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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

BA meeing roomBA tour on streetSlums 2

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.

Placemaking images from Marquette - the site of the League's 2014 Convention.

Placemaking images from Marquette – the site of the League’s 2014 Convention.

Each year, the Michigan Municipal League Board president gives a welcome speech to kick-off our Convention. League President Jacqueline Noonan, Utica mayor, put her own unique spin on this year’s talk that took place Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 15, 2014) at our Convention in Marquette.

Instead of just talking about things happening with the League, Noonan told about some of the positive placemaking work being done in League member communities. To assist her, we put out a call for examples and our members responded in droves.

We got so many responses that we couldn’t begin to fit them all in her speech. Instead, we decided to put them in this blog. Here are some projects shared with us:

Auburn Hills – Four new developments have opened in the city’s downtown in the past year, including The DEN (Downtown Education Nook) built from the log cabin, a historic landmark in downtown Auburn Hills; the University Center; Auburn Square apartments and retail building; and a new 233-space parking structure.

Battle Creek – The city will be drying its “poop”! Yup, you heard right. Nearly all communities deal with the challenge of solid waste disposal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one doing what Battle Creek is doing. They are the first municipality in the country to try the PulverDryer process. Plus, the community wrapped up its downtown infrastructure transformation a couple of years ago and construction is now underway on the city’s new farmers market/festival area with a planned completion date of May, 2015.

Berkley's new mobile app.

Berkley’s new mobile app.

Berkley – This past spring, the City of Berkley was among the first Michigan communities to launch a free mobile app for its residents. “Access Berkley” enables residents to interact with the city, request and track work orders, easily find information, and more. The community also has partnered with the Michigan Municipal League to complete a placemaking study for a signature area in its blossoming downtown.

Bessemer – The City of Bessemer recently completed its downtown Ethnic Commons Park depicting the community’s cultural heritage. The project was made possible through a state grant and strong local support.

Blissfield – The community recently opened its new Village Office and Police Station. This is a project long in the making, and it is smack in the middle of downtown, revitalizing a former bank building.

Bronson – The city was able to take advantage of MDOT’s technical assistance program to receive a walkability review of the community. Since that time, the city has acquired a former rail line and plans to create a nearly mile-long walking and recreational path/parkway.

Clare – Cops and Doughnuts located in downtown Clare is a past winner of the League’s Community Excellence Award. The business has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and is helping inspire a revitalization of the entire downtown. The business has experienced record sales this year, bringing in more than 250,000 visitors to the city. The downtown now has zero vacant store fronts, including a recent announcement of the first tenant going into a previously vacant professional building downtown. Other new businesses in town include a new retail shop, restaurant and pub serving only Michigan brews and wines, a coin shop, music store, coffee shop, barber shop, and by December the city’s first brew pub (Four Leaf Brewing). The city also has acquired and moved a historic railroad depot into downtown to house the chamber and visitors’ bureau, arts council, museum and to serve as the trail head for Pere Marquette Rail-Trail.

Davison – The city recently completed its M-15 Recreational Heritage Route bike trail.

The newly renovated Ann Street Plaza in East Lansing.

The newly renovated Ann Street Plaza in East Lansing.

East Lansing – The city recently completed a two-year project to redevelop Ann Street Plaza in its core downtown, including a complete redesign and reconstruction of the plaza to remove vehicle parking, and add benches, landscaping, outdoor fireplace and a performance stage. The project was driven by the adjacent redevelopment of two properties into eight-story and five-story mixed use buildings with upscale apartments and first floor restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking the new plaza. Total investment in the two projects and plaza exceeded $13 million.

Elk Rapids – After purchasing a foreclosed riverfront vacant industrial building, the Village of Elk Rapids cleared the property, opening up a beautiful bay and harbor view from US-31. The new green space has hosted summer folk concerts; a Bourbon, Beer and Bluegrass Festival; and has added more than 20 new boat slips to the upper harbor of Elk Rapids’ award winning harbor enterprise.

Flint – The city created a new health and wellness district downtown in buildings once owned and occupied by The Flint Journal. The city’s farmers market relocated into the former Flint Journal press building and Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine public health program is moving into the Journal’s former office building. The total investment in new buildings, infrastructure and programs is over $80 million and more than 150 new jobs will be on site. The farmers market alone supports over 100 small businesses and is seeing up to 10,000 customers on summer Saturdays.

Fraser – The city is currently finishing the first phase of a boundless park, designed for all children regardless of physical or mental challenges. They received a $300,000 grant from MDNR and expect to finish the first phase – the infrastructure improvements, ADA restrooms and a pavilion – before winter hits. They also just completed a joint bid with the City of Roseville for a new radio read meter system, called Automated Meter Infrastructure. This joint project and bid resulted in estimated savings of more than $300,000 to both communities.

The League's new book has dozens of placemaking success stories from throughout Michigan.

The League’s new book has dozens of placemaking success stories from throughout Michigan.

