Thursday, November 29, 2012

West MichAgain: Bringing Talent Back to the Region

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

Two years ago when Mr. Sig and I started Michigan Expats we did so to focus and draw attention to the many folks born in Michigan who had left to pursue job opportunities but really want to come home to Michigan. For over two years, we’ve written and talked about what we love about Michigan and discuss the issues that have pushed so many to leave the state and prevent them from coming home.

We like to think we were on to something.

Last week I attended MichAgain West Michigan: BringingTalent Back to the Region, a reception at the B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids where state, regional, and local organizations and businesses made a pitch for Michigan Expats who were home for the Thanksgiving Holiday to give moving back home some more thought, particularly West Michigan.

The Pitch
The goal of the event was to highlight why West Michigan is a good place to live, that it is a fun and exciting area, and that there are opportunities available so you can come back and enjoy the good quality of life. It was a good pitch.

The B.O.B. (aka Big Old Building) was a great venue for the event. The food was good (hor d'oeuvres, small plates) and each attendee was given a free drink coupon that included the B.O.B. Brewery’s in house hand crafted brews. The space was appropriate for the size of the event and provided a great atmosphere for employee representatives and attendees to chat and network.

There was a brief program amidst the networking where the event organizers (see below) and business representatives got to introduce themselves which was helpful because it allowed attendees to see and hear from the potential individuals they may have wanted to seek out and speak with that evening.

From Art Prize to LaughFest to being voted “Beer City U.S.A.”, Grand Rapids has transformed itself into a much more vibrant and engaged community, particularly downtown than it was just a decade ago. One no longer needs to go elsewhere to seek art, culture, and a nightlife scene. Plus it is an affordable place to live with access to Michigan’s abundant natural resources. Did we mention beautiful and fun?

I feel like I’ve been using this term almost too much, but when it comes to economic development, wealth creation, and entrepreneurial spirits, “collaboration” is a good term to be using frequently and the MichAgain reception is another example of good leadership and Michigan organizations and businesses collaborating toward the common goal of improving Michigan.

First, is the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) which has helped fuel the Michigan Pride enthusiasm through the Pure Michigan ad campaign (a couple ads were played) as well as worked to improve the business climate in Michigan in recent years. I’ve got some Pure Michigan swag as a result that I plan to give away (details forthcoming).

Locally the event was organized and promoted by Experience Grand Rapids, Hello West Michigan, and The Right Place. I continue to be impressed with ExperienceGR and The Right Place and was introduced to Hello West Michigan, but all are interesting organizations impacting West Michigan, so here’s a quick primer.
  • ExperienceGR is the city Convention and Visitors Bureau that has stepped up its game to help highlight Grand Rapids as a destination with the DeVos Place Convention Center as well as promote the fantastic events such as Art Prize and LaughFest that have emerged in recent years.
  • Hello West Michigan was an organization that I was not familiar with prior to the event, but is a small business that serves as an advocate to help attract talent and support the transition to West Michigan. Essentially helping make the decision to relocate or stay in West Michigan easier. The fact that this is a functional business is representative alone of the emerging opportunities in Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas.
  • The Right Place is a non-profit economic development organization focused on creating economic opportunity in West Michigan including investment, jobs, business attraction, retention, and expansion. It’s one of a handful of unique and exciting organizations working extremely to generate wealth generation in the region.
Good news. Bad news. More good news
The good news is that these organizations have been successful in contributing to the renewed sense of Michigan pride and are leading Michigan economically out the recession.

The bad news is that one of the issues stalling some of the growth in West Michigan and across the state is rebounding from the brain drain, particularly from the past decade. The Right Place can help regional businesses find the investment to build or expand, but those businesses still need the talent to succeed and grow.

The good news is that West Michigan and Grand Rapids are a better place to live than Expats remember and that there are positions to filled to the point that all of these organizations are collaborating to market to Expats to come home.

 The news is even better if you’re an engineer and are considering coming home. Most of the businesses present at the reception – Bissell, GE Aviation, Herman Miller, and Steelcase – are in need of engineers. Other businesses present included 5/3 Bank, Gordon Food Service, and Macatawa Bank.

I won’t go as far as to tell you to pack up and come home to Michigan for good, but I am more enthusiastic about the progress in Michigan to becoming a destination to work as well as live than we were two years ago when we started

There are real grassroots efforts to spur entrepreneurship  innovation, and economic growth in the state. Better leadership has and continues to emerge (well, for the most part). It may be time Michigan’s expats to take another long look at what they love and miss about the Michigan and whether it is time to come home.

Each of the organizations discussed above has additional information to help make that decision. There is another MichAgain event scheduled for Thursday, December 27 at the Detroit Renaissance Center for those who will be home in South East Michigan around Christmas. You can also follow MichAgain on Twitter @GoMichAgain for information on similar events across the country,

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