earned a Masters in Engineering from Purdue at night. I spent time as a line supervisor at Pontiac East Assembly Plant with about 30 UAW represented employees working in my department. I then moved to the roll of Business Manager of Final Assembly (125 hourly employees and 5 salaried supervisors) before "retiring" from the auto industry. I left GM in May of 2001 to attend business school at Stanford University. 

After earning an MBA at Stanford I followed my wife to Ann Arbor where she was attending Law School at U of M. I was a post MBA career changer, moving into real estate development. I worked for a small developer for three years, and after my wife passed the Bar Exam, I started my own development company focusing on urban, infill redevelopment. That was two years ago. As you can imagine, it is a tough time to start a real estate business.

My wife and I have chosen Michigan as our home and the place we will build our careers and raise a family. I view Michigan and Detroit as a place with great opportunity and equally great challenges. I am often asked why I am here; why I came back and am now staying. People say to me "you have the skills to go anywhere in the world and succeed. Why are you screwing around in Detroit?" I am understandably asked similar questions by my business school classmates from New York, London, San Francisco, Chicago and other world class cities. However, the most fervent questioners are those born and raised here; life-long Michiganders who know this place for better and worse.  

I am here because the Detroit region fits me. It’s real, unpretentious, maybe even slightly unrefined.  It has history, character, challenges, potential and it has a future that I can be part of shaping. It is big enough to have everything a major metropolitan area can offer, while the circle of engaged individuals and organizations is small enough that you can get to know people and have a meaningful impact on your community.  

I am here because I love this state, because there is opportunity amidst the challenges we now face and because even though I am young and early in my career (maybe precisely because of that) I can help shape Michigan’s future.