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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, July 2019
WEB Exclusive story

Take It From the Top

Leading voices from around the state of Michigan weigh in on the connections among regional culture, higher education and talent attraction.

In keeping with a tradition, University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel spins The Cube on campus each morning to set the university in motion. The interactive sculpture by Tony Rosenthal is just one example of the public art in Ann Arbor that plays a role in Ann Arbor’s distinct culture.
Photo courtesy of University of Michigan


“The bottom-up nature of urban innovation suggests that the best economic development policy may be to attract smart people and get out of the way.”
Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, “Triumph of the City”

In the massive collections of the University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor, there is a set of research guides whose contents span the globe, categorized under the label “Cultural Competence.”

As one might expect, their purpose is to “increase intercultural awareness and competencies for traveling abroad and living among culturally diverse populations.”

Could that same principle apply to the states and regions within a country? Company leaders considering an investment have “cultural fit” on their checklists. But what is the role of an area’s culture in attracting the employees those employers so urgently covet?

Last year, the state’s 15 public universities and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) gained some insight into such questions with a survey of more than 6,600 2017 graduates conducted by The Office for Survey Research at Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. What did they find?

The good news is that 64% of those graduates have stayed in state. But that means 36% have left — a proportion slightly higher than what the survey found when it asked the same question in 2013.

“Although majorities of young graduates have personal ties to the state, are open to staying, and actively pursued employment opportunities in Michigan,” said the report, “many end up leaving anyway. Job opportunities and other career-related factors were consistently found to be among the most important reasons for moving out of state, although lifestyle factors such as the availability of cultural, social and recreational activities play an important role as well. Michigan is especially losing graduates with engineering degrees, those who go on to work in education or scientific or technical fields, and those with advanced degrees.

“On the bright side,” the report continued, “many of these gaps appear to be narrowing.” And around half of the graduates who moved away from Michigan indicated they might be likely to return within five years.

“Whether these trends continue or reverse course will largely part depend on whether graduates see good career opportunities in their field and an exciting, attractive lifestyle when they consider their possible future in Michigan,” said the report.

Possible futures are always on the minds of the Michigan Business Network and Accident Fund Insurance Company of America/AF Group when they conduct their semi-annual Michigan Future Business Index. The spring 2019 Index surveyed leaders at 411 small to medium-sized businesses in the state asking them to name their top three challenges in the coming year. Acquiring talent was No. 1 (45.5%), with retaining talent a close third (after the cost of health insurance) at 25.3%.

The View from Kalamazoo

With record low unemployment and a tight labor market, culture plays an increasingly significant role in corporate talent attraction and retention in Michigan. So we set out to define those regions and their unique cultures.

If we take tourism as our guide, Michigan comprises nine distinct regions, defined as much by culture as by topography. The state’s 14 biggest metro areas (see Milken Institute sidebar) are scattered across just a few of those regions in the Lower Peninsula. But each of the nine brings its own unique cultural stamp and heritage.

Jim Robey, Director, Regional and Economic Planning Services, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research

Some might define culture by the elements: Could water culture, for instance, be as important for building a workforce as it is for welcoming recreational tourists? Do the wood and materials that helped define western Michigan’s furniture industry somehow make up part of the area’s allure for non-craftspeople too?

Jim Robey, director of regional and economic planning services for the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, says western Michigan, in part because of the universities in the region, “has a really wonderful combination of urban to rural lifestyles” in which there is a great diversity of food culture as well as diversity in people and religious affiliation. Asked about the ability of Michigan’s regions to attract and retain talent from abroad, he says diversity is really the norm now in such cities as Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

The limiting factor for economic development, he says, isn’t cultural, but practical, as areas try to solve the issue of housing that is affordable for the $15- to $20-per-hour manufacturing employee and not just the higher-paid computer programmers.

He says several regional planning councils are looking at attainable housing solutions that can be used to attract workers, and cites Upjohn’s work with Pennsylvania-based hog processor Clemens Foods, which has hired 800 production workers in Coldwater, would like to bring in a second shift, but is having trouble finding places for those workers to live, and has even put up its own multifamily housing as a stop-gap measure.

Robey notes that Barry County, a suburban county in the Grand Rapids area, is doing “an excellent job” with career and technical education (CTE), and says retaining graduates coming out of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo is “really important.” Development of a second campus for the university’s technology park is helping achieve that goal.

