Mar 17, 2023 - News

Why they left: How does Michigan keep its talent?

Illustration of a briefcase combined with an emergency exit sign

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

What would Michigan look like today if your college friends never left?

  • Asking Twitter that question this week led to some fascinating responses from friends, lawmakers, expats and new residents.

Why it matters: Michigan's population declined for the second consecutive year in 2022, and while we've got plenty of baby boomers, the amount of people between 25-44 years old is lagging behind other states, census data shows.

  • But Michigan is still the country's 10th most populous state, and business leaders, college administrators and lawmakers are all saying we need more residents to compete with opportunities available elsewhere.
  • How Michigan attracts new people while also keeping graduates in state amid the post-pandemic workplace environment is one of the biggest questions of the decade.

State of play: Retaining new graduates is also one of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's second-term priorities.

  • "Ambitious young people have a lot of options when they graduate. As they decide where they want to live, we must make sure that Michigan is the answer," she said in her State of the State speech earlier this year.

Details: Most people responded to our question with solutions like a more diverse job market, affordable housing, competitive wages and better public transportation.

Zoom in: Kayla Battle moved to Brooklyn, New York, to work for a design firm after graduating from Western Michigan in 2019 with a graphic design degree.

  • She says she'd consider moving back one day, if the state grew a more robust job market.

What they're saying: "I didn't feel like I was going to have a lot of options in the types of companies that I could work for in my field when I graduated — and it was definitely encouraged to get out of the city," Battle, a Renaissance High School graduate, tells Axios.

  • "When I was in high school I remember a lot of my teachers advocating for that, saying 'You need to get out of the city and see life outside of whatever Detroit is,' like that was a big thing."
  • "Detroit is a totally different place than when I grew up there in the pits of a recession," Battle says. "I grew up in a food desert, we didn't have grocery stores in the city. I think about those people who don't have a car — how are these people eating? The nearest grocery store to us that you could get to without a car barely sold fresh produce."

📥 We want to hear from you for this recurring series on how the state can keep its top talent and attract more.

  • Why did you or your loved one leave, return or stay in the mitten?
  • Email [email protected].

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