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Why would young people move to Michigan? Whitmer panel explores options

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sitting down in a panel
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (middle) attends a roundtable Monday in Grand Rapids to discuss what it would take to keep young talents in Michigan. (Bridge photo by Yue Stella Yu)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan must get serious about growing its population
  • A panel of young workers cited Michigan’s affordable housing, social life and lakes as draws
  • Winters and access to child care remain a challenge

GRAND RAPIDS — Access to lakes, a low cost of living and diverse job opportunities may help Michigan retain and attract young workers, according to a Monday roundtable discussion spearheaded by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The discussion featured a mix of panelists in their late 20s to 30s who work in Grand Rapids, including several Michigan natives and others who moved to Grand Rapids from out of state, such as New Jersey, Texas and New York. 


Whitmer and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, were among the speakers. 


The roundtable is the first of several events Whitmer is hosting to address the state’s population crisis. The state has lost 43,200 residents from 2020 to 2022, with residents moving to Florida, North Carolina and Texas, among other states, Census estimates show.

Since 1990, Michigan has ranked 49th among states for population growth.

The governor kicked off the roundtable sessions after announcing her plan — titled “Make it in Michigan” — last month during the Mackinac Policy Conference. That week, she also formed a 28-member “Growing Michigan Together Council” made of business, labor and education leaders to grow population.

To bring in young talents, some panelists on Monday said the state must offer a variety of jobs other than auto-industry jobs. 

“What else do we really have to offer besides (being) a leader in cars?” said Josh Burd, a 29-year-old software engineering student in Grand Rapids.

Gen Z workers also have a different mindset and may hop from company to company throughout their career, said David Green, director of communications at the city of Grand Rapids. He said he moved to Michigan in 2020 from Austin, Texas. 

“As you grow in your career, you start to take on … higher-level positions, you are not forced to move to a whole new community to get that next promotion,” he said. “You can do it in that same area or region.”

Several panelists also cited the affordability of Grand Rapids as reasons they chose to remain. Michigan ranks 48th in median home sales price, Bridge previously reported. The state’s median home price of $267,000 puts it just above Ohio and West Virginia.

Additionally, some speakers Monday argued that, although the winter in Michigan may make the state less desirable, the proximity to the Great Lakes could be a big draw. 

Leanna Pelham, 37, said she and her husband moved from Nashville, Tennessee, to Michigan in part because of the variety of water activities in the state.


But Pelham, who said she has a 6-year-old son, said the lack of child care resources in Grand Rapids is a challenge. 

“The volume of child care in Grand Rapids doesn’t exactly fit the need quite yet, which is a difficult thing when you are a young professional working remotely or in person for a company … not having anywhere to take the kids to,” she said.

Brinks told reporters Monday her children — ages 22, 24 and 26 — have left the state for work reasons and are still “roaming.” Among the things they are considering, Brinks said, are affordable housing options, social activities and educational offers. 

Whitmer said Michigan “is on the right track” to attract talents but “we definitely got some good work to do.”

“This work will not be done (within) three and a half years,” she said, referring to the rest of her term as governor.

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