Michigan listened first to attract STEAM professionals with "Choose Michigan"

At the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED) announced an energetic campaign to attract regional graduates in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) to take a good look at Michigan when choosing where to begin their careers.

But first, they listened. Because only by listening to the misperceptions that exist about Michigan as a worthy place to grow a career could the TED team begin to flip the script.

A full one-third of millennials have no perception of Michigan. "Think about that,” says Roger Curtis, TED director. “There’s a huge vacuum of knowledge with these folks, but that’s not a bad thing.” Curtis and his team knew from their research they had work to do to forge positive images of Michigan into these young minds.

At an early morning session called Upping Michgian’s Talent Game: Attracting and Retaining STEM Professionals, Curtis outlined Choose Michigan, a multi-platform campaign, initially targeted to college students and recent graduates from Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Madison. These locations were chosen because they are in nearby time zones, have similar climates, and boast top-25 state STEAM universities.

Through Instagram, LinkedIn, video, and Snapchat, the message will be clear: Michigan has natural beauty, immersive things to do, culture, diversity, and high-tech jobs. Lots of high-tech jobs. In fact, by 2024, Curtis shared, there will be 800,000 high-wage, high-demand jobs in tech fields.

And the economies that can capture the talent will be those that grow. “Talent is the new currency in economic development,” says Curtis

Listening first

Last fall, TED spent a day with 16 young STEM professionals who are not native to Michigan to learn why they chose Michigan, and how their experiences have overturned their initial perceptions of the state. Through Project 480, individuals from Cleveland, Shanghai, Mexico City, Miami, and other locations shared that, overwhelmingly, they were pleasantly surprised by Michigan’s relatively low cost of living, natural beauty, art, and cool stuff to do.

A common theme for these millennials was impact. “Millennials are driven and passionate and want to leave a positive legacy on society. They want to be a big fish in a small pond,” says Curtis, adding that this desire equates to a strong need for work-life balance.

“Other cities are not focusing on work-life balance at all,” Curtis says. “We all need to educate the audience on what the opportunities are. They don’t know what unique high-tech jobs are here. And we need to help them resonate with the uniqueness of Michigan.”

And, because millennials connect more strongly with their peers than they do with more seasoned individuals, Choose Michigan is building out a “sherpa program” with young volunteers willing to share their experiences of living and working here.

Just one slice of the attraction-retention pie

Choose Michigan is a strong springboard, but the entire campaign is designed to be a partnership with other interested parties. The Choose Michigan landing page is purpose-designed to connect potential Michigan STEAM workers with cities, industries, and employers. This means stakeholders wishing to highlight what they have to offer should be proactive and partner with TED to help spread their own talent attraction and economic development campaigns. Curtis points to a strong partnership with Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation.

Employers, take heed. Research showed that 36 percent of Michigan’s STEM grads exit the state for jobs elsewhere. Of those, 41 percent report looking for employment in Michigan, yet found jobs more quickly in other states. And pay is still an issue.

“Wages are still important,” says Curtis. “We highlight the low cost of living, but we do have to be selective about that.”

Some great news about the 16 young professionals from Project 480?

Fifteen of those millennials have since had the opportunity to move on to someplace else, and they chose to stay in Michigan,” Curtis says. “They fell in love with Michigan.”
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