Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Love Michigan Why I Hate Everyplace Else

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

So I don’t think I am the first to say it, but California people drive me nuts. Despite what I have heard from the likes of Katy Perry and the timeless Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, it turns out that, in fact, I do not wish they could all be California girls.

In my free time between planning for the zombie apocalypse and inventing an alternative to toilet paper, I have often pondered what it is in me (or more likely what it is in them) that seems to make our general dispositions incompatible. Now I don’t want to sound judgmental, so instead I will just point out all the flaws I can find in California people, unfairly generalize them, and then draw conclusion from those biases. Sounds fun, right?

I suppose it’s possible that Michiganders are the odd ducks. I don’t think it would shock any Michigan expat to say that we are a bit of a different breed than most other people. I, for one, didn’t realize how different we were until I left and saw how… typical other people are. Maybe it’s learning to live with the ever-present threat of inadvertently becoming bear poop in the U.P. that turns Michiganders a little off kilter, or maybe it’s growing up in the unhealthy proximity of that glorious lunatic known as Ted Nugent. Maybe it’s just the naturally occurring Fargo-esque homicidal tendencies of any place with a harsh winter. Or it could be the paint fumes from the factory. So the question stands: are we the different ones, or is everyone else? Naw, it’s not us. It’s them!

I think part of what makes Michiganders unique is that we are a bit tougher because we are used to working for what we have. So much so that we don’t even think of it as uncommon anymore. We battle the winter showdrifts just to start our car. Most everyone I know from Michigan had a summer job in high school. I don’t think any teenagers have summer jobs in California (well, they probably do but they subcontract it out to those lovely Guatemalans).

In all honesty, I think what drives me nuts about California folk is that odd sense of self-loathing entitlement. There’s a head-scratcher --- self-loathing entitlement. It’s the kind of thing that only a skateboarding emo-teen can pull off while he complains about how terrible his terrible life is as his mom picks him up in her Range Rover in the Whole Foods parking lot. No doubt, it’s funny as hell to see for the first time, but after a while, I start to feel bad for them. I kinda get the feeling that these people are …trapped. They have been so convinced that California is the epicenter of cool that they don’t know how to exit when they realize how bored and unhappy they are.

To be fair, this affliction is by no means unique to California. I am sure you can think of a host of other places (*cough cough* New York) that seem to have that same attitude.

Oddly enough, that’s the upside of being an economic expat. Because of the job situation, I have seen more of the country and the world, looked at it rationally and objectively, and weighed the benefits of various places to call home. Only then can I really look back and say with confidence that I again choose to be a Michigander. That through it all, I most want the circle to end where it began: in Michigan. Those are my people. That is my home.

So, am I being unfair to the unChosen People who aren’t from Michigan? What have you noticed in your new compatriots since you left Michigan? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Un-Apologetic Love for Pick-Ups

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By Doctor

My first car was a 1991 GMC Sierra  half-ton pick-up that had been handed down to me by my grandfather. I drove it throughout high school and college, and I absolutely loved it. It's hard to imagine growing up and going to school in rural Michigan driving anything else.

In high school we'd load up couches that were being thrown out and leave in them in the yards of the houses where we were littering the trees with toilet paper. It was also great for off-roading, shining deer, doing donuts in the school parking lot during the winter, or hauling the boat out to the lake to cool off in the summer.

Not only was it practical for doing all of those incredibly fun things one does growing up, but it was also practical for all of the reasonable reasons a pick-up is practical. My pick-up was invaluable during the multiple summers I worked as a painter. I can't remember how many times I used it to help friends and family move or to haul furniture or supplies myself.

Likewise, I remember going to Europe for the first time on a high school trip during the summer of 2001 and seeing a Smart car for the first time. I remember thinking that if they were prevalent here in the states, how easy and fun it would be to get a few football teammates, go into the city, literally pick up a Smart car and put it into the back of my truck and take it home to use as a go-cart/golf cart or even a large scale bumper car. (The car and the idea were and continue to be thought of as a joke so being arrested for grand theft auto were not seriously considered. BTW-would they have to rename it "mini theft auto"?)

Read more after the jump...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

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By Doctor

One of the things we hope to do here on Michigan Expats is to highlight some of the fantastic places and events happening throughout Michigan, not just through news and reviews, but with photos and videos. Here is our first photo album focusing on the great Frederick Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. We hope you enjoy the photos and encourage you to visit the park the next time you are in the Grand Rapids area.

Since opening in 1995, The Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park has become one of the preeminent cultural destinations in the Midwest and a treasure for Michigan and Grand Rapids. The current special exhibit, Chihuly: A New Eden, featuring glass work by artist Dale Chihuly integrated within the sculpture park and gardens is phenomenal and runs through October 31, 2010.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Optimism of New Jobs Overshadows Cost of Doing Business in Detroit

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By Doctor

Detroit welcomed 700 new employees this week as Quicken Loans began their transition to settle their headquarters in the Compuware Building downtown on Monday. Each worker even received a gift bag with coupons and discounts from local restaurants and shops.

The news coverage has been prominent and positive in the Detroit papers and trumpeted as a potential catalyst in attracting more businesses and contributing to the revitalization of downtown Detroit. Quicken Loans founder and Chairman, Dan Gilbert should be applauded and appreciated by the people of Detroit for making the move happen and reaffirming a commitment to Detroit to hopefully relocate more jobs downtown.

