Sitting in the Middle of Opportunity: Lansing, Michigan

By Andi Crawford

This article is an extended version of an op-ed published in the Lansing State Journal on May 30, 2019. Andi Crawford is Director of the Department of Neighborhoods and Citizen Engagement for the city of Lansing.

Whether you call it the Rust Belt (a term that came out of the 1984 Presidential Campaign), Productivity Belt, Manufacturing Belt, Legacy Cities or any other attempt at rebranding, this part of the world — the Midwest, the state of Michigan — matters a lot.

From food production, to the presence of fresh water, the fact that 70 million people live here or the lessons of what happens in the evolution of American cities, there is much worth discovering in this part of the country.

Lansing, like many legacy cities, has great bones and community investments that just need a little renovation to make them shine again. Lansing is proud to have been selected to work with the National League of Cities of Opportunity program and the Lincoln Institute Legacy Cities pilots on efforts tailored to Lansing and similar cities such as Akron and Rochester.

With 9,000 other Opportunity Zones across the country, Lansing — and the Midwest as a whole — is a unique investment opportunity.

In the past, Lansing’s regional economy has been a three-legged stool balanced by state government, Michigan State University and General Motors. Careers were a linear, predictable pathway to middle- and upper-middle-class living, and the system provided a model. This is no longer possible given the realities of today’s economy.

Lansing’s economy has diversified over the last 20 years: in the insurance sector, with eight companies headquartered here, providing 10,000 jobs; in the medical and accelerator technologies sector; and in small, creative enterprise.

People of all ages are breaking out of the box of outdated institutional thinking, embracing nimble careers that more closely resemble a jungle gym of intersecting opportunity instead of the obsolete ladder of linear success.

The quality of life proposition is strong in Lansing.

Commute times are minimal. Mine is a 40-minute walk, 10-minute bike ride, 30-minute bus trip or 5-minute car ride. According to LEAP, Lansing residents enjoy an average of 16.4 more days per year than the rest of the country, because of saved commute time.

Another key benefit to life in Lansing is its affordability for professionals of all ages.

Young professionals are planting roots, purchasing homes and beginning to build wealth through real estate, an unheard-of proposition in many parts of the country. The region’s momentum is perfectly captured in our young peoples’ financial flexibility.

Lansing residents enjoy 40 percent more parkland per capita than the national average, anchored by the 16-mile Lansing River Trail. Highlighting our commitment to the river as a recreational asset, the Middle Grand River was recently designated as a Heritage Waterway by the Department of Natural Resources. The Community Foundation has convened a variety of leaders on Rotary Park, a tremendous investment in our downtown riverfront and our community.

Through MSU the region enjoys the energy, diversity and ingenuity of a constant influx of new students and faculty, plus cultural and athletic attractions on par with larger markets.

There’s also cutting-edge technology such as the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), the second greatest human machine in the world, and the No. 1 nuclear physics program in the country – higher than MIT!

And then there’s the city’s neighborhoods, providing vibrancy and a high quality of life: Historic homes, new urban construction, creative commercial pockets, a robust urban agriculture scene and wide-open spaces, all within city limits.

An abundance of restaurants, festivals and events can be found in REO Town, Old Town, downtown and across the region.

There are unique offerings within the Lansing School District Pathway Promise like biotech, advanced manufacturing, Chinese and Spanish Immersion and more.

The community has developed a pre-K to 16 school system continuum of education, and offers the Lansing SAVE universal children’s savings account through the Lansing Promise.

Like so many Legacy Cities, Lansing has a heyday in the rearview mirror. We have a bright future ahead, but it won’t be rebuilt as it was; we are building on our strengths and magnifying our unique position in the country. Mayor Andy Schor is fond of saying “Lansing’s Time is Now,” and Opportunity Zones are ready to move us into the next wave of prosperity.