Downtown Detroit and Grand Rapids

Good news. Both Detroit and Grand Rapids are on Forbes list of 15 emerging downtowns across the country. Obviously good news for Michigan’s two largest cites. But, more important, its good news for their region’s and the state’s economy.

Why? Because as Forbes writes –– and we have noted repeatedly –– “One of the main factors businesses consider when deciding on where to relocate or expand is the available pool of college-educated workers. And that has cities competing for college-educated young adults. … And there’s one place this desired demographic, college-educated professionals between the ages of 25 and 34, tends to want to live: tight-knit urban neighborhoods that are close to work and have lots of entertainment and shopping options within an easy walk.” (Emphasis added.)

The reality is that the most prosperous places in the country, by and large, are big metros anchored by vibrant central cities. With the core characteristic of the central city being a high proportion of its residents with a four year degree. The all too prevalent Michigan belief that central cities are part of our past is simply wrong. As is the notion that cities are only where the poor live. College educated Millennials in particular are increasingly choosing to live in and around big city downtowns. Michigan needs it biggest cities –– Detroit primarily, but also Grand Rapids and Lansing/East Lansing –– to be talent magnets. If not, its hard to imagine Michigan being competitive in retaining and attracting the knowledge-based enterprises which are increasingly driving the American economy.

As Forbes recognizes, Detroit and Grand Rapids are making progress. But there is a long way to go. Its time for the state to make central cities a lynchpin of its economic development efforts.

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