Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 21, 2013

Doug Luciani: Don't waste our youth

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Noted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once lamented how “Youth is wasted on the young.”

Fortunately that’s not always the case, particularly in our part of Northern Michigan. One of our region’s positive trends is the trickle of young people and their families discovering or returning to the area. It follows years of hand-wringing by Michigan’s leaders over the “Brain Drain” of our younger generation bolting the Great Lake State for greener economic pastures.

That trend is being reversed by local companies such as Munson Healthcare, Hagerty and the Record-Eagle. Those businesses and many others are infusing our workforce with young health care professionals, accountants, sales representatives, writers, programmers, entrepreneurs and others looking to launch their careers — and adult lives — in northern Michigan.

The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and other organizations are working to leverage this influx of young talent — and the efforts are paying off in spades. The Chamber’s Young Professionals group includes several hundred individuals under age 40 who are diving in to all sorts of community discussions and initiatives. It’s among thE Chamber’s most-vibrant and active groups. They conduct regular meetings to discuss local issues, and talk about ways to get more involved in civic and political happenings. They volunteer for community causes, reach out to help new YPs learn about the region, and help recruit others to start their careers here.

The Chamber’s Leadership Grand Traverse program, while not limited to young people, is another effort where numerous up-and-coming career men and women make an extensive commitment to look deeper into the inter-workings of our community. Participants in these programs and others consistently work their way into key community roles – volunteer services, leadership positions in area nonprofit groups and serving in local government. It “strengthens the bench” for Northern Michigan by bolstering the available pool of those willing to step up and serve their community.

That’s why it’s so disheartening to hear some local decision-makers still question the need for the community to increase opportunities for young people. Inexplicably, there are still some folks who don’t see the benefits of expanding the region’s demographics, of bolstering our region’s employment base or creating a range of housing and transportation options that work for a range of income brackets.

Most people don’t start out wealthy and successful; it’s something they achieve with time, knowledge, experience — and hard work. Shouldn’t we try and help them start that journey here, rather than elsewhere and hope they come here to retire?

A community that isn’t growing is dying. In Northern Michigan, we’re fortunate to have the natural beauty, safety and other quality of life assets that prompt young people to sit up and take notice. It’s injected a fresh, tangible vibe in our community, and it’s certainly a positive trend to build on.

But without available jobs, housing, child care and other basic infrastructure for families, we will continue to struggle over the long-term to be little more than a pretty place to visit.

Doug Luciani is President & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.