The idea that no one would ever think of moving to Michigan because our economy is an utter wreck has, sadly, seeped into the pores of our body politic. It's almost beyond debate now that we can't sell Michigan to those who don't live here.
I'm still not buying the argument. And my reasons rest in North Dakota and Wyoming. These are two northern states (so we can take the whole "no one would live with these winters" argument off the table) that have done quite well economically, compared to the rest of the nation, in recent years.
The jobless rate in Wyoming has been consistently below the national rate since 2001 and is now more than 3 percentage points below it (5.8 percent vs. 9.1 percent) and essentially half of Michigan's rate.
North Dakota's jobless rate is even smaller (3.5 percent) and has been near that level for a decade.
In the 1980 census, Wyoming had 469,000 people. In 2000, about 494,000. In 2010, 563,000. By percentage that's a healthy gain ... by raw numbers, not so much. That's about 70,000 people over a decade in net growth -- 7,000 per year.
In 1980 census, ND had 652,000 residents. In 2000, 642,000. In 2010, 673,000. A decent gain by percentage, but again not much in the raw numbers -- about 31,000 in 10 years.
So, in the last decade, while Michigan became an impossible sale to new residents because of economic troubles, a grand total of 100,000 people moved to two northern states that consistently posted among the lowest unemployment figures in the country. Why haven't they drawn more?
One point: They don't have cities.
The two biggest cities in Wyoming (Casper and Cheyenne) are roughly the size of Lansing -- if you combine them.
North Dakota is a little more urban: Fargo tops out at 105,000 and Bismarck exceeds 60,000.
However, neither state has anything near a metro such as Grand Rapids or Lansing, much less anything of the magnitude of Detroit.
And, as demographer Richard Florida and others argue, cities are the economic engines that matter -- the places that generate opportunities and attract talent.
Even with all of Michigan's struggles, the state is almost uniquely equipped with assets for progress in coming years -- if citizens and leaders alike are wise in protecting them.
Michigan has one major metro area and several medium-sized ones. An economic future based on urbanization is one in which Michigan can thrive.
Michigan has wilderness, water, natural resources and a temperate climate -- all key ingredients for quality of life. Check out what the temperature and aquifer trends have been like in, oh, Dallas or Atlanta for the last 20 years and tell me how inviting they'll be five or 10 years from now.
Our state has gone through a wrenching transition in the last decade, the effects of which are still being felt. Michigan will not progress without wise and thoughtful action by its citizens and its leadership.
But Michigan is in a far better position than we may realize.