In Southeast Michigan, Keeping Young Talent in the State a Constant Challenge

If Ashley Hartmann had her way, the junior at the University of Michigan would leave the state after getting her degree.

“The job opportunities are horrendous in comparison to the rest of the nation,” Hartmann, a chemistry major, said at the MPowered Entrepreneurship career fair in the school’s student union last week.

Michigan has struggled to staunch the exodus of local talent. The state lags behind its neighbors in the percentage of college educated workers it retains, according to a 2008 report from Michigan Future Inc. – a non-profit organization that aims to push for a knowledge-based economy in the state.

The study, called “Young Talent in the Great Lakes: How Michigan is Faring,” found that 11.2 percent of Michigan households are young professionals compared to 16.6 percent and 15.6 percent in nearby Illinois and Minnesota respectively.

MPowered president Ankit Mehta, a junior at U-M, says he hopes events like the career fair will provide students like Hartmann with job opportunities and to keep them from fleeing the state after graduation. Unlike most campus employment events, which feature company representatives flown in from New York and Boston, almost all of the more than 90 companies at last week’s fair are based in Michigan.

“Companies come to the career fair because they are looking to hire students and they are looking to hire full time employees and there’s so much talent and so many people that want to stay in Michigan,” Mehta says. “How to connect the two, that’s where the career fair comes in.”

Doug Neal, the director of U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship says students often feel they need to leave home because they believe Michigan lacks job opportunities.

The students may be right. Michigan’s unemployment rate stands at 11.7 percent, far worse than the 9.8 percent for the rest of the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Sometimes it’s just lack of awareness of the opportunities that might be around them,” Neal says, “and sometimes there are not as many opportunities as we would like.”

The skepticism cuts both ways. Skip Simms, the interim president of Spark, an economic development organization based in Ann Arbor, MI, says local startups and other potential employers believe Michigan lacks talent. As a result, the companies … Next Page »

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Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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One response to “In Southeast Michigan, Keeping Young Talent in the State a Constant Challenge”

  1. California Dreaming

    Although it’s been three decades since I entered the job market I understand that there are more than employment factors at play with young professionals. In the early 1980s the local economy was in a Depression, not a recession, but I was fortunate to have a great job as a Production and Inventory Control Manager while I worked toward my Business degree. But I didn’t want anything to do with industries based on iron and coal. I wanted to be part of the future and it didn’t seem to exist in Michigan. So, at the age of 23 I moved to California and spent six years trying to realize my California dream – before returning to Michigan after working from Palm Springs to Portland, Oregon.

    Michigan is rich with sexy tech and future oriented firms compared to thirty years ago, and while the older industries still power much of the state, the evolution is underway to balance our job base. But California Dreaming still pulls us away, at least temporarily until we learn the other regions are also suffering what ails Michigan. In 2008, after completing projects for Blue Cross Blue Shield, I was lured away to Phoenix, Arizona believing that their job market had to be better than ours – it was, and remains worse.

    So I’m back in Michigan, where my professional experiences and education are appreciated. In both California and Arizona I found that potential employers had difficulty relating my Michigan experiences to their markets, even if the roles were similar. In Arizona especially, I found that “local” candidates generally trumped new arrivals. Everyone knows someone who desperately needs a job.

    There are only two regions that could lure me away – The Pacific Northwest and Louisiana. Why? Because they are so much like Michigan in terms of natural beauty. Not all California Dreams are pleasant, some are nightmares. Yet youth will always need to venture forth and explore the world, at least for a while.