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Keeping young people in Michigan

March 6, 2015

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Michigan is one of many states trying to keep millennials from leaving after they graduate from college. Reynolds Politics and Money columnist Rick Haglund covers politics in Michigan, where Millennials and Money columnist Rian Bosse attended college in Grand Rapids. Bosse looked for a job there, but wound up leaving after school.

In the first of a two-part series, the pair discuss what’s happening in Michigan and the state’s attempt to hold on to this young demographic.

Politics and Money columnist Rick Haglund


Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the so-called “brain drain” of young people because a severe, decade-long downturn in the auto industry forced thousands to flee to other states in search of jobs. The auto industry has recovered and the state’s economy is growing again, but Michigan is still experiencing a net migration loss of college graduates age 22 to 34. That’s a highly coveted demographic.

You’ve spent some time living in Michigan, Rian. What was your view of the climate there for millennials?

Millennials and Money columnist Rian Bosse
Millennials and Money columnist Rian Bosse


Unfortunately, the state wasn’t the best place for college graduates, but that was true of a lot of places when I graduated in 2012. I have friends in Michigan working at bakeries, breweries or at random desk jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees and don’t pay that well.

That’s why I left the state and went home to Minnesota. I don’t think my story is that uncommon for most young people in the Great Lakes State either, though I have plenty of other friends who took wonderful jobs.

The state does, however, have a lot to offer young people. Grand Rapids, for instance, has become a really neat place to live. It has one of the coolest art contests in the country, ArtPrize, that turns the entire downtown into an art exhibit three weeks a year, a lot of local breweries and endless natural beauty.

My generation is certainly happy to work less-than-attractive jobs if we can enjoy our lives away from work and everyone I know who lives there really takes a lot of pride in their state. So I think, outside of the job market, Michigan is actually an attractive place for young people to live.

Rick, what is the state doing, if anything, to turn things around economically for young people? It definitely has its advantages and attractions that draw millennials, so what will Michigan do to keep us there?


State government has been focusing on connecting job seekers to available jobs. The Pure Michigan Talent Connect website currently has more than 90,000 jobs posted by employers. Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed an executive order combining economic development and talent retention and attraction into a new Department of Talent and Economic Development. But the state’s efforts have been narrowly focused on trying to steer young people into jobs that are currently in demand, including welding, machining, construction and health care.

There has been relatively little effort on the state level in trying to retain and attract millennials with four-year degrees or higher. One of Michigan’s problems is that the auto industry dominates the state economy and many millennials don’t see a lot of opportunity here outside the industry. Do you see that as a problem as well, Rian?


It’s difficult to say. Of course, I think it’s important for states to attract millennials with job opportunities. To me, that should their priority in building for the future. If there is demand in careers that are outside the typical four-year degree tract, the state should promote this to young people.

I’ll be the first to admit, however, that people in my generation who earned a college degree thinking they were going to have a desk job with benefits might not be too excited about working construction. That might be why, as you mention, so many millennials don’t see a lot of opportunities in Michigan. The state is so associated with the auto industry and, well, that industry hasn’t performed very well in my lifetime (at least in my teenage to young-adult years).

I think things are changing for my generation, however. As I mentioned before, millennials aren’t afraid to work. A job is a job, especially if it pays well. Careers in welding, machining and construction — careers that typically only require an associates degree — are already becoming more popular with my generation. Not only do they offer some security as well as solid pay, but careers that allow you to work with your hands seem a little more meaningful to us.

Next, Rian and Rick discuss millennial politics and its impact on Michigan’s economy. 

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