The Lansing State Journal on talent attraction

The Lansing State Journal recently did a section on the importance of talent attraction and retention to the region’s economic success. Worth reading! I was one of the guest columinsts. You can find my column here. Other columns were authored by Dave Waymire, Doug Stites, CEO of the Capital Area Michigan Works!, and Lansing developer Pat Gillespie. (You can find each of their columns by clicking on their names.)

From different perspectives each of us makes the case that retaining and attracting young professionals is key to the future economic vitality of the metro Lansing. The same, of course, is true for all of Michigan’s metropolitan areas. And as Waymire points out in his column about Massachusetts’ success, the most prosperous states are anchored by vibrant central cities in big metros with high concentrations of young professionals. So this matters to all of Michigan.

The section includes a terrific editorial by the Journal entitled “Lansing area must woo young professionals”. They write: “Increasingly, data shows these young adults want a sense of place, defined in part by unique community features. They like recreation and robust offerings for arts, culture and entertainment. And they crave social connections with like-minded people in both their professional and personal lives. And while they may not follow jobs, employers follow them. Economic experts insist that communities with the highest concentration of these college-educated young workers will have employers coming to them (emphasis added). That is where Greater Lansing wants to be. And it can be, if it builds on its potential.”

Exactly right. Place matters as much, if not more than, jobs and increasingly employers follow talent rather than the other way around. Understanding these two fundamental new realities should be what underpins state and regional economic development policy. Ignore place and more broadly retaining and attracting talent and your state or region will not be prosperous. End of story!

I ended my column with our recommendations for concentrating talent here in Michigan. To us, these should be the state’s and its major metros’ economic growth priorities.

  • Building a culture aligned with (rather than resisting) the realities of a flattening world. We need to place a far higher value on learning, an entrepreneurial spirit, and being welcoming to all.
  • Ensuring the long-term success of a vibrant and agile higher education system. This means increasing public investments in higher education. Our higher education institutions—particularly the major research institutions—are the most important assets we have to develop the concentration of talent needed in a knowledge-based economy.
  • Creating places where talent—particularly mobile young talent—wants to live. This means expanded public investments in quality of place, with an emphasis on vibrant central-city neighborhoods. Young talent is increasingly concentrating in high density/walkable big city neighborhoods. (Think Chicago.) So for Michigan to become prosperous again Detroit primarily and then Grand Rapids and Lansing/East Lansing must be talent magnets.
  • Transforming teaching and learning so that it is aligned with the realities of a flattening world. All of education needs reinvention. Most important is to substantially increase the proportion of students who leave high school ready for higher education.
  • Developing new public and, most important, private sector leadership that has moved beyond a desire to recreate the old economy as well as the old fights. Michigan needs a leadership that is clearly focused, at both the state and regional level, on preparing, retaining, and attracting talent so that we can prosper in the global economy.
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