“But the thing I always look for is how strong the community colleges and the CTE are,” he says. “The middle skills are a big anchor. Whether it’s certifications in coding or C++ or welding, or associate’s degrees in manufacturing engineering, as we move across the spectrum of Industry 4.0, we need workers who are better skilled but not necessarily bachelor’s degrees. You go to the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and you’re entering a wider market, but what is going on at schools like Kellogg Community College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College bolsters and stabilizes economic development.”

So do things like the Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo’s pioneering, anonymously funded pledge launched in 2005 that can potentially pay for the higher education of every Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) high school graduate. Every graduate of KPS is eligible for a Promise scholarship provided he or she has been enrolled in and resided within the district for a minimum of four years. For students who have attended and resided in KPS for their entire K-12 education, the program covers full tuition and fees at 58 public and private colleges or universities in Michigan. For students who have attended KPS since ninth grade, the program covers 65%of tuition and fees.

The unique program is certainly a unique cultural asset for Kalamazoo, but it’s not necessarily replicable.

“You need some real wealth behind it,” Robey says. “The indigenous wealth of Kalamazoo is concentrated, and so can be highly effective. Other places can’t necessarily write those kinds of checks. Certainly it brings people here and keeps people here.” And after 15 to 20 years of the Promise, he says, “We’re working with the realtors to understand how it’s impacted the labor market.”

Streamlined and Ready to Roll

In June, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to streamline and better coordinate efforts within state government to meet the state’s business and labor needs by consolidating workforce and economic development functions under the new Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), which is the new name for the former Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED).

Among other agencies, LEO, headed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s former executive director of workforce development Jeff Donofrio, will include the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Michigan Strategic Fund, and the Michigan Office for New Americans, which is transferred from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and rebranded as the Office for Global Michigan.

Among Donofrio’s accomplishments with the city were a $30 million revitalization of career technical education for youth and adults at Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Randolph (construction & skilled trades,) Breithaupt (automotive, robotics and service industry,) and Golightly (tech/innovation); and a $20+ million economic development partnership to create a talent pipeline for the Gordie Howe International Bridge construction, Ford’s Corktown Campus, FCA’s Jefferson North and Mack Avenue assembly plants.

The LEO announcement reminded citizens of Gov. Whitmer’s goal of increasing the number of people with a post-secondary attainment to 60% from the current 45% by 2030. Other work has been afoot too.

“Before launching our Choose Michigan talent attraction and retention campaign, we did our research,” Erica Quealy, TED communications director, says of the MSU report. “The study confirmed that while paychecks are important, job seekers also value their time and things to do outside of work.”

She says the fact that 36% of graduates leave the state after graduation is not a cause for concern, in part because so many come from outside the state to begin with — nearly half the enrollment at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor comes from out of state. Moreover, she says, even if the state is losing engineering graduates, it’s still seen a net gain in engineers. “But our study does tell us why they are leaving,” she says, listing the primary reasons:

  1. Pay: Despite the low cost of living in Michigan, they are leaving for more lucrative paychecks in competitive states like California.
  2. Time: It is taking twice as long to find a career in Michigan than it is in California. (The MSU study showed about half of the graduates who left looked for careers in Michigan before doing so.)
  3. Bigger Metros: They are leaving for cities bigger than Michigan cities; i.e. Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Chicago; and New York.
  4. Opportunities: “They just don’t know what opportunities are available here,” says Quealy. “They don’t see Michigan as a technology state, and they don’t see the automobile industry as a technology industry.

“That’s why we launched the Choose Michigan campaign,” she says. “To address career opportunities at companies they don’t know about and to remind them of all the neat things going on here. We partnered with communities in Michigan — Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Houghton [in the Upper Peninsula] — that have existing local talent attraction and retention campaigns to highlight the many benefits of living in those communities.”

Talent Hubs

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah in a January 2019 presentation noted that in December 2018 there were 376,000 open jobs in Michigan and 210,000 in metro Detroit (11th among all metros in the nation for job postings), yet Michigan was one of only seven states that did not have a state-led goal to increase education attainment.

Dakota Pawlicki
Dakota Pawlicki, Strategy Officer for Community Mobilization, Lumina Foundation

That changed fast, as new Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced her 60% postsecondary education attainment goal. It's a proportion that the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Lumina Foundation says the entire nation should attain.

Lumina last year joined with the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation to announce the designation of an additional seven communities across the country — including metro Detroit — as Talent Hubs. Dakota Pawlicki, Lumina's strategy officer for community mobilization, says that in addition to the 24 Talent Hubs as exemplars, "we have a broader community network of close to 100 communities that are all using cross-sector partnership for talent attraction cultivation and retention. In Michigan, we have five of those partners scattered around the region — Detroit, Grand Rapids, Jackson County, Kalamazoo and Bay City. They’re all part of this broader movement that Lumina is connected to that is strengthening local and regional partnerships to improve the sense of place and develop and cultivate the talent that these regions need to be economically prosperous."

