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Opinion | Michigan must work together to expand our population

Our communities are only at their best when all of our neighbors are supported with a clear path toward a better, healthier life. 

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Kelli Dobner is chief strategy officer at Samaritas, a nonprofit serving thousands throughout Michigan, including refugees, children in foster care, people struggling with addiction and those in need of affordable housing.

Since Michigan’s population challenges were fully understood earlier this year — with goals ranging from affordable housing and critical healthcare systems to forward-thinking immigration policies and workforce training programs — our state has been abuzz with ideas and those capable of implementing them stepping up to the plate. Yet, amid this flurry of well-intentioned efforts, a crucial element is missing — a truly unified, strategic approach to a “Michigan Moonshot.”

As we head into 2024, transformative growth can only be realized if policymakers, nonprofit organizations, businesses and community leaders converge toward a common goal, backed by collaboration and strategy, that truly and boldly sets our state apart. 

Driving Population Growth with Intention

As a state, we must work together to ensure that population growth efforts remain purposeful and inclusive. We need policies that not only attract new residents from Midwest states and beyond but also retain those who already call Michigan home. 

This requires a concerted focus on creating opportunities with major employers, startups and Main Street businesses that appeal to a diverse array of individuals beyond just new college graduates, including families and retirees. According to the U.S. Census, Michigan’s percentage of non-native residents trails all but Louisiana. With that in mind, the Growing Michigan Together Council recently shared its goal to make Michigan a top-10 state for population growth by 2050, which only reinforces that there’s much work to be done before our state sits atop the leaderboard.

Creating Affordable Housing Opportunities for All

If we are going to grow, a statewide affordable housing plan is paramount to our success as a state, and that stake is in the ground with our MSHDA-led Statewide Regional Housing Plan. Too many families already struggle to afford housing. Across Michigan, we need to create spaces where families of all sizes, income levels and situations can call home. This may require moving funding, removing restrictions and rewriting policy. However, this is not just a matter of equity but economic wisdom, providing the stability that allows individuals to contribute effectively to our communities.

Expanding Innovative Immigration Policies 

Michigan serves as a welcoming home for immigrants to create their own American Dream, making this an even better place to live. We have seen the successes of our resettled refugees, who quickly become self-sufficient and assimilate to their new country and environment. Our new neighbors are opening businesses, securing jobs, sending their kids to school and adding value to our communities. 

Our approach to immigration must be forward-thinking, welcoming individuals who bring a wealth of skills and perspectives to our state. Coupled with robust workforce development programs, we can create a dynamic, skilled labor force ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s economy.

Providing Comprehensive Health and Human Services

The health and well-being of Michiganders is the foundation of a prosperous state. In 2024, that means continuing to invest in comprehensive health and human services that support not just the physical, but also the mental and emotional well-being of all who call Michigan their home. This includes access to key services, preventative measures and long-term, multi-level systems of support, whether it is to improve a child’s behavioral health or treat a neighbor for substance use disorder. 

To policymakers, I urge you to think now about Michigan’s needs, its communities and its people – not just today, but well into the future. These issues are not separate silos but interconnected components of a larger vision. To my fellow nonprofit leaders, let’s collaborate more closely, sharing resources and insights. To businesses, continue to invest in your communities, understanding that your growth and success is intertwined with our shared prosperity. And to all residents, please support these initiatives, for they shape the future of our state.

Only by working together, can we transform Michigan into a beacon of opportunity and well-being, a rising state that not only attracts but nurtures and retains a thriving population. Only as a collective can our efforts create a landscape where affordable housing, quality health services and a flourishing economy are a reality for all.

Working collaboratively to become the state that everyone wants to call home is our Michigan Moonshot. So let’s be ready for liftoff in 2024.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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