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Talent Magnet Lansing: Five Ways to Create More Vibrant Spaces in our Region

The stakes are high when it comes to creating places where top talent want to live and work. As competition for talented workers intensifies, cultivating attractive communities can make or break economic success — especially in Michigan, which faces at least a decade and a half of older workers leaving the workforce at a faster rate than younger workers will enter.

Many placemaking efforts are already underway in the Tri-County Region, including Rotary Park along the riverfront, which is expected to be complete in summer 2019. But the flashier aspects of placemaking, like festivals, public art and innovative architecture, are just one aspect of creating the places talent — especially young talent — wants to call home.

On Feb. 5, Lou Glazer, president and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., discussed with the LEAP board of directors the five “policy levers” identified as critical to placemaking efforts in their recent report, “Creating places across Michigan where people want to live and work.” For a region to leverage its communities and become a “talent magnet,” the following five principles must be upheld:

1. Welcoming to all

Communities with a strong sense of place must, first and foremost, be inclusive. This involves a legal framework that prohibits all forms of discrimination as well as universal access to the resources necessary for social and economic mobility. Each year, the LEAP Board of Directors adopts a diversity and equity statement to reaffirm our commitment to inclusiveness in our economic development efforts. In addition, LEAP highlights notable commitments to diversity and inclusion by LEAP member organizations with our annual Regional and Business Diversity Star Awards.

2. Development-friendly regulations that facilitate growth

Attracting a diverse range of talent requires creating a wide array of quality spaces. Michigan Future advocates for a set of policy improvements to encourage development that contribute to creating these dense public spaces, such as subsidizing developments that contribute to density like brownfield redevelopment, updating zoning codes, promoting downtown housing, and evaluation of tax incentive programs. Initiatives like the Project for Public Spaces provide guidance on what — and how —to implement.

3. Regional flexibility to develop and implement talent strategies

According to the report, regions “can be best understood as the geography from which employers draw their workers.” Because of this, Glazer argued, it is important for policy at the state and local level to afford flexibility to a state’s regions to implement the solutions necessary for creating places that attract and retain talent. Michigan Future highlighted Minnesota’s success in many areas throughout the report, citing its Met Council as an example of a successful, regional policy solution. As a regional coalition comprised of public and private sectors, LEAP brings together business, education and municipal leaders to address economic development needs in our region.

4. 21st century infrastructure
The report argues that Michigan is “structurally setting its communities up for failure” because of its pervasive disinvestment in quality infrastructure. Rather than asking who provides infrastructure, basic services and amenities, regions need to focus on who can best provide up-to-date infrastructure, basic services and amenities that will position Michigan’s regions “to be places that will position Michigan’s regions to be places where mobile talent want to live, work and play.”

5. Transportation as the most important placemaking public investment

Transportation is at the center of most of the report’s recommendations. The lack of investment in reliable, accessible transportation is “Exhibit A of the state allowing its 20th century infrastructure to crumble.” Facilitating a basic service like transportation goes beyond the necessity of expanding public transit services like CATA to include the provision of walk- and bike-friendly roads and sidewalks to support the kind of high-density neighborhoods identified as “talent magnets.”