Pawlicki notes the important roles universities and community colleges play in defining those regions and their cultures. Sometimes it comes down to very specific tasks. During a national meeting in Detroit earlier this year, he found himself sitting with senior leaders from Macomb Community College, Henry Ford Community College and Wayne State University. The conversation turned to transportation infrastructure, and an executive from a local employer said, “Well, if you all could just provide me with employees who would show up on time, that's really all I need.”

"They started digging into it," relates Pawlicki, "and realized that the first bus that made it to that employer on the bus route was actually 15 minutes after the start time for those employees. So, if you're a citizen reliant on public transportation, there's no possible way you could ever make it to work on time."

"Boosting & shoring up this concentration of talent — that has been the hallmark of the State of Michigan — is the challenge & opportunity on the horizon."
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, SelectUSA Investment Summit, June 2019

Working through the Detroit Regional Chamber, all the stakeholders were able to shift the bus route and timetable. That seemingly mundane accomplishment is a cultural asset too, says Pawlicki.

"That is what place-making is all about," he says. "And higher education really has a key role to play in that, through comprehensive regional talent acquisition and cultivation through multiple segments outside their traditional mission."

Lumina Sheds Light

Among Pawlicki’s colleagues at the Lumina Foundation is Chauncy Lennon, Ph.D., who joined Lumina in 2018 in the newly created role of vice president for the future of learning and work, after serving for nearly five years as a managing director and head of workforce strategy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he drove the firm’s $350 million investment in philanthropic initiatives. He previously led large portfolios of work at the Michigan-based Ford Foundation related to economic advancement and workforce development, and since 2015 has served on the national advisory board of the College Promise Campaign, a nonpartisan national initiative to build public support for funding the first two years of higher education for working students, beginning with community colleges.

Through his time with both JPMorgan Chase and the Ford Foundation, Lennon says, “I got to know Detroit better than I ever expected, and got to really see this amazing era of change,” driven in part by Mayor Duggan’s administration and partly by leaders such as Dan Gilbert making huge investments in the city’s core. In addition to major universities’ role in building regional culture, he also highlights institutions such as Macomb Community College.

Chauncy Lennon, Vice President for the Future of Learning and Work, Lumina Foundation

“We don't often think of community colleges as playing a similar kind of role as public or private four-years do,” he says, but “they come at it both as a kind of community hub that provides all sorts of cultural resources, in addition to education training resources. Macomb also has its hand very firmly on the economic development dynamic.” A recent example is a new innovation center dedicated to using lighter materials in cars, designed in partnership with automotive manufacturers and located just across from Macomb’s new entrance gates.

Like Pawlicki, Lennon also offers an example of a concrete problem that recently got solved, pointing to a change in culture that was not about bus routes, but routes to a future.

“The scale of Michigan can allow for putting a set of business leaders in the room with government and system leaders in a way that actually produces identification of problems and solutions,” Lennon says. “The shared commitment and sense of ownership of ‘we’ve got to fix things’ led to this amazing conversation one day. According to a bunch of employers, they would hire more Detroit residents, but nobody could seem to produce a transcript from the crippled school system. The transcripts service involved sending something in an envelope with a stamp on it to an office, where it sat in an inbox for weeks. And then someone went down to the basement into old file cabinets and pulled down copies of transcripts and mailed them out. The employer couldn't believe it, and sent over a set of his folks with scanners. Within a few weeks, they essentially scanned all the transcripts and drew up a website and created a 20th century way to access all the school transcripts in Detroit.”

Pawlicki notes that flagship institutions can indeed be cultural beacons, but can also succumb to being siloed. “They rely on becoming a community within a community so much that their service to the broader community is tangential at best, maybe described as charitable,” he says, “which is good overall, but does not necessarily strengthen the region’s approach to developing and attracting the talent that the region needs. That's part of the reason Lumina has really embraced and pursued and supported these cross-sector collaboratives, because where the rubber meets the road is really that intersection between the private, the public, and the social sector. That's where real placemaking actually happens.”

