Saturday, August 14, 2010

The 20 Year Dilemma

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

As this author has stated previously, I am currently exploring all the available options to
move back home to Michigan. There are some barriers but also opportunities. Today, I
will not discuss those. Rather, I want to look at the bigger picture. And that isn’t always
a rosy one.

The dilemma is simple yet agonizing, with no clear answer. First, let me say that I feel
lucky to have been born and raised in Michigan, with the access to the outdoors, the
independent spirit, the freedom to explore, and the affordability to make it all accessible.
Yet, in other ways, Michigan is a disadvantage for one who calls it home. Clearly, the
economic situation is a disadvantage, thus my expatriation in order to find a decent job. I
think the economic situation has also created a sort of political and social malaise; a sort
of beaten puppy-dog look typical of a people who aren’t convinced things will get better.
For all its advantages and disadvantages, Michigan is nonetheless my home, and I think
everyone has a strong desire to want to be near one’s family, no matter where they are.

Therein lies my dilemma. The fact is, I too am one of those who do not think Michigan
will be getting better any time soon, and I am okay with that. I left Michigan, I saw a
few corners of the rest of the world, and now I have decided I want to come back. But,
what about my eventual children, and the generations beyond that? In 20 years, I may
have children looking to enter the job market. By returning, am I not forcing them to
expatriate like I had to in order to find success? Aren’t I, in some small way, setting
them up to fail? The truth is, I just don’t know.

When I consider this conundrum, I find myself more and more often identifying with the
immigrants who came to this country in search of a better life. Irish or Pakistani; Ellis
Island or San Francisco Airport, people have emigrated here for hundreds of years in
search of a better life. Until recently, I suppose I never really stopped to appreciate the
obvious: that many of those immigrants left their families and their livelihoods behind
when they came in search of a better life. What a huge and difficult decision it must be
to uproot your family in search of a better life. In some small way, I feel a bit like I am
pondering the same decision only in reverse. Do I want to return to Michigan, a place
with deep roots but few economic opportunities for myself and my family? Or, do I
strike out, in search of a better life, and set new roots in a new city (or country for that
matter)? I have already expatriated from Michigan once in search of opportunity. Is it
really fair to revert back to my comfort zone at the expense of my future and economic
opportunity for my posterity? Again, I just don’t know.

Tell me what you think in the comments below. Am I being too pessimistic about
the future of Michigan? Is it fair to take the easy road at the expense of one’s future
offspring? I’d love to hear your advice.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Googler writes interesting Michigan Expats post

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By Mr Sig

Know Y: Michigan, The Nation's ex

Concentrate media has an interesting article written by a Googler (see link above).  As some of you know, Google has a lot of ties to Michigan, most notably Google co-founder Larry Page.  One can imagine that he is the main reason for Google's office in Ann Arbor.  The author makes some interesting points about what draws us to Michigan, but also offers some suggestions to her former home.

Job diversification. I didn't want to "dump" Michigan. It had so many qualities that I was looking for in a homebase -- save one.  Selfishly, that turned out to be my career growth. As Gen Y'ers figure out their next career moves, we need to encourage a range of businesses with an enticing array of jobs. Easier said than done, but if this is a wish list, economic livelihood tops it.
A dynamic downtown. We lack discovery of new places, and I don't think the fact that Ann Arbor's a small town is an excuse. Give us something to explore and keep the chains out. Create more opportunities for innovative and surprising businesses, organizations, events, and entertainment to take root. If Ypsi can hold a puppet-hosted mayoral debate, surely A2 can too.
Knock off the "Us vs. Them" development wars. Before I left, I participated in a few meetings where young people discussed development issues coming before council. The tone was hopeful, but felt combative. The general sentiment was that older residents liked how things were, just as they are, and had the time and resources to fight like hell to keep it that way. We need to open the discussion -- that's right, "discussion', not "argument'. A stronger acknowledgment from city government that young professionals' interests are being considered would be a welcome start.

