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,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Traverse City Food & Brew Tour: Part I - The Filling Station

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

The Logo is Awesome
I still consider Traverse City the town I grew up in. I may have been born and returned to go to high school outside of Grand Rapids (Lowell, MI), but Traverse City is where I spent my formative years.

Consequently, I always why I look forward to going to Traverse City; I still have family and friends there, nostalgia, and duh, it’s beautiful Northern Michigan. So naturally I looked forward to going up to Traverse City for BRIM (Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan) – I did a two part recap summary check it out here and here.

I saw friends and family which is always nice, but I doubt our readers want to read about my visit with my grandmother or how my uncle feels about the latest Star Trek movie. If you’re here, you’re probably interested in the food and beer scene in Michigan and therefore Traverse City. I may have spent just under 48 hours in Traverse and most of that at a conference, but I still managed to visit three breweries, two restaurants, and a brew pub. Here's the first of the series of my Traverse City Food & Brew Tour.

Part I: The Filling Station Microbrewery
Ales by the Rails

I’ve been looking forward to visiting The Filling Station all year or as soon as it came on my radar: new brewery in Traverse, unique location in the old train depot, delicious sounding flat bread pizzas, and oh yeah, a new brewery in Traverse City. Yes, my visit was about seven months overdue since their spring opening. I’m ashamed I haven’t made it to Traverse sooner, but I did talk my dad into visiting sooner.

Good beer. Cool bistro tables.
Was it worth the wait? Yes. Located in the old Traverse City train depot along the northeast corner of Boardman Lake is a great unique location for a brewery. Inside features a welcoming renovated depot d├ęcor of the brick walls, hardwood floors, bistro tables made out of old railroad ties, and the original depot lights hanging over the bar. I look forward to coming back on a warmer day and sitting outside on the platform where you can sit and enjoy a locomotive sampler tray and look out over Boardman Lake.

Mr. Sig and I founded Michigan Expats because we wanted to represent the Michiganders who left the Mitten State to pursue economic opportunities, but ultimately would like to return home. Well, I must admit, the story behind The Filling Station may well be the best story of attracted Michiganders to return home I’ve heard yet.

The brewery is an idea of a retired of a mechanical engineer who missed his daughters who had both pursued careers outside of Michigan. What’s a paterfamilias to do? Buy his baker/part-time brewer son-in-law a thirteen barrel brewing system to start a brewing in Traverse City, that’s what.

That’s right, the dad’s the owner, the son-in-law, David Cannizzaro, is the brewer and, I didn’t confirm, but also the head chef, while one daughter, Amanda, was the one behind the bar, and from the picture of the new-born baby on the bulletin board next to the bar, the other daughter had responsibilities at home but that hasn’t stopped the little one from stopping bye.  I’ve heard a lot of cool stories about the founding of Michigan breweries, but this is now my favorite. Re-uniting daughters from opposite coasts to return home to Michigan to run a brewery. Now, that’s a way to re-patriot Michigan.
I was bummed I had a late big breakfast

Now, the moment I saw the pizza oven, I was disappointed that I had eaten a big lunch late in the morning. The pizza and the descriptions looked delicious. My dad and I each had an IPA (between us sampling two of three IPA’s available), but since we were on our way out of town didn’t have much time to get through the other ten beers on tap. I look forward to visiting The Filling Station again and I will be sure to come hungry and thirsty.

I may also have to pick up some merchandise. I really like the logo. Check out The Filling Station for yourself next time your in TC.

Still coming up from my Traverse City food and brew tour: a visit to the new Right Brain Brewery location; new Traverse City brewery, Brewery Ferment; and soul food finds a home in Northern Michigan at the Soul Hole.