He points to Jackson County, Michigan, where local institutions aren’t just invested in the typical things, but in programs such as one of the largest second-chance programs in the nation for formerly incarcerated individuals. In another case of interrupted pathways, “a lot of people who have started a university or a college program step out for a variety of reasons and are unable to transfer to another institution successfully, because, if they owe any debt to the institution, the transcript is held on to,” he says. “So, through the Detroit Regional Partnership, multiple higher education institutions just made a compact to say, ‘We're not going to hold transcripts hostage anymore.’ They were essentially preventing the region from developing the talent they needed by holding on to a really important piece of paper. Now many more folks can actually go back to an institution or go to a different institution as a better fit for them, get back on the pathway to get the credentials they need, and the region's developing the talent it needs.”

Lennon says the next stage is to go from the Detroit city center redevelopment story to block-by-block neighborhood development across a metro area that is the 14th largest MSA in the nation with 4.3 million people. It will also mark a transition from drawing young professionals with disposable income to a resurgent downtown, and supporting more family-driven districts where everyone from children to retirees can thrive.

Pawlicki points to the work of Andre Perry at Brookings Institution, whose research has focused on the devaluation of black neighborhoods and communities.

“I’m pulling up a map right now, and there are at least four metro areas inside Michigan that had some fairly large devaluation in black neighborhoods,” Pawlicki says. “In the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn area, the price difference between a similar home in a black neighborhood and a white neighborhood is 36.9%. That roughly translates to a home being worth $20,000 less simply because in a black neighborhood.”

Direct investment in those neighborhoods is needed, “and I think, again, that's where higher education institutions and other anchors in communities also can play that role,” he says. “There are some really great examples across the nation of institutions that have stepped up to take a block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood focus. One of our partners in Cincinnati is deeply focused on four federal census tracks, and is supporting single, African-American, female heads-of-household. We see institutions get very detailed and specific in partnership with their public and private partners to really spur the development of specific neighborhoods within their broader geography. And so, I think, looking for those institutions that get that level of specificity adds to the overall culture of particular places.”

Mixed Signals in a State of Flux

The sense of urgency is universal, even if the data are more sanguine.

Business Leaders for Michigan's 2018 Economic Competitiveness Benchmarking Report concludes that the state is a national leader in terms of R&D and exports, but there is still a great deal to accomplish in the areas of talent development and infrastructure. Among its conclusions: Michigan’s population has stabilized, but peers and the “Top 10” are growing faster. Moreover, "the state’s talent pipeline continues to be in jeopardy as educational results lag most other states," said the report, "and it’s possible — even likely — that Michigan could face a critical shortage of skilled workers in the years ahead."

Research by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce says by 2020 Michigan will need 176,000 more college graduates to fill Michigan job openings, along with 126,000 workers with a two-year degree or certificate.

Meanwhile, in December 2018, Michigan Future released “A Path to Good-paying Careers for All Michiganders: Creating places across Michigan where people want to live and work. “The basic premise of the report is simple,” said the organization. “Over two decades of research has shown than talent equals economic growth. The key to retaining and attracting talent is creating places where people want to live, work and play.” The report then identifies five “placemaking policy levers” that matter most:

  1. Welcoming to all: A legal framework that prohibits all forms of discrimination and access to the resources necessary for social and economic mobility.
  2. State and local development-friendly regulations that facilitate the creation of high-density, walkable, high-amenity neighborhoods in our cities and inner ring suburbs.
  3. Understanding that economies are regional, and each region needs the flexibility to develop and implement their own talent attraction and retention strategies.
  4. Providing and paying for world-class 21st century infrastructure, basic services and amenities.
  5. Transportation as the most important placemaking public investment.

Yet tech-related employment in the Detroit metropolitan area increased by 6,295 new jobs in 2018, according to Cyberstates 2019, released in March 2019 by technology industry association CompTIA.

Net tech employment grew by 2.7% in 2018 to an estimated 241,135 workers, or 11.9% of the region’s total workforce. More than 65,000 tech-related jobs have been added to the local economy since 2010, leading to Detroit ranking No. 11 in net tech employment and No. 9 in jobs added among the 46 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas covered in the report, with occupations such as software developer, computer system and cybersecurity analyst in highest demand.

The median tech occupation wage is $83,505 — 86% higher than the median wage for all occupations — and the tech sector’s contribution to the local economy is estimated at $24.8 billion, equal to about 10.2% of the total economy. CompTIA projects that the Detroit area’s base of tech occupation employment will grow by 3.1% by 2026.

A separate tech talent analysis of U.S. metro areas by CBRE ranked metro Detroit at No. 20, noting in particular a 24.6% increase in the tech talent labor pool between 2012 and 2017 and a 28.2% rise in tech degree completions between 2011 and 2016. Further analysis by CBRE released in mid-2019 tabbed Detroit as one of the nation’s top 10 “momentum markets” for tech job growth.