Certainly the good news, new employees, and a source of optimism amongst the economic troubles of recent years is welcome, but looking into the details of the Quicken Loans relocation highlights three key issues that are important to understand the challenges and obstacles that Michigan must address to improve her economy.
  1. As the Free Press points out:, "Amid the excitement, it helps to remember that the Quicken move reflects a transfer of jobs within metro Detroit, rather than new jobs or growth from outside the region. And it also may bear remembering that when Quicken founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert first announced he would move his headquarters downtown from Livonia, in November 2007, he was projecting bringing 4,000 workers downtown and building his own headquarters skyscraper."
  2. Quicken Loans gave all of its employees in the new Detroit office raises to offset the city income tax (1.25% for nonresidents and 2% for city residents)
  3. While Gilbert and Quicken Loans has been praised for their commitment to Detroit, they have also received major tax breaks from Detroit and the state that could total upwards of $370 million over 12 years according to the Detroit News
These points bring up important questions Michigan must ask herself:
  • How come it took three years, almost $400 million dollars in tax breaks, and the company eating the increased city income tax to relocate 700 jobs from Livonia to Detroit?
  • Why would businesses outside of Michigan want to consider going through all of that hassle to relocate jobs from other states? 
  • If it takes significant tax breaks in order for a company to do business in Michigan, why not lower taxes to that rate to begin with and avoid all of the unnecessary negotiations and political pandering?
  • How big are these obstacles to entrepreneurs and small businesses that drive long term economic growth?
  • Can Michigan's economic revitalization occur within a business climate where businesses cannot succeed without subsidies whether it be in the form of tax breaks, grants, or employee salaries?
Despite the rough economic times and business climate, Michigan has been blessed with many businesses and entrepreneurs like Dan Gilbert committed to continue to succeed in Michigan despite these obstacles. They have the political connections to make these tax deals happen and are willing to absorb the higher costs of doing business in Michigan. In order for Michigan's economic recovery to really take hold it needs to create an environment friendly to creating more such entrepreneurs as opposed to one where they need to battle to survive.

What are your thoughts about the optimism in Detroit and the broader political climate? Please let us know and leave a comment.

Interested in Contributing?

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By Mr Sig

Are you a Michigan expat with some insight to offer?  Do you strongly miss Michigan or strongly think, "good riddance?"  Are you a Michigan resident and think we are full of crap?  We're interested to hear your views.  If you have a short essay that you think is good, send it to us and if we think it's good, we'll post it.  Audio and video content is also welcome.


In Search of Identity

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

In the same way that one can be surprised at a child’s growth spurt after a few weeks
away or the growing grass after a rain, you can’t always see changes if you watch it every
day, but if you go away for a while and you are given the chance to immediately compare
your memory with the reality, the change becomes more apparent.

I think the same is true of Michigan. When I go back home every six months or so,
I always see something that surprises me, and I get the feeling that the people who
live there day in and day out might not always see it because change is gradual. The
good and the bad are more apparent with the fresh eyes of an expat than a resident.

When I returned home in mid July this year, most things looked comfortably familiar. A
few stores had changed, to be expected, but in general, I recognized my hometown as the
place of my memory, the scene of my childhood. But, there was something different. I
couldn’t figure it out at first. Oddly, it struck me on a desolate 2am road returning from a
friend’s house. Where are all the people? Only then did I realize that during the previous
day I hadn’t really experienced the general density I remembered from only a year or two
earlier. The town just felt… empty. Five lane main thoroughfares of the city fed only a
dozen or so cars along the city’s arteries. It was only then that I could palpably feel the
population flight that I had read about in such impersonal terms in the Detroit News or
other online publications. Now, those numbers felt real.

According to a 2009 series in the Detroit News, Michigan lost 109,000 people in 2008,
and the numbers are accelerating every year. That’s one family every 12 minutes.
Staggering. I can’t help but think that a good number of those numbers come from the
hardest hit areas such as Detroit or my hometown of Flint.

Is this migration a tragedy? Yes. But it’s also an opportunity. In trying to find small
victories in every situation, I can’t help but think that this is Michigan’s chance to
redefine itself. Perhaps in the long term Michigan will be able to reshape its image from
its industrial roots to an image more centered on Michigan’s greatest resource: it’s natural
beauty. I am reminded of ultra-rural states like Montana and Wyoming that went from
being the butt of cattle rancher hillbilly stereotypes to the nexus of ultra wealthy western
retreats that it is now. Everyone from David Letterman to Ted Turner owns a ranch
style retreat in Montana. Add in a Great Lake or two, and there’s no reason Michigan
doesn’t have as much to offer, if not more, than a place like Montana or Wyoming.

In the end, I think the real question is “What is Michigan?” In job interviews, they call
it the elevator pitch: that short description that quickly paints a picture of who you are.
Michigan has had many defining symbols through the years: The Great Lakes State,
Motown, the Industrial Heartland. Sadly, those days are probably gone, but that leaves a
new future, as yet to be defined. Michigan’s next identity remains to be seen, but it will
be defined by those who live there today and those who choose to return.

What do you think is in store for Michigan? What do you notice when you go back to
Michigan? Leave your comments below.

Author’s Note: I’d like to think that posts like this one make this blog relevant to
Michigan residents as well as Michigan Expats. Sometimes an external perspective can
help to see things differently. Tell us how we can make this blog more relevant to you.
Leave your comments below.