The Next Generation of Business Leaders on Doing Business in Michigan

I recently had an engaging conversation with Eastern Michigan University (EMU) students as part of a discussion focused on marketing strategy. As part of a 45-minute, wide-ranging Q&A, they were encouraged to ask me anything they wanted. In other words, they turned the tables on me–by asking thoughtful questions centered around their education and prospects for Detroit’s and Michigan’s future.

I have written Small Talk blogs in the past regarding the importance of young people to Detroit’s and Michigan’s future and revitalization Many articles have centered around keeping graduating talent in Michigan versus having an exodus of young people continuing to other parts of the country. It’s essential we listen to the needs of our young people. They’re talented, eager and quite frankly, just want a chance in Michigan. This became clear as the conversations with 25 students evolved on Thursday. In fact, one student discussed the exodus and candidly admitted several of her friends who graduated, left and came back.

It’s interesting to hear their line of questioning regarding overall perceptions of Michigan, entrepreneurship and Detroit’s future.

Here’s a sample of the questions.

Based on your travels, what is the rest of the country’s view on Michigan and business its prospects?

Based on my many travel experiences, the general perception over the last several years is that Michigan is not a great place to to do or start a business. In fact, to many Michigan was perceived as a “down and out” state on life support. While many of those are perceptions, these can become reality in business people’s minds. However, I’ve noticed recently the evolution of this perception with more people asking about Michigan’s business climate, investment oppotunities and whether the economy has finally turned the corner.

In other words, in my opinion, the future is looking brighter.

In the last 12 months, has the image of Michigan “flipped”?

Not totally. In fact, I was in a recent lunch meeting with a key business leader from Florida. The conversation turned towards Michigan, its young people and college graduates. His perspective was a unique one because of his recent relocation to Florida to run a College of Business at a major University, which is what he did in Michigan. I asked him why he left and he simply stated this: 90% of his graduating students stay with a 50-mile radius of the graduating school, while in Michigan, he experienced the opposite. He still believes there are better prospects and a business environment for those graduating and/or starting a business versus Michigan and, as a result, Florida students are more inclined to stay because of perceived job prospects.

With that said and with the vision and leadership of key businesses (Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, et. al.) and entrepreneurs in Detroit, the perception of Michigan is slowly improving. However, there’s still work to be done.

I will be graduating from college in the near future. I’ve heard if I don’t have the experience I will not be able to find a job. Your thoughts?

Based on various studies, 60 to 70% of jobs are feel through networking. While experience can be a factor in the hiring process, companies are looking for young, talented people with energy, creativity and the innovation. This is part of the current restructuring take place across the state and region. I was recently in a meeting downtown and noticed how the demographics of downtown are changing. It felt like being on a college campus in around Campus Martius. It was exciting and bubbling with energy.

Regarding job experience and you’re running into various challenges, offering to volunteer with various organization, including not-for-profit, is a unique way to gain experience while getting exposure and “your foot in the door”. Also, work your network of family, friends and contacts. They’re always a valuable resource.

What was the biggest obstacle in your career and how did you overcome it?

Being part of a company that was acquired and, as a result, having your position eliminated as part of the process. While I had the opportunity at the time to relocate, I chose not to because I felt there would e opportunities suited for me based on my background. It also opened doors for me to leverage my talents in areas of expertise.

That enabled me to reignite my network and work with outstanding people who have since supported me in my entrepreneurial endeavors. My point is this, one door was shut–however, others were, in fact, opened.

How did you decide to start your own business?

With the economic challenges of 2008, I looked at the overall landscape and my own career aspirations. At that time, the entrepreneurial bug struck me and many people that I knew stated I should consider starting my own business. Because of my experience, knowledge and contacts, they encouraged me to consider it. I did. Therefore, with input and support from my network, I was encouraged to write a business plan and develop a business consulting practice.

I did it, while employed by major company, as a fallback position if something were not to work out. For the most part, it’s been a great experience. Many challenges, but it’s been rewarding and provided me with another opportunity to grow and develop personally and professionally.

What advice would you share with us as we think about our future?

Have a personal and career plan. Start with your own vision and mission is to develop a plan supporting both. While your plan may change over the years, use it as a guide post for helping you determine your future prospects after you graduate whether you’re considering joining a company or starting your own business.

But having a plan is essential to helping you direct your future.

Why should I stay in Michigan?

Not only is Michigan a great state, opportunities are coming back and is a great place to think about and start your career. You have the opportunity to help shape the state’s future and with your energy, innovation and talent, Michigan’s future details on keeping our young people around.

Finally, how do you view Detroit post bankruptcy?

While tough times have been well documented, I believe the city’s future is still bright. Through restructuring and diversification, Detroit will be reinvented as a major hub for technology, innovation and creativity. I believe there’s an opportunity for all people to come in and play major role in redefining Detroit future.

Bottom line, it will emerge leaner and stronger.