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A community’s aesthetics and outdoor amenities have a large impact on talent attraction and retention.

Michigan has higher learning institutions that attract students from around the world. College towns’ population surges during the school year, but communities struggle to keep students after graduation.

According to a report from the University of Michigan, about 37% of college graduates from Michigan’s public universities left the state in 2012. Many go to Chicago, New York, and San Francisco – some return home but the likelihood of moving declines by half after age 25. Communities should focus on getting residents engaged and connected at a young age so they choose to stay and invest in Michigan for the long term.

Bringing Talent Home

HelloWestMichigan (HelloWM) is a small organization that focuses on talent attraction in the west side of the state. Through events, regional marketing, a job portal, and information about living in the community, the organization is doing its best to retain residents and attract new ones to the area.

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Young professionals (and others!) value a community’s walkability.

Similar to technology-based outreach strategies used in other communities, HelloWM asks people to share what they love about West Michigan through the hashtag #MiReasons. One user said: “The people, culture and city are all so unique. I truly think you could have a new adventure every day of the year!”

This week, HelloWM is preparing for their third annual ReThinkWestMichigan (ReThinkWM) Thanksgiving-eve event. Instead of focusing on attracting new residents, this event focuses on getting former West Michigan residents back to the region. With many young professionals traveling home to spend Thanksgiving with their families, ReThinkWM decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Representatives from 15 companies and nonprofits looking to fill open positions are attending the event to meet potential candidates (and there are certainly positions available: 7,855 are currently listed at HelloWM’s job portal).

Great bars, food, and social offerings are a major draw for young people.

Great bars, food, and social offerings are a major draw for young people.

HelloWM program manager Rachel Bartels said it’s easy to get companies to support the event, “They have tons of open positions and need talented people to fill them. It’s cheaper than normal recruiting costs and a new hire is more likely to stay with the job if they have ties to Michigan.”

ReThinkWM also invites “community ambassadors” to the event to talk with attendees about perks of living in West Michigan. Outdoor activities, people, and cultural events always make the top of the list.

About 220 people have attended a ReThinkWM event over the past two years and 120 are anticipated to attend this Wednesday. So far, Bartels said ReThinkWM can account for at least 20 new hires to the region.

With so many Michigan communities struggling to keep young people in the area, events like this can have a large impact. Giving people a chance to connect with, talk about, and join a community is placemaking at its best.

For those interested in learning more about HelloWM or the ReThinkWM event can contact executive director Cindy Brown at brownc@hellowestmichigan.com.

A Few Resources on the Topics of Talent, Millennials, and Economic Impact

Communities prioritizing talent attraction and retention should focus on investing in equality, says a new report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). HRC’s Municipal Equality Index recently published its 2014 evaluation of municipal LGBT equality laws across the country.

Munic Equality IndexAccording to the report, residents in communities with “vibrant gay and lesbian” areas have better life satisfaction and a stronger emotional attachment to their community, as well as higher incomes, housing values, and concentrations of high-tech businesses – all great news for a local economy.

Nine Michigan cities were examined in the study and East Lansing received a perfect score, which only 11% of American cities can claim.

Nathan Triplett, East Lansing Mayor and Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees Vice President, said in the report: “To build a prosperous and vibrant city, we must be welcoming to all who wish to make our community their home and place of business. While equal opportunity and equal protection under the law are clearly moral imperatives and often thought of in those terms, we also recognize that they are economic imperatives for thriving 21st century communities.”

Of the other Michigan cities examined in this report, Ann Arbor ranked the second highest with 83 points out of 100, and Detroit ranked third with 74 points.

Communities interested in improving their local civil rights policies can visit the League’s resource page on human rights ordinances for samples from across the state, including East Lansing.

Cafe Con Leche in Southwest Detroit

Cafe con Leche in Southwest Detroit

There are many incentive programs targeting entrepreneurs, such as funding opportunities like Hatch and Revolve, but few grant dollars are going towards existing businesses. With the goal to increase business sales, create new jobs, and enhance economic stability in urban neighborhoods, the New Economy Initiative recently tackled this very issue.

