by Garth Christie
A few weeks ago Town Hall said good-bye (for now) to one of our community’s best and brightest young citizens, Molly McKellar. Four years ago, Molly was our second Youth Trustee and chair of the Youth Commission as a 16yr old R. U. Panther. She just completed an internship in Supervisor Handy’s office and is back finishing her degree at Albion College. However, after she graduates, where will she begin her career and start her family? Conversations with Molly and our current crop of Youth Commissioners raise serious questions about retaining our best and brightest young citizens in Southeast Michigan.
The situation in our region is dire. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) reported that Wayne County lost over 24,000 people in 2006 and over 44,000 residents in 2007. These losses are largely attributed to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the auto industry. The bleak prospects of the Big Three not only deter young people from moving here but also encourage young college educated Michiganders to leave.
Too many Youth Commissioners tell me that after college, they plan to move to Chicago. Chicago offers hope, growth and jobs and is only a short train ride away so they can still visit Mom and Dad. A recent Detroit Free Press study confirmed what the Youth Commissioners told me. Two-thirds of this years graduates from Wayne State, U of M, and MSU plan on leaving the state after graduation.
Young citizens are the most mobile in our society. In 1999, over one third of citizens 20-29 years old moved and over 20% of 30-34 year olds moved. Competition between companies and communities to attract these highly educated citizens is fierce because if we do not get younger and better educated we will get poorer. If we continue to age faster than the rest of the nation we will have a labor shortage within a decade. Education is the most reliable predictor of prosperity. Consequently, the goal for municipalities and our region is to meet the needs of an aging population while at the same time retain and attract younger educated citizens.
To accomplish this goal we must have communities where young citizens want to live. These citizens are not attracted to cities because they call themselves “cool” and governing by pop slogans has never been effective. Instead, these citizens are attracted by safe, clean, diverse communities with ample opportunities for entertainment and recreation. In this regard, Redford Township has done a lot of things right.
We have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in our industrial corridor which led to hundreds of jobs and funds for road paving. We responded to the recreation needs of young families with programs and construction of a splash park. We are proud to be part of a mass transit system that connects us with the entire region. Our efforts to turn our downtown into an area for outdoor dining and fun and our exciting and diverse Cinco de Mayo festival have been lauded by SEMCOG.
Michigan has said good-bye (permanently) to too many of our best and brightest young citizens. Moms and Dads fret while our state government flounders aimlessly in a sea of ineptitude. Conversely, Redford Township continues to battle for our community’s future even if it means fighting for one Panther or one Eagle at a time.