Grand Haven – The city received an MEDC Downtown Infrastructure Grant to connect a major state highway to its downtown and waterfront. The project involved reconstructing two city blocks to create an attractive entryway to the downtown area from the very busy north/south corridor. Interest in private investment is spiking and the city can hardly keep up with new site plans and building inspections.

Grand Rapids – The City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation partnered with Lofts on Monroe, LLC to support a $2 million private investment in a placemaking project to remodel the historic downtown building for a mixed-use retail, office and residential project located adjacent to the city-owned Memorial Park.

Hastings – After years of effort, the community finally got a hotel that can now be used to attract visitors and host large and small events, such as conferences, weddings and family reunions. The project involved multiple parties and agreements and culminated with the opening of a Holiday Inn Express last winter. The much-needed and sought-after hotel would not have been built if it were not for the gap financing provided by the Barry Community Foundation, through a Program Related Investment (PRI) Revolving Loan Fund (established by local philanthropists) and the Progressive  Intergovernmental Agreements between Rutland Township and the City Hastings to provide Urban Level Services to the site.

Howell – The city recently saw the completion of the Heart of Howell (www.heartofhowell.com) project that rehabilitated three historic buildings downtown. The project involved taking three adjacent historic buildings, formally known as the Swanns, Thistledown, and Spag’s buildings, and turning them into a beautiful multi-use complex.

Ironwood – The League’s 2014 Community Excellence Award Winner is experiencing a tremendous resurgence in its downtown, including a new Italian restaurant, a photo studio, a high-end resale clothing store and possibly a micro-brewery. These are all spinoff businesses resulting from the energy and vibrancy generated from a Downtown Blueprint plan created about five years ago. The Downtown Blueprint, was developed in partnership with the city, DDA, and Michigan State Housing Development Authority and led to the establishment of a new art center area downtown.

Mason – The city recently completed construction of a multi-purpose stage in Rayner Park. This stage was constructed to highlight concerts, community theatre, and the Orchestral Society, and has the ability to have movies projected onto the doors. This $50,000 project was completed with volunteer labor, donated funds, and not one dollar of taxpayer money. Also, after five years of posturing, negotiating, and coordinating, restoration work has started on the oldest building in downtown Mason.

An article about Milan's MuniRent cooperative program.

An article about Milan’s MuniRent cooperative program.

Milan – The city has experienced great success working with other local governments to create win-win programs, such as a joint fueling agreement, a sewer treatment agreement and an effort called “MuniRent,” which allows participating entities to quickly and easily rent equipment from nearby municipalities. The city is also on the verge of a downtown redevelopment which has been four years in the making. In addition, the city and community organizations are embarking on a crowdfunding effort to build a pavilion and make other improvements to a centralized park.

Negaunee – The city just completed a $4.3 million dollar wastewater project that allowed three communities to share in the operation of one wastewater treatment facility. More importantly, during the construction of this multi-year project, the City of Ishpeming was able to complete four other projects (with better than anticipated outcomes) due to the enthusiastic cooperation of engineers, MDEQ, contractors, city staff and councils.

Plymouth – The city hosts over 180 events annually as part of its efforts to create a sense of place. Events range from Plymouth’s largest event – Art in the Park, to Yoga in the Park, parades, five different running races, and the annual Rotary Chicken Dinner, serving 11,000 dinners on a Sunday afternoon. All of the events are managed privately and pay the city’s expenses for services provided during the events.

Port Huron – The city boasts several projects resulting from creative partnerships that aim to enhance the downtown area and improve public access to the community’s waterfronts. These projects, including the Blue Water River Walk, Downtown Kayak Launch, and Downtown Lofts, have provided increased recreational opportunities, residential amenities and unique gathering spots for all age groups.

Sault Ste. Marie – The city signed a memorandum of understanding with its sister-city, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada that calls for closer collaboration between the two entities in fostering international economic growth and prosperity initiatives.

Sterling Heights – The city saw the construction of a new state-of-the-art Chrysler 200 assembly facility valued at over $1 billion. It was one of the largest construction projects in southeastern Michigan over the past year and over 1,000 new employees have been added. The plant was destined for closure in bankruptcy, but through a collaborative effort, in which the League was involved, it was saved and is now thriving. It is the only example in the country of a facility being bought out of bankruptcy and reopened. This is a great example of collaboration. And as city manager Mark Vanderpool says, “It is hard to implement placemaking without economic vitality. They go hand in hand.” Sterling Heights also completed a kayak/canoe landing on the Clinton River. The city has seven miles of bike/hike trails and most of the system is along the Clinton River.

A rendering of the new ballpark in Utica.

A rendering of the new ballpark in Utica.

Utica – The city and Macomb County over the summer announced plans to construct a 2,500-seat minor league baseball park that will be home to a newly formed local baseball league as early as next year. Utica Mayor Noonan called the project a “game-changer” for the tiny, 197-year-old city, with Utica attracting families, shoppers and more tax dollars, while parcels that have remained empty for many years will be put to use.

