The topic at today’s noon time lunch at the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference is “Attracting and Retaining Today’s Millennial Generation.” The preview executive paper goes over some of the main talking points. More than a demographic term for those born between 1980-2000, the MG is also a term for the highly desirable demographic that Richard Florida first identified as “the Creative Class” — the same group pursued in the Governor’s Cool Cities program, or the rise of the Grand Rapids Avenue of the Arts.
They’re young, educated and mobile. And if West Michigan is to join the global economy, it will need plenty of them. The survey of Michigan college graduates reports that 53 percent first consider the place they want to live, then found the job.
Well at least we have something to offer here. Dan Scripps has already noted the importance of tourism for our region. The redevelopment of urban Grand Rapids is another draw. But is this enough?
But it is not the desire to move, or even their techno-savvy that poses the problem. Commonly reported (surveyed) characteristics of this rising generation include being:
- success driven
- global, civic and community-minded
- collaborative, resourceful and innovative
- flexible and adaptive
In short, who wouldn’t want these in their cities? What stands in the way?
Or to put a name on it: Jack Hoogendyk.
At the same time the region looks forward to attract the talent and create the new businesses for a global economy, it struggles with a backwards-looking politics. His English as official language, his die-hard anti-tax posture, his traditional values profile (one man/one woman) push away the Millennial Generation. Jack’s not alone. Those in West Michigan recognize his positions. In fact, we can name plenty of others who hold much the same views.
But such views place the region at risk.
The culture conservatism that comes so naturally, that has propelled so many victories, is a snare. It imagines we can have the fruit of globalization without the cost, that is it still clings to the fading image of industrial leadership. Wrapping up our communities in this politics of nostalgia is a recipe for mediocrity, a settling for mediocre cities, mediocre schools. It’s future is one that is older and poorer (and one where the kids definitely move away).
For the Millennials, Hoogendyk’s positions (and those of others) invites them, in effect, to move back in with the folks.
The positioning of Michigan (and especially West Michigan) for a global economy, will therefore require attention to who runs for office. This is a challenge for both sides. The stakes are high. To have the political leadershp that helps the region and the state transition to new opportunities will require individuals with a broader, more engaged vision.
For the Dems out of power, it will mean finding and schooling candidates in broader issues. The failure to do so will cede the issues of community leadership to the other side, and so ensure they remain on the sidelines. To embrace the new economy, to provide the leadership correspondingly points a way out of the political wilderness and its old cultural battles.