 Most of this is directed toward Ann Arbor, but how do her suggestions sit with you?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Send Us Your Cash - MIchigan Corps

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By Doctor

Apparently we were not the only ones with the idea to unite the Michigan community outside of the mitten as Michigan Corps also made their official launch last week and apparently stole all of the media coverage on the subject. The Wall Street JournalChicago Tribune, and various Michigan newspapers covered the official launch of the philanthropic non-profit while we were limited to emails and Facebook postings to friends and families (BTW - we love you and please continue to spread the word).

Like Michigan Expats, Michigan Corps recognizes that Michiganders remain passionate about Michigan and claim that "Michigan Corps is the premier vehicle for converting this loyalty into meaningful impact." Donations through Michigan Corps will fund grants for small businesses and entrepreneurial training in Michigan focused on economic transformation and wealth creation.

While the website explicitly references and channels JFK's, "ask not" inaugural speech, here at Expats we first thought of George W. Bush in the Rose Garden this winter calling upon Americans to help with the Haiti relief:

Certainly Michigan needs more small business investment and to do a better job harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of Michiganders. Michigan Corps is a unique way to spur innovation and growth while also trying to keep Michigan expats engaged and involved from across the country. Maybe it will even result in some of them moving back home.

That being said, the long-term wealth creation that Michigan needs and Michigan Corps aims to help achieve will also require structural and institutional changes in Michigan. Michigan Corps may be able to successfully funnel investment funds from New York to San Francisco, but those businesses and entrepreneurs need additional help from Lansing to help enable continued success.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Templars of the Weiner

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

If you hail from anywhere between Genesee County to Cheboygan, this post is for you.
If not, you can stop reading now. I am about to reveal deep dark secrets of a century old
gastronomic fraternity, and if you aren’t from those areas, well, you probably won’t get

My friends, there is a sacred place filled with noble men, fighting to avoid the
legacy of so many other “Made in Michigan” embossed products. Their temple sits
unceremoniously at the north end of Runway 27 at Bishop Airport in Flint. I am talking,
of course, of the Koegel’s hot dog factory. From the narrow perspective of this mid-
Michigander, I can think of no food that more closely embodies the spirit and flavor of
Michigan than a good Koegel’s hot dog with Gracie’s Coney Sauce, cooked to perfection
on a beach grill or backyard porch. I know I am not alone in this nostalgic obsession, but
I fear our ranks are dwindling.

The Cult of the Koegel is small but strong. And in this brotherhood protectorate of
tubed-meat Templars, there is a simple and never deviated recognition code; a passphrase
that proves one’s bona fides as a member, much like a secret handshake or engraved
ring. The code, as simple as can be, goes as follows: I ask the street vender or waiter,
calmly and unpretentiously, “Excuse me, are these Koegel’s hot dogs?” The vendor
stops dead, but only for a moment so as not to appear startled by the secret code with
which he has just been challenged. Then, with a growing twinkle in the corner of his
eye, and with a half grin replies, “Of course. I wouldn’t serve anything else.” And so
it goes. The code has been passed, and you know that your food is to be handled with
the care of a serious epicurean. Why? Because of the pride that this hot dog brings to
those who serve it. From the Coney Island at DTW Airport to the Hot Dog vendor at the
Natural History Museum at U of M to the lakeside party stores dotting Up North, I have
given this passphrase, been answered according to the secret protocol, and been rewarded
with the most delicious tubed meat that only a member of the club can appreciate.

Granted, there is a growing trend of those in Michigan who are unaware of this cult.
Too often now I have strolled up to a hot dog vendor in Traverse City or Detroit, offered
the passphrase of divine predilection, only to be rewarded with a slopstick known as a
Nathan’s gutbomb or worse yet, the lard-tube known as a Ballpark Frank. Unacceptable.

