Young talent still leaving Michigan

Conventional wisdom is that people follow jobs. So the most effective talent attraction and retention strategy, once again according to conventional wisdom, is to create jobs. If conventional wisdom were right Michigan should have reversed the net outmigration of young professionals since the end of the Great Recession. Where we have gone from a decade of job losses to creating jobs at somewhat higher rate than the nation.

But that hasn’t happened. As Rick Haglund reports in a MLive column entitled “Figures show net migration loss for Michigan”. Haglund, based on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, writes:

Recent college graduates are fleeing Michigan at the fastest rate since 2010 despite an improving economy and a focus by state leaders on retaining and attracting young talent. New census figures show that Michigan experienced a net migration loss of 3.5 percent of people age 22 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2013, the most recent year available. That follows net migration losses of 2 percent in 2011 and 2.2 percent in 2012. Michigan lost a net 4.4 percent of that population to migration in 2010 . (Emphasis added.)

It has been clear for some time the young professionals in making decisions where to live and work after college look at far more than a job. Quality of place and being welcoming are essential components in retaining and attracting young professionals. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a terrific op ed I wrote about previously described what is driving location decisions by recent college graduates this way:

The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities. …  Recent college graduates are flocking to Brooklyn not merely because of employment opportunities, but because it is where some of the most exciting things in the world are happening – in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.

Its a lesson Michigan policy makers need to learn quick. Most everyone agrees that retaining and attracting young talent is a state economic development priority. But we aren’t going to be successful unless we work on, as Mayor Bloomberg lists, protecting personal freedoms, prizing diversity, offering an abundance of cultural opportunities and offering great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit.

Michigan is a laggard in all of these.

In a terrific MLive column entitled “Think Michigan’s anti-gay laws don’t cost the state? Think again” Susan Demas describes the costs of being unwelcoming. As she describes her uncles have left Michigan because they can’t marry here. Not to mention can legally be discriminated against by employers. She writes: “How many other LGBT people are making the same decision? And how can you blame them?”

For many the way to create jobs that are suppose to retain and attract talent is to adopt business friendly policies. But those business friendly policies mainly means cutting taxes––particularly for businesses––which in terms starves public investments in what really matters to retaining and attracting talent: an abundance of cultural opportunities and offering great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit.

Without places where people want to live and work and without being welcoming to all it is almost certain Michigan will not be a magnet for talent. End of story!

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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