Concentrate Media's 'Generational Divide' talk: Ann Arbor has what it takes to attract, retain young professionals
I had an elementary school teacher who told the same joke every March. “Why is today important?" he would ask. “It’s a full sentence. You can’t April second, but you can March forth!”Â
It was a joke only the language nerds (okay, one language nerd) could appreciate. Fifteen minutes and six ounces of white zinfandel into the presentation, this joke came back to me. I blame Dan Gilmartin.
I didn’t expect Concentrate’s first Speaker Series to be a barn-burner, to say the least. I was surprised at turnout — the screening room at the Michigan Theater was nearly filled with both sides of the fence, most likely as a result of the seminar’s title: Generational Divide. (If I expected senior citizens throwing shoes at young whippersnappers who bore the onslaught with apathy and shields of Macbooks, I was to be disappointed. Pleasantly disappointed, although that would have made a story I could have eaten on for at least a week.)
But back to Dan Gilmartin. Dan is the executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, and the fact that he is their youngest ever was evident in his talk tonight. He is a wonderful speaker. Genial yet motivating, with a visionary’s enthusiasm and delight in possibility despite the downward economy. His talk was a startling revelation about the content of a city’s populace — a then-and-now look at the difference between jobs and their relation to where a person chooses to live.
Forty years ago, the Detroit area was a “one industry” state based around the auto economy — jobs were here, and people moved into the state get them. Now that the economy is knowledge-based, people have the freedom to decide where to live and then look for jobs when they arrive. These people are where the “generational gap” comes in.
Technology now allows people to work from anywhere they have access, leaving them open to discriminate where they will and will not set up shop. A staggering 46 percent of University of Michigan graduates leave the state upon graduation, taking their knowledge — and prospective business value — with them.
I slept through sociology class, so it came as a surprise to me that a larger city’s population is mostly composed of young residents without kids. In London, for example, 70 percent of the population is under 45 years old. Most young people, referred to as “millennials,” move to the largest city in their available scope for grad school and their first professional jobs. They are more mobile than any previous generation, having not only the means to work from anywhere, but also the desire to work from anywhere.
Dan calls this “corporate rock climbing” as opposed to ladder climbing; they are always moving up, but sometimes across: entry-level at UM, middle management in Chicago, then upper management in Seattle — because they can. Moving for business is also a pleasure, because it will allow them to see many different places before choosing where to put down roots.
The few things we need to bring them here — and they are few — are things Ann Arbor already has: arts, parks, transportation, diversity, sustainability and technology. We just have to make them better — or, in the spirit of the Olympics, stronger, faster, better. Maybe it’s my civic pride or the white zin talking, but I’m looking forward to the marching forth.
Many thanks to Concentrate Media for use of their biographical data.
Sarah Smallwood is a freelance writer living and working in Ann Arbor. She is currently rewriting her first novel, keeps a daily blog at The Other Shoe and hosts a podcast at Stuff with Things. She can be reached at heybeedoo at gmail dot com.