The Michigan’s Municipal League’s new book, The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities, is being officially unveiled at this week’s Convention in Marquette. (View photos from our Convention here.) The book is full of dozens of more placemaking stories. Learn more at economicsofplace.com and you can order the book by clicking here.

Matt Bach is the League’s director of media relations. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.

 

View these photos showing scenes from farmers markets from throughout Michigan. Check out hundreds of additional photos in this collection on flickr by the Michigan Municipal League.

The 300-plus farmers markets that exist in Michigan come in all shapes and sizes. They’re in large urban centers and tiny villages. They pop up in parking lots, fields, roadsides, on Main Street and in permanent, historic structures.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

A girl is excited about getting her face painted at the Sunday Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

They sell traditional farmers market fare – corn, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and pumpkins – and the unexpected – homemade spices, baby clothes, fresh-caught fish, jewelry, and even sea urchin. You can get your knives sharpened, your face painted and your groceries for the week. At a farmers market you can find old friends and meet new ones. And you can talk to the vendor who grew the melon or flowers you’re thinking about buying.

Farmers markets can even help create a place for people to gather and revitalize a community and give an economic boost to existing businesses and inspire new merchants to open.

In writing a how-to case study about Michigan Farmers Market for the Michigan Municipal League, I got the chance this summer to visit more than 30 markets across our great state. I saw thousands of people pack into the new location for the Flint Farmers Market to great fanfare for its grand opening in downtown on June 21. I smelled the yummy salsa dish a woman was preparing for her church fundraiser at the Dansville Farmers Market. I saw a man holding a rooster in Birmingham, a robotics team in Grand Blanc, a violinist performing in East Lansing, a flutist in Traverse City, and Spanish mackerel on sale at the new Downtown Market in Grand Rapids.

I’ve always enjoyed going to farmers markets but the sights and sounds I experienced in my market tour this summer were truly inspirational, exciting and simply fun. While I saw many successful markets, I did experience some that seemed to need a shot in the arm. I also attempted to go to a couple markets that I eventually learned are no longer in operation.

So what makes one market flourish as another withers on the vine?

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

Farmers Joe and Mary Cooley enjoy talking with customers at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market on Island Park.

The success or failure of a market can come down to three words: Relationships, relationships, relationships, said Dru Montri, director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association, an East Lansing-based non-profit organization that tracks and provides support to farmers markets throughout the state. Montri said the 320 farmers markets in their data base this year is a record high since the association formed and starting tracking farmers markets in 2006. While some close each year many more open.

“Farmers markets are based on relationships,” Montri explained. “That’s the best thing about markets, and it can also be the most challenging aspect of markets. It’s relationships between farmers themselves, relationships between vendors and the market management, relationships between the market manager and sponsors and relationships between vendors and shoppers. All of those are very, very important. People love farmers markets because of that. People love going and talking to vendors about how things are grown.”

But Montri said when relationships sour that can impact everything in a market. A successful market will have strong leaders who can forge good relationships on all levels. She suggests a market have a board of directors or advisory team to oversee it.

Montri said the number of farmers markets in Michigan have doubled since 2006 for several reasons. Those reasons include an increase in consumer interest about where and how their food is made and processed; a growing awareness among community leaders about the value a farmers market can have in economic development and creating a sense of place and community in their town; and a desire by farmers and vendors in direct marketing options, which tend to be more profitable.

She believes the number of markets will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, especially as more markets start to offer financial assistance programs to those in need, such as the acceptance of SNAP Bridge Cards and related services.

“There is such a large number of consumers who haven’t even yet considered shopping at farmers markets,” Montri said. “As long as we have the potential to bring more people into farmers markets, we have the opportunity to expand the number of markets. As long as we are strategic about growth, we can avoid these saturation points. But, starting a market a mile away from an existing market on the same day of the week, for example, can cause over saturation.”

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League's flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

View hundreds of photos from Michigan farmers markets on the League’s flickr page, flickr.com/michigancommunities

You can view slide shows of all the markets I visited here in this collection on the League’s flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigancommunities/collections/72157647210449456/.

There are photos of markets from these communities and locations: Royal Oak, Howell, Old Town Lansing, Flint, Downtown Lansing, Grand Blanc, Farmers Market at the CapitolTraverse City, Canton, Harbor Springs, Detroit Eastern Market, Saginaw, Midland, Frankenmuth, Port Huron, Williamson, Grand Rapids YMCA, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Birmingham, Grand Rapids Aquinas College Metro Health, East Lansing, Mt. Clemens, Mt. Pleasant, Dansville, Fenton, Bay City, Grand Rapids Fulton Street, Port Austin, Grand Rapids downtown, Walled Lake, Wayne State University, Islandview Market in Detroit, Lathrup Village, Farmington, Brighton and Linden.

Check out a video of Montri discussing the value of farmers markets here: http://placemaking.mml.org/michigan-farmers-markets/

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at (734) 669-6317 and mbach@mml.org.