Making Talent a Priority

Deferred transportation infrastructure maintenance is an issue in nearly every state. Talent infrastructure maintenance is just as important, however.

"While the data clearly show that Michigan needs a lot more college graduates, not everyone needs to earn a four-year college degree," wrote Daniel J. Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, earlier this year. In the face of towering costs and sometimes less-than-scintillating payoffs for four-year degrees, the idea of that quicker certificate and immediate employment in "the trades" is growing more attractive by the day.

But Hurley called attention to the bigger picture, saying it's "important to recognize that those skilled workers who do not have a degree — plumbers, electricians, and others — command higher earnings when they work in communities with a lot of college graduates, who can better afford to pay for their services." Indeed, a state government analysis of the “Hot 50” high-demand, high-wage occupations in Michigan through 2026 indicate that 36 of them still will require at least a four-year degree.

So, in essence, it helps to have all of the above.

The Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) released “Total Talent: Equipping All Michiganders with the Education and Skills Needed for Success in the Economy of Today and Tomorrow,” in September 2018, timed in order to convince the next wave of legislators and the next governor to make talent attainment a top public policy priority. The report highlights the significant progress made by Michigan’s public and independent colleges and universities to cut costs and improve access to education beyond high school by ensuring students successfully complete degree and certification programs.

“Talent is the new currency of economic development. It is our ticket to building a stronger region and more vibrant state.”
Tim Daman, President & CEO, Lansing Regional Chamber, January 2019”

“A thriving education system is an essential building block to a strong economy, and a high school diploma is not enough to succeed in today’s world,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “A postsecondary credential like a college degree or occupational certificate is a must. Postsecondary credentials translate to higher incomes, better job prospects and a stronger statewide economy. We support any policies that promote and support life-long learning.”

In an interview, Hurley, an Oakland County, Michigan, native who served for nine years as associate vice president for government relations and state policy for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says he knows the state’s regions as well as anyone, having spent over 40 years there, including attendance at two schools in the Grand Rapids area. He returned to the state to take the MASU position four years ago, and immediately saw the power of international student enrollment across the 15 campuses, which has grown by 10% annually. “It’s really a billion-dollar export,” he says, “though in this case the customer comes to the service. It’s a remarkably positive and adored attribute of the universities., whether Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste Marie, or Michigan Tech, a renowned engineering school in Houghton. Many stay and contribute, and many head back and export what they’ve taken from the Michigan experience to their countries.”

Dan Hurley, CEO, Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU)

Within Michigan, Hurley says, the Pure Michigan campaign has had a positive impact.

“In my own case, my wife and I were living just outside Washington, D.C., and had a 9-year-old boy, and I took this job. We sat our son on the couch, we told him, he immediately started crying, I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed the remote and played 15 one-minute Pure Michigan commercials back to back to back. He was pretty much good to go after that. A lot of that focuses on the natural assets, but there are other elements to it.”

MASU itself is taking a cue from Pure Michigan, Hurley says, promoting not only the value of a state university degree, but the assets around the 15 universities. He says the website is geared toward in-state residents initially, but might broaden its reach. In any case, he says, “I think there is clearly a greater opportunity for collaboration between MEDC and the state universities in terms of recruiting back talent that has left the state.”

Asked for an example of cultural connections helping to attract corporate investment, Jeff Mason, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, notes the recent R&D investment in Ann Arbor from Silicon Valley–based KLA Corporation, which makes process control, inspection and metrology technologies for the semiconductor and other nanoelectronics industries.

“Their CEO Rick Wallace got his engineering degree from the University of Michigan,” Mason says. “We were able to spend some time with Rick working with our partners in Ann Arbor and make a strong case for Michigan, as opposed to competing out of the Valley. They’re going to put 500 engineers in a facility not far from the University of Michigan campus. That’s a recent example of a company seeing the benefits of the skilled workforce, cost of living and great quality of life. We’ve heard from one of their leads on the project that a number of people from their California operation are going to be relocating to Michigan.”

The power of alumni from Big Blue doesn’t just work for “The Big Chill.” It works for economic development too.

“Whether those individuals have left the state or the country, there’s always that affinity to the university or college they graduated from,” Mason says. “We have some great college towns around the state.”

A Question for the Presidents

What do the young and not-so-young professionals of the world want, and what do Michigan’s regions offer them? Might awareness of place and knowledge of culture drive talented individuals to feel at home and seek out more connections?

Does an ice-cold Vernors ginger ale quench your thirst on a summer day at your cabin in the UP?