I have often browsed Koegel’s website and contemplated purchasing a pack of their
Koegel’s Viennas sent to me in dry ice. Then, sadly, I remember that there is much more
to that hot dog than a tube of blended meat. It is a symbol of Michigan, a reminder of
what Michigan was, is, and can be. And that cannot be exported. Eating a Koegel on the
balcony of an apartment in suburban San Francisco seems, well… sacrilege. It wouldn’t
be the same, and frankly, I don’t want to sully the experience.

Next time you are in Michigan, I urge you to try out the secret code; I assure you
your reward will be worth the effort. And if you are from a part of Michigan that has
somehow drifted away from this most delicate of foods, demand it from your food
slingers. To eat a Nathan’s or Ballpark Frank or Oscar Meyer while in Michigan I
consider a sin as great as flaunting an Ohio State shirt in Ann Arbor or driving a Toyota

past the GM factory parking lot (another increasingly common trend which I will save
for another day). Vote with your tastebuds, and soon you too will be obsessing over the
quality of pork snouts jammed into your off-brand meat stick.

Tell me what you think? Check out the comments below and leave your 2 cents.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tax Policies Matter

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

I'm trying to find a way to live in Michigan, I really am. Right now, I have a well paying job, but frankly, I want nothing more than to come home to Michigan near my friends and family. With no jobs in Michigan, I know I won't be making much money there. That's okay though because Michigan is so much cheaper to live, I don't need as much money. An $80,000 job in a metropolitan city is equivalent to a $30,000 job in Michigan. Sadly, though, even those jobs are hard to find in Michigan. So on to Plan B.

My new plan is to move back to Michigan and live a low drag, cheap, and fun lifestyle. Houses are cheap and plentiful enough to where a bit of savings precludes needing a mortgage. With no mortgage to worry about, the pressure is off on finding a well paying job.. at least for a while. Then I can explore entrepreneurial opportunities in Michigan without fear of being homeless. Maybe I could even move Up North to Traverse City or Charlevoix and get a place on the Lake, sailing in between business ventures. With my house paid for and a car in tow, live becomes pretty cheap, right? Wrong.

Right now, the thing keeping me from making that jump today is Michigan's property
tax. First of all, I won't even get into the absurdity of the Homestead/Non-Homestead exemption in Michigan. Nor will I vent on the moral hazard of paying for local services with tax revenue obtained largely from non-residents of that district. Instead, I will focus on the property tax rate overall.

Let me start by confessing that I am biased on this subject. I think that property taxes overall are the most burdensome of all taxes because you get hit every year, no matter your income or consumption. This is what retirees fear the most: losing their home to the IRS or the State. At least with other consumption or income taxes, they only take your money when they know you have it. No one is going to lose their home because of a sales tax. However, the best part of the property tax system is that it is locally controlled, which means there is room for a place like Michigan to compete with other states through lower taxes to win people back. Now let's look at the rate. Let's say I get one of those nice homes on Westwood Pkwy in downtown Flint for $150,000 (a bargain by CA or DC standards). At Flint's rate of 62 mills, I am paying nearly 4,700 a year. No matter the home price, that means that roughly every 30 years I will pay enough money in property taxes to re-buy my home (and you thought you owned that house after your 30 year mortgage is up... HA!).

Ultimately, I think this boils down to an identity issue for Michigan. Michigan needs to embrace its cheapness, and facilitate that for it's citizens rather than try to maintain the myriad of social services it could once afford but now struggles to maintain. The best example of a single industry poor state who embraces it's cheapness: Louisiana. As of 2008, the average property taxes in Macomb County, MI are $2,666 a year. In Genesee County, MI it's $1,810 a year. The average property taxes in any one of 37 different parishes in LA (Drum Roll...): less than $200 a year. Unfortunately for me, my family doesn't live in Louisiana.

Michigan needs to accept that its most competitive feature is its most embarrassing: the economic fall from grace that makes everything so cheap now. It needs to encourage out-of-state money to invest in a summer house or vacation rental, cut government services, and make life cheap. That is Michigan's competitive advantage. That is what Metropolitan places like California or New York or Washington can never offer me.