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Mich. sees `cool' as key to attracting young professionals

Governor seeks to stop exodus of `creative class'

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Governor Jennifer Granholm has a plan to halt the exodus of the Michigan's young professionals: Be cool.

As thousands of recent college graduates flee Michigan in favor of cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Austin, Granholm, 44, is on a mission to keep the next generation of young professionals from leaving.

Her strategy is to shower young spenders with high tech career opportunities, and provide cultural events and trendy spots. She has already asked the leaders of more than 200 cities to explore ways to make their communities more attractive to young professionals.

It is an "economic imperative" for Michigan to keep its technologically savvy residents -- and their wallets -- at home, says Granholm spokeswoman Genna Gent. "For Michigan, we see it as critical that we are seen as a place where young entrepreneurs, young workers, and young families want to settle and open a business and create new jobs," Gent said.

With US census figures showing that more than 33,000 young adults fled cities in Southeast Michigan -- which is home to Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Royal Oak, and other key population centers -- between 2000 and 2002, state leaders are looking within their communities to provide reasons for people to stay.

"We are saying to them, `What does the welcome mat for young entrepreneurs and professionals in Michigan look like?,' " Gent said. "We've heard from a lot of mayors that an overwhelming number of young people are saying, `We care about Michigan and we want to stay and help.' "

In September, Granholm asked mayors of more than 200 cities to look for ways to attract young talent. Thirty of those mayors were asked to select a representative to serve on a statewide panel to advise state leaders. Granholm plans to hold university town hall meetings to discuss ideas with students while reviewing advice from the panel. Results from the panel are expected to be announced in December.

The fight to keep young professionals in the state begins at the college level, says Daniel J. Hurley, director of university relations and administrative services for The Presidents Council, which represents leaders of Michigan's state-funded universities.

"We really believe our state universities are the anchors of Michigan's hip and cool cities," Hurley said. "If you were to look at what cities in Michigan would be considered `cool cities,' it is the cities where our universities are and where our high tech companies are."

Creating high-tech clusters near university towns and building partnerships with the colleges will help retention, Hurley said.

"There are certainly the arts and culture and shopping and cuisine and entertainment aspect especially within universities that is attractive," he said.

One Michigan city known for its culture is Ann Arbor, the home of University of Michigan. Mayor John Hieftje said his city offers a model for other cities follow in their quests to become cool.

"Ann Arbor thrives on its ability to attract young professionals because we are a research and development community," Hieftje said.

Of equal importance to the city is its parks and vibrant downtown, which features music and theater to keep young people out and spending money.

A strong culture with a distinct music scene and artist sense is what gives successful cities that "cool" feel, says Rod Frantz, the president of the Richard Florida Creativity Group, an organization that advises communities in becoming more attractive places. Many cities nationwide, such as Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and San Diego, have intensified efforts to address the need for attracting and keeping young talent home. Michigan is among the first to design statewide "cool cities" plans, Frantz said.

"There are a lot of cities addressing it," said Franz, who works with Richard Florida, the author of the book "The Rise of the Creative Class."

In Cincinnati, leaders are working to improve living conditions and provide better public transportation and cultural amenities for young people, said Shawn Mummert, the chairman of Cincinnati Tomorrow, an organization designed to promote creativity.

In designing plans to keep young talent in town, officials must keep costs down to allow a cross-section of people to live in the community, said Mummert, 29, a business and technology consultant. "Creative people don't make that much money," Mummert said. "The danger is that you envision a city or metropolitan area that has a huge number of affluent people, but is lacking in the artists that make an area pleasurable to live in."

"When people have the ability to choose where they want to live, they'll go to Austin and Boston and San Francisco -- if you make a lot of money," Mummert said. "Now that we are still in a labor recession, people are moving here for opportunities and they've stayed. "But are they happy? Will they stick around? Those are some of the steps we are taking to hopefully keep them and draw more people."

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