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Want to know why Michigan's future depends so heavily on the success of Detroit? The following article is reprinted from the March/April issue of The Review magazine. Once you've read it, you'll understand why Detroit was the perfect place for the League's 2013 Convention.

Detroit Matters

By Colleen Layton

After a decade of decline, Michigan’s economy is finally showing glimmers of recovery. But the state’s continued growth and strength depend heavily on the economic success of Detroit and its metropolitan area—home to nearly half of Michigan’s populace.
Whether we live in a rural community nestled in northern Michigan, a village tucked in the UP, or a midsized city along the I-75 corridor, Detroit’s future will have significant impact on each and every one of us and the places we call home. Detroit matters to Michigan’s economic viability and prosperity. 

Metros and Economicsriverwalk
According to Lou Glazer, president and CEO of Michigan Future, Inc., extensive research shows that across the country, when big metros suffer so does the rest of the state. Almost all highly prosperous states have big metropolitan areas with even higher capital income. Glazer goes on to say, “Economies are regional. States and municipalities are political jurisdictions, they are not economic units. State economies can best be understood as the sum of their regional economies.” (Michigan’s Transition to a Knowledge-Based Economy: The Fifth Annual Report, Michigan Future, Inc.) Multiple regional economies exist throughout Michigan, but metropolitan Detroit is the state’s largest regional center of commerce and culture.

Michigan’s economy has always been driven by its auto industry—and will continue to be, although in leaner and smarter ways. But the need for a more diversified economy is paramount to restoring Michigan to a healthy, growing economy. Glazer’s research illustrates that big metropolitan areas are where knowledge-based industries and college educated adults have concentrated. They create an environment for creativity and entrepreneurial activity. 

A 2011 USA Today survey showed that in more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities, the number of young college graduates grew twice as fast within three miles of the urban center as in the rest of the metropolitan area—up an average 26 percent compared with 13 percent in other parts. In 2000, young adults with a four-year degree were about 61 percent more likely to live in close-in urban neighborhoods than their less-educated counterparts. Now, they are about 94 percent more likely. It is this clustering of talent that leads to innovation, which in turn leads to jobs and economic growth. Although it still has a long way to go, Detroit is seeing this trend as well. Despite a population shrinkage of 25 percent since 2000, the good news is that downtown added 2,000 young, educated residents during this time, up 59 percent (Census data by Impresa Inc.). 

Great Places = Talent = Jobs = Economic Growthd hive
Transitioning from an industrial-based economy to a knowledge-based economy requires a more educated work force (talent). In a global economy where technology allows people to work anywhere, a CEOs for Cities survey shows that two thirds of college graduates choose where they want to live first, then they find a job. This is a transformative approach from a generation ago, when people followed the jobs. 

Michigan, with its offering of world-class higher learning institutions, has always been able to attract students from around the globe. Yet, upon graduation, we experience an alarming brain drain, losing almost half of these students to places like Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis. Why? These young graduates are seeking places that provide high density living, vibrant and walkable downtowns, arts and entertainment, and transit options. They are not finding those things in Detroit. And research shows that we lose them for good. Anecdotally, we all know young families who have moved back to their home towns, but that is more the exception than the norm. They tend to settle down and move to the suburbs of the city where they have been living. They now become invested in their new home state, raise families, start and grow jobs, vacation, purchase second homes, etc.  We have to figure a way to keep them and attract young new talent. Glazer says, “Unless we get a lot smarter, we’re going to get a lot poorer.”

What We Can Dodetroit scene
There has been no shortage of articles, documentary films, commentaries, blogs, photos, and opinions on Detroit over the past few years. Two tales of a city are being told—one that still struggles mightily and one that is showing amazing signs of resilience and potential. Despite being the poster child for one of the worst economic declines in the last decade, there is hope and much to learn from Detroit.  While honoring its rich past, it is a city on the move. Passionate leaders from business, the non-profit and philanthropic worlds, entrepreneurs and individuals are coming together to create, innovate, (and sometimes fail), and are already making a difference. 

Get engaged in this conversation and committed on some level to Detroit’s success. It’s important that we all stay up-to-date and informed of its progress, challenges, successes, failures, etc. Make a visit to Detroit and witness firsthand all that the city has to offer. Become part of the narrative and the solution.  Michigan’s economy, our livelihoods and quality of life depend on it. 

Follow Detroit’s Story:

D:Hive –
Detroit Unspun –
Dig Downtown Detroit –
Hour Detroit -
Michigan Future Inc –
Model D –
Positive Detroit –

Colleen Layton is director of policy development for the League. You may reach her at 734-669-6320 or

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