One window to culture is through the prism of higher education. Each region has its own distinct layer, in a state where hundreds of colleges and universities play their own crucial roles in cultivating talent. They also play major roles in forming their regions’ cultures in every sense of the word: culture as in arts; culture as in industrial and agricultural heritage; culture as in ethos; corporate culture; and the unique cultures of food, drink and language.

So we asked the presidents of the 15 member institutions of the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) to name three things that distinguish their university regions' cultures. Their answers are featured on these pages.

David Eisler, president of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, says in an aside, "Throughout my 16-year tenure as president of Ferris State University, I have witnessed the culture of the region evolve, change and grow to make West Central Michigan one of the most desirable places to live, work, study and play," noting in particular the explosion of craft brewing in the area. That's led to Ferris State developing an Industrial Chemistry degree with a fermentation science concentration, in addition to a Brewpub Management associate degree.

MEDC’s Jeff Mason says the craft brewery revolution is a new angle on an old tradition.

"It ties back to entrepreneurship and individuals and risk-taking," Mason says. "Now you have individuals stating to grow hops and barley, the inputs to support that kind of industry. Someone once said you’ll see whether a community is creative or innovative in thinking about startups by looking for areas where individuals have opened up brewpubs. That is the culture of entrepreneurship and the startup mentality."

He says it links back to another aspect of culture: the state's innovation origins and evolution, from mining and timber through the automotive giants. "Also, when I think about the culture of Michigan, I think about us being a state that’s welcoming to a diverse group of individuals," he says. "Again, think back to 100 or 150 years ago, with all the immigrants migrating to Michigan from Europe. Then the automobile industry started growing, and immigrants started coming from the Southern states. There were a large number of Dutch immigrants. And there is the Arab population that has grown in Dearborn and the Detroit area."

Mason also thinks Michigan's culture intrinsically has "that strong connection to the water and the Great Lakes. Being home to more than 20% of all the freshwater in the world, it really defines us in many ways."

Mmm ... Beer

Yes, if we're going full circle, we must recognize that some of that fine freshwater finds its way into those craft breweries popping up around the state.

"I have one right down the street from where I live," says Daniel J. Hurley, MASU's CEO, of Old Nation Brewery in Williamston. "It's not much to look at from the outside, but boy their beer is popular. It's called M43, named for the road we live on. I was just sipping it on the front porch of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island while at a conference."

Upjohn Institute’s Jim Robey says other than “Do you know where we can get a good pasty?” (the northern Michigan pocket sandwich also known as a shovel pie because miners used to heat them up on their shovels), the most Michigan thing someone can ask is “When’s the Oberon release date?” referring to the signature wheat ale from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. “I was doing work with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland,” he says, “and they asked about when Bell’s will release it. At Dark Horse Brewing Company in Marshall, people stand out in the cold” for the brewery’s signature 4 Elf winter spiced ale, the catalyst for what is now a two-day festival.

"Among the reasons for building a major R&D hub in the Ann Arbor and Detroit metropolitan area are the region's attractive talent pool, relative low cost of living and proximity to Detroit Metropolitan Airport."
Bobby Bell, Chief Strategy Officer, KLA Corporation, on the company's October 2018 decision to invest more than $150 million and create up to 600 new high-tech jobs in the Ann Arbor region

Indeed, as anyone who’s visited a craft brewery can attest, there are few better ways to gather clusters of young talent. As of 2018 there were 357 craft breweries in Michigan (up from around 100 in 2011), good enough for No. 5 in the nation, with one brewery for every 4.7 drinking-age adults. The Brewers Association reports that those breweries in 2017 had an economic impact surpassing $2 billion (No. 9 in the country).

"From my visits to the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo area, it’s among the regions in the country with the most vibrant and deep seated small brewery culture," says Bart Watson, Ph.D., chief economist for the Brewers Association, the D.C.-based national organization of craft brewers. "On my last trip, my Uber driver from the airport immediately rattled off his favorite breweries."

Echoing MEDC's Jeff Mason, Watson says Michigan is now the fourth-largest hop-producing state in the nation. And he attests to the role craft breweries can play in urban revitalization.

"They can go into spaces that are zoned for manufacturing that have gone by the wayside during de-industrialization," he says. "They bring foot traffic to places that might not otherwise get foot traffic. They are community gathering places that take on aspects of their community in their values, marketing and branding. They can have ripples in the economy."

MEDC's Jeff Mason recognizes that.

"One of the amazing programs we have is Public Spaces, Community Places, a crowdfunding program where we match dollars raised by citizens at the local level to help build dog parks, splash pads, walking and biking trails, and other projects. In Calumet in the UP, an old mining town, they took an old mining building and renovated it, and it’s now their local curling club. The community hangs out and curls and probably drinks a few adult beverages.

