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Posted on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 7:11 a.m.

Boomerang youth can benefit Michigan

By Tom Watkins

There is much angst about the brain drain in Michigan. You've heard about it: Our young college grads securing education, knowledge, skills, and talent only to flee the state after graduation.

Yet it is a big world out there and Michigan has two beautiful peninsulas -- we are not an island.

Perhaps Michigan will benefit from the worldly experiences our youth gain elsewhere, if the magnetic pull of Pure Michigan can draw them back someday.

I met one such young man, Dan Redford, in his senior year at Michigan State University. He flew the coop and now makes his home in Beijing, China.

Dan earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in Chinese and international relations from the James Madison College at MSU.


Dan Redford is pictured while he was still a student at MSU and about to embark on a trip to China.

File photo | MLive Media Group

Dan, now 23, originally wanted to get a political science degree and attend law school. That all changed after his first trip to China in 2008.

Why China? He first fell in love with the language, and after his Middle Kingdom trip in 2008 -- taking in the sights, sounds, culture, language and people -- he was hooked. The added excitement of the 2008 Olympics pulled him into the China orbit.

Dan grew up in Frankenmuth, a small town of 4,600 people -- a town in stark contrast to Beijing's nearly 20 million people. As Dan says, "there are nearly as many people in my Chinese apartment building as there are in the entire City of Frankenmuth".

Living in the Chinese capital, Dan feels like he is at the center of the most dynamic, unfolding story of the modern world. He clearly is as China is the fastest growing large world economy, bursting with possibilities. Going forward, all major world geo-politic issues will intersect at Beijing and Washington, D.C.

Dan is director of China operations for First Pathway Partners of Milwaukee promoting this Midwest state in China. Yet, he is a Michigan cheerleader as well and a one-man marketing crew promoting the Mitten State with his unbound enthusiasm.

Does he miss Michigan? Of course. He would like nothing better than to mesh his love for Michigan and love for all things China. His life ambition is to "make a lasting impression on everyone I meet, and meet as many people as possible before I'm done."

Dan credits his time at MSU with helping to open his eyes to the world. His first trip to China was through a study abroad program. MSU taught Dan Redford to "Think Glocally" - global and local.

Dan appreciates Gov. Snyder's efforts to make Michigan a friendly place for immigrants and to build bridges globally. "Gov. Snyder is taking risks to propel Michigan forward, past denial and to thrive on the global stage," says Redford.

When asked what advice he would offer high school kids he responds, "Find something to be passionate about and let God be your compass, let your passions drive you forward." Sound advice from a young man who has circled the globe.

Yes, Michigan has lost Dan Redford for now.

At some point in the future, Dan Redford will return to Michigan and our state will get its ROI (return on investment) from his global experience and perspective.

Read about the adventures of "China Dan" at:

Tom Watkins served as a former state mental health director, state superintendent of schools and is currently a U.S./China consultant. He can be reached at:



Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

I too was a boomerang youth of an earlier generation. Found at age 22 that I couldn't buy a job in SE Michigan with my newly minted degree in a booming tech field so I followed Horace Greely's advice and went West. SE Michigan been through two automotive downturns ( late 70s and again in late 80s ), but I returned for the Big 3's boom of the 1990s. If we can convince our automotive giants and suppliers to stay and bring in more marketing, engineering, planning and finance roles here that boomerang will happen once more. I remain hopeful as long as the landscape can be kept attractive to business investment.


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

As a MI college graduate who left shortly after graduation for greener pastures (California and later the east coast) and just returned to my home state to settle down and start a family, I agree that this global perspective gained is priceless. If MI can continue to develop "hip, cool cities" (pardon my Granholm reference) such as downtown/midtown detroit, AA, and Grand Rapids, which are a fraction of the cost of the Chicagos, Bostons, LAs, and places where you can really make a difference (rather than just be a cog in the system)...then I think we'll be successful at bringing back a significant portion of our young educated workforce once it's time for them to settle down.