Why I Left Michigan, But Will (Probably) Come Back
Michigan is truly a special place to live. It is home to beautiful summers, amazing golf courses, distinguished philanthropic organizations, and of course thousands of lakes that provide indescribable pleasures.
But Michigan is also known for the nation’s highest unemployment rate, frigid winters, the worst franchise in NFL history, and a crime rate that gives Detroit and Flint the distinction of being two of the most dangerous cities in America.
Which begs the question; is there any reason why young people should pledge allegiance to the Wolverine state?
As a recent college graduate, I anticipated entering the Michigan workforce after graduation. And I did.
Sadly though, it was a 20-hour a week job at Jimmy John’s. Not exactly what you hope for after taking out $25,000 in student loans.
Although the result of my education didn’t end up in a full-time position, the perspective I gained while enrolled at Aquinas College showed me that real education is not always learned in a classroom, but rather through experiences.
As a Saint, I welcomed incoming freshmen as an orientation leader, wrote for the school newspaper, served on the student senate, held several internships, and even lived in Chicago for a semester. Like anyone who experienced similar endeavors, I thought I would be a shoe-in for a job after graduation.
But I soon realized that the same old routine was getting repetitive. The job opportunities that arose were unrelated to my interests (eventually I would get turned down from over 10 employers), and the growing feeling that the real world was passing me by — out there, somewhere else — all aided in my increasing willingness to move on.
Although many of my college friends came to Grand Rapids from Lansing, Muskegon, and suburban Detroit, I was a lifelong Rapidian and was looking for any way out.
After several unsuccessful months of job hunting, I decided to apply to graduate school. I always enjoyed class and would describe myself as an academic. But I knew it wasn’t going to be in Michigan. The degree I wanted to obtain just wasn’t offered. So I looked elsewhere.
My pursuits led me to schools that ranged from California to Illinois. I was accepted to several but ultimately decided on Loyola University Chicago.
Although educational issues aided in my decision to depart from Michigan, anecdotal evidence suggests that twentysomethings are leaving for other reasons. Most notably, unemployment.
Responding to the shifts in attitude among young people, the state of Michigan started producing “Pure Michigan” commercials with the help of native sons Tim Allen and Jeff Daniels. The commercials are intended to boast what is “magical, unspoiled, timeless and true about the state.” The results have, surprisingly, shown an increase in tourism and a heightened interest, among young people, to stay in Michigan.
Reciprocity, it seems, is the tool which many politicians, business owners, and community organizers are marketing to young people in order to get them to stay. But, again, do we actually owe anything to the state in which we reside?
Perhaps an appropriate example would be to examine the choices made by the aforementioned spokespersons.
Tim Allen pursued his dreams of being an actor and comedian by leaving Michigan, as did Jeff Daniels. Granted they have since returned and done much good for the state. But it stands to reason that those who have talent and aspirations of a career that isn’t attainable in Michigan should look elsewhere.
Of course leaving for a short period of time isn’t a bad thing. The real problem, for Michigan, lies in its inability to draw is constituents back. Policy makers need to hold court over how to entice these people to invest in their home state; one way they can do that is through the promotion of non profits.
As stated in the first paragraph, one of the most distinguishable traits Michigan has is its generosity.
According to the Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan has 2,521 nonprofit foundations with assets totaling $23.6 billion. While total giving is around $1.4 billion. Ranking Michigan 6th and 8th nationally in total assets and giving, respectively.
Impressive, for a state that, in 2007, had a per capital real GDP that was 14 percent below the national average.
But nonprofit organizations can’t be the only solution.
Historically, Michigan has been recognized as a manufacturing state. With furniture, automobiles, and manufacturing being its bread and butter. But the collapse of GM and Ford, along with the rest of the rust belt, has only advanced the disappearance of jobs.
It is my contention that, culturally, Michigan – especially the Midwest – is at least a year behind the rest of the country. Somewhere over the past 20 years, Michiganders grew complacent with their lifestyles, while other states chose to adapt.
Perhaps it’s generational.
But perhaps it isn’t.
The entrepreneurial spirit that Dan Redford advocates for in his article The Great Job Myth is exactly what Michigan is lacking. We need to reinvigorate the Michigan economy by applying different, not the same, principles than the older generation.
Examples of such principles have popped up over the past several months.
Wind energy, GM’s electric vehicle, and Grand Rapid’s Medical Mile are only a few of the investments where Michiganders are seeing positive, economic, results.
But, like other states, problems like rising tuition fees, increasing costs of living, and affordable health care also need to be addressed. These are the issues our legislators need to fix in order to retain not only young people, but the aging population as well.
When and if that happens, I’ll be back.
Michigan, you can count on me.
Stephen Kokx is a 2009 graduate of Aquinas College, where he studied Accounting and Sustainable Business. He is currently enrolled at Loyola University Chicago and will graduate with a M.A. in Social Justice and Community Development in 2011. Stephen regularly updates his blog and contributes freelance work to various Internet-based news magazines. Follow Stephen on Twitter.
- The New Age of Education: We Need It (January 25, 2010)
- The Mitten: One Size Fits Most? (December 14, 2009)
- Rethinking ‘Talent Retention’ (December 7, 2009)
- The Great Job Myth (December 22, 2009)
- My Fulfilling Life in Michigan (November 30, 2009)