"We have as one of our three pillars a focus on community vitality," he says. "We clearly recognize the importance of creating vibrant areas where people want to live. If people want to live there, companies will be attracted because there’s a rich talent pool. Whether that entails the arts, or helping to create vibrant places, we’re all in."

Ann Arbor

Three Distinguishing Features of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Mark S. Schlissel, President, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is the home of a vibrant arts scene that fosters cultural appreciation and understanding and provokes conversations about challenging issues facing our society. Residents and visitors to the U-M campus and region enjoy and learn from the University Musical Society, a premier arts presentation organization; leading museums and galleries; world-class performing venues; and remarkable public art.

Mark S. Schlissel, President, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Zingerman’s Delicatessen is hailed for empowering employees, positive business practices, giving back to the community — and outstanding food. The deli, founded in 1982, is now a destination with fans that span the nation. But what makes the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses truly special is its success in demonstrating that ethics, growth and citizenship are values that go hand in hand. The owners speak to students on our campus, and they’ve advocated for increases in the minimum wage. And I heartily recommend the corned beef reuben!

The Big House and Michigan Athletics: On football Saturdays in the fall, Ann Arbor transforms, as more than 100,000 people pack into Michigan Stadium — the nation’s largest — for one of our region’s great traditions. I treasure Michigan Athletics’ ability to bring people together in the spirit of competition. Even more impressive are U-M student-athletes and coaches, who enhance our community through their service and ambassadorship. It’s not uncommon to see student-athletes visiting patients in our hospitals or volunteering with community service projects.

Mid Michigan

Three Distinguishing Features of Mid-Michigan’s Culture

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.

Mobility: The Lansing region has been about mobility since Ransom E. Olds started his first auto company here in 1897. That legacy lives in the modern plants assembling Cadillacs, Buicks and the Chevy Camaro, all part of the area’s thriving manufacturing sector.

Samuel Stanley
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., President, Michigan State University

There are plenty of bike-friendly spaces here, too. And, before long, advanced mobility technologies from Michigan State University will help make vehicle travel everywhere easier and, above all, safer.

Talent: Anchored for 160 years by MSU, the region’s institutions attract top scientists and artists, scholars and educators whose local engagement adds much to this diverse community’s civic life. Growing insurance, agri-food and technology sector industries help nurture the regional knowledge economy as well. And as the state capital, Lansing relies on a wealth of talent to operate and support Michigan’s state government.

Community: Our diverse community includes the world-ranked Wharton Center for Performing Arts and the architecturally stunning Broad Art Museum, both right on MSU’s campus. Lansing’s Old Town district and East Lansing’s art scene are right down the street.

Sports galore; farmers’ markets, Christmas tree farms and pumpkin patches; bistros and local brews; and, of course, irresistible ice cream and cheeses from the famous MSU Dairy Store add to the area’s charm. But if any want the excitement of urban areas, or the beauty of Great Lakes shorelines, all are within a comfortable drive.

Western Michigan

Three Distinguishing Features of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo

Dr. Edward Montgomery, President

Western Michigan University is based in the home of the Kalamazoo Promise, a program that pays the college tuition of Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates — the largest program of its kind anywhere. Thanks to spectacularly generous anonymous donors in this community, Promise students are guaranteed tuition at Michigan colleges and universities. A large portion of the bachelor’s degrees earned by these students are earned at WMU — more than 40% of all bachelor's degree received by the scholarship recipients, which is by far the most of any single institution in the state.

Edward Montgomery
Dr. Edward Montgomery, President, Western Michigan University

The southwest Michigan region is a major pharmaceutical, life sciences and international business center. It is the original home of Upjohn Co. (now Pfizer), Stryker Corp., as well as many startup life sciences firms in the WMU Business Technology Research Park, which provides hundreds of internships for students and is an economic engine for the area. This region also can lay claim to Gibson Guitars, Checker Motors, Bell's Brewery, Kellogg Co. and Whirlpool Corp.

Many "Pure Michigan" Possibilities: Whether it's riding on the 33.5-mile Kal-Haven Trail, paddleboarding Lake Michigan, running the Kalamazoo Marathon, catching a Broadway show at WMU's Miller Auditorium, viewing an art installation at the University's Richmond Center for Visual Arts or at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, cheering WMU athletes in competition, being wowed by the talents in the Gilmore Keyboard Festival or in WMU's award-winning jazz ensemble Gold Company, there are a variety of outlets for indoor and outdoor fun here.


