Something called the Pure Michigan Talent Initiative is bringing in state university students by the busload to Muskegon and Grand Haven to encourage them to think about living and working here.
The program is not unlike something some of my Grand Valley State University students participated in just a week ago. “LiveWorkDetroit” is a program that brings college students into Detroit for a day to show them hip, urban housing options; recreational activities; and, of course, job opportunities in the Motor City. The idea is to show students you can actually live and work in Detroit, as opposed to getting shot or shooting badly lit rap videos.
The visits to Muskegon and Grand Haven on Friday are to show that our fair Lakeshore communities exist even when the beaches are not in prime summer season. Organizers will stress that some people actually live here year-round, and that there are jobs here.
I mentioned this as an example of travel or destination public relations to a class last week, and asked if any of them would consider working and living on the Lakeshore after graduation. There were several enthusiastic nods, although they were mostly from students who went to high school in the Tri-Cities.
But that is the lesson here. Most young people have an image in their minds about Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Muskegon and the Lakeshore of West Michigan as a whole. They see it as a vacation destination that is fine for a week in the summer, but otherwise not on their radar. Experience, and being shown-not-told about the area are what’s required to change some perceptions and open the possibilities for young people. That would be the point of Friday's event.
But the question is: What’s in it for those of us already here?
Well, if you pay attention to national news at all, you’ve probably read about things like the “Cool Cities” initiative, and the importance of recruiting and retaining “young talent,” also known as employees with the desired education and skills. Even as we read about high unemployment numbers, many employers are saying they have jobs available but aren’t getting applicants with the right skills. Many states, including Michigan, bemoan an investment in public colleges only to see students leave the state for jobs elsewhere. So, anything that can be done to attract recent college grads to jobs in the area will be a help to local employers.
But attracting young people to the area has other benefits as well. Young people not only improve local workforces, but they add to the vibrancy of the community as well. They buy starter homes, get married, have kids, and for all of the aforementioned add to the economic activity and tax base of our communities. I’ve also known many college students to be impressively civic-minded in terms of volunteerism and other ways of contributing to community.
I just hope a group of students visiting for only one day get a sense of what makes living along the Lakeshore an attractive option for their age group. Students tend to be drawn to urban settings and the bright lights of big cities. But I would suggest that small cities, not to mention villages and townships, can be “cool” as well. There’s more to life than major league sports and glittering nightlife. A low cost of living, uncongested traffic and our unique natural environmental assets should be a huge draw.
In the past month or so, national media have given the nod to West Michigan in several ways. Travel and Leisure magazine put Grand Haven on a list of “Best Secret Beaches on Earth,” right up there with exotic locations in Thailand and other parts of the globe. Forbes named Grand Rapids one of the “Best Cities for Raising a Family.” Graduating college students may be more concerned with beaches than families right now, but some are forward-looking enough to see the advantages.
So, if you see groups of young people eyeballing the facades of Washington Avenue or gazing at the horizon on the shore, tell them why you love to live here. It’ll be good for you and for them. Just tell them not to take my parking space by the beach or coffee shop.
By Tim Penning, Tribune community columnist. Penning’s columns and other thoughts can be read on his PierPoints blog: http://pierpoints.blogspot.com.