NeIdeasIn partnership with the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, they awarded 30 small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park $10,000 grants to grow their business.

The NEIdeas Challenge received more than 600 applications and of the 30 winners, 73% were minority-owned businesses, 60% were women-owned, and four businesses have been in operation for more than 50 years.

Opportunities like this can have a large effect on a community because small businesses are central to economic recovery. Small businesses typically employ local residents and create a unique sense of place within the community. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, every $1 spent at an independent business generates $.68 back into the local economy. Supporting local businesses, even with just $10,000, can have an extremely positive effect on a small area.

Café con Leche was one of the NEIdea contest winners and happens to be my favorite Detroit coffee shop. Since they opened in 2007, the coffee shop has been a staple of the community – yes, they have great coffee, the staff is friendly, and the environment is pleasant. But most importantly, Café con Leche is a place where people come to gather.

Dia de los Muertos altar at Cafe con Leche

Dia de los Muertos altar at Cafe con Leche

When someone comes in the door, two, three, or four patrons greet the newcomer. People hug, give each other kisses on the cheek, go in for a handshake – it’s a place for residents to see other residents. Elected officials frequent the café to get a great cup of coffee, support local business, and have informal conversations with constituents. Nonprofit and church employees come to work, network, and run into old friends. Teens fill the shop after school to warm up while they’re waiting for the bus or to buy a bag of chips before walking home. This is the type of business neighborhoods need to promote a strong sense of place.

With the $10,000 grant from NEI, Café con Leche will buy equipment and train staff to bring the roasting process in-house. It means a lot of work for the owner, Jordi Carbonell, but hopefully it also means more business.

Supporting great places like Café con Leche and other NEIdea winners can truly enhance a neighborhood and act as a catalyst for small-scale but important community growth.

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During the first week of September, I had the privilege of attending an international conference in Buenos Aires that focused on streets as public spaces and how they can drive urban prosperity. This is the second of a series of three conferences called The Future of Places, funded by Ax:son Johnson Foundation and partners UN Habitat  and Project for Public Spaces. Following the conclusion of the third conference in New York City in 2015, a blue print will be presented which will offer proposals for what it will take to meet the demands of our growing cities around the world and how the challenges of future cities can be met. In 1970,  only 37% of the population were living in urban areas, but if global trends continue, cities will be home to 60% of the world’s population by 2030. With up to 80% of a city made up of streets, the focus of this conference was centered on designing streets to serve more than just moving vehicles or pedestrians from one location to another. It was about reimagining them as public places, making them attractive and safe for all types of users, and as places to hold events.

Over fifty nations were represented among the 300 or so participants, who were planners, architects, academics, consultants, and social entrepreneurs, all converging to discuss public space and placemaking from their own unique perspectives. What was so compelling for me, was that despite the diversity of nations represented from all continents, there was one thing that we all had in common: we could all agree that placemaking is really all about how we live.  It is a process that puts the human experience before all else.  As one presenter stated, “All cultures share the same reactions to public spaces. We touch, feel, and smell the place.” 

The three and a half day conference was an eye opener, to say the least.  It incorporated several tours of placemaking, from examples of improved pedestrian and bike lanes to creating public spaces in the overcrowded districts that housed the very poor. We listened to speakers who told stories of just needing basic infrastructure, which for them would mean a better quality of life living on the streets, to those whose were making transformative changes in their communities through placemaking.

The challenge for all is connecting good decision-making to good policy. What I walked away from was a profound sense of camaraderie with people from around the world and a deep sense of pride for what we are doing in Michigan.It was a real affirmation that we have a lot to learn from each other. Clearly, our challenges and victories were very different from each other, but from the poorest streets in Mumbai to some of the wealthier neighborhoods in the developed world, we all had something to learn from each other to take back home.