Three Distinguishing Features of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti

Dr. James M. Smith, President

Dr. James M. Smith

Downtown Scene: The vibrancy of the restaurant scene and unique shopping experiences in historic Depot Town and downtown Ypsilanti.

Summer Beer Festival: The oldest of the Michigan Brewer's Guild's four annual festivals takes place annually, rain or shine, in the lovely outdoor setting of Ypsilanti's Riverside Park in historic Depot Town. More than 1,000 craft beers for sampling, with live music from a variety of Michigan bands. (This year's event takes place July 26 - 27.) 

Michigan ElvisFest: The outdoor concert/festival celebrating the life and music of Elvis Presley is celebrating its 20th year this summer (July 19 - 20), with award-winning Elvis tribute artists, and is known as one of the best Elvis-sanctioned events in the country.


Three Distinguishing Features of Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant

Bob Davies, President

Bob Davies
Bob Davies

At the heart of the Mount Pleasant area is the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, from which Central gets its “Chippewas” name. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and CMU have a strong historic and cooperative relationship that complements each entity's goals and encourages collaborative efforts to improve and enhance the quality of life for all citizens of the region. This relationship has been cited as a national model and has fostered educational initiatives, cultural events and speakers, and extensive Native American educational resources for the campus and tribal communities.

The outdoor recreation opportunities the Mount Pleasant area offers through its Chippewa River, extensive city and county parks, and multiple area golf courses are a highlight of the region.

Dow Chemical Co., the world’s largest chemical company, is located in nearby Midland and supports significant local arts and educational endeavors.


Three Distinguishing Features of Ferris State University, Big Rapids

David Eisler, President

Ferris State University boasts the nation’s largest undergraduate Welding Engineering Technology program and well-respected Centers for Welding Excellence and Advanced Manufacturing. Both of these programs are part of College of Engineering Technology, which we believe is the largest college of engineering technology programs in the country. Our partnerships with business and industry span West Michigan and beyond, with our graduates highly sought after by manufacturers throughout the region and across the nation.

David Eisler
David Eisler

Since our acquisition in 2000 of Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, we have become intricately woven into the art and design world of Grand Rapids. Born out of the visionary spirit of those who built the city’s furniture industry, KCAD continues its strong leadership in art and design education.

A distinguishing feature of our region that garnering national accolades and attention is the University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. What began as a personal donation of 3,000 racist objects by faculty member Dr. David Pilgrim has grown to steward the nation’s largest public collection of racist memorabilia, now housing more than 12,000 artifacts. Designed to help visitors confront and challenge their views on race and relations, the museum has drawn worldwide attention and acclaim and continues the University’s founders’ vision of making the world a better place.


Three Distinguishing Features of Michigan Technological University, Houghton

Dr. Richard J. Koubek, President

The Keweenaw: Reaching into Lake Superior from the northernmost tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is the Keweenaw ("kee-win-awe") Peninsula. Home to hardwoods, sandstone cliffs, lake-effect snow and Michigan Technological University, the Keweenaw's beauty is unparalleled. Michigan Tech's Tech Trails and Recreational Forest spans 500 acres with 35 kilometers of trails, half of which is lighted during the winter months. Tech Trails has hosted U.S. and junior cross-country skiing championship races. Our epic summers are loved by Keweenaw stargazers and aurora borealis spotters.

Richard Koubek
Dr. Richard J. Koubek

Sisu: On the northernmost slice of Michigan, in the center of Lake Superior, is the site of America's first mining boom. Those who call the Copper Country home live on a foundation of independence, innovation, and tenacity. Ask a local about Copper Country culture, and you're likely to hear details of Cornish pasties and Finnish saunas. But they'll also tell you about a thing called sisu (sih-soo), a Finnish term that can't be fully translated. It's grit. Determination. Resilience. Perseverance. It's a form of courage that doesn't come and go. The miners and loggers of the 19th century built their community on sisu, and it remains our way of life today.

STEM Start-Up Incubator and Accelerator: Since it was formed in 2003 with funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) SmartZone has worked with hundreds of clients looking to form or grow technology companies. It recruits large- and medium-sized companies wanting to open satellite offices near Michigan Tech — a fertile source of interns and skilled graduates — while using cost-effective facilities within a vibrant community. Ideas blossom into business opportunities, including Neuvokas, a rebar innovator named for the Finnish word meaning "inventive and creative," and Craft Cultures, which propagates and cultivates indigenous Michigan bacterial strains for yeast used in beers and wines.

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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