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What’s Your “Why Michigan” Story? I Shared Mine at the Mackinac Policy Conference

In 2019 when I decided to become a Talent Ambassador for Let’s Detroit, I never dreamed that filling out a 10-minute application would someday take me to Mackinac Island. MICHauto on the Island and the Mackinac Policy Conference are two of the most prestigious gatherings in the state that draw some of the most influential people from throughout the region. So, when I was given the opportunity to not only attend but to speak, I did not hesitate.   

It did not take long for me to realize just how incredible the opportunity truly was. I started the day being star-struck as I boarded the ferry. I spent the entire 15-minute trip trying — unsuccessfully — to muster the courage to talk with award-winning journalist and host of Detroit Today, Stephen Henderson. When I reached the island, I chatted with Christian Greer, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Science Center, as a horse-drawn taxi carried a group of us to Grand Hotel.  

The night was filled with networking, handshaking, and unforgettable conversations at The Gate House. The excitement picked right back up the next morning with a delicious breakfast with a great group, including the trailblazer, entrepreneur, co-founder and chief executive officer of GS3, Lisa Lunsford. That all occurred in less than 24 hours.  

Being in the presence of some of the brightest and best our state has to offer was inspiring but also kind of ironic. See, the reason I was there was to talk about how, as a state, we are losing our brightest and best. In 2019, when I chose to volunteer at Let’s Detroit, it was because I was shocked at the low rate of my classmates that decided to stay in the area upon graduation from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. But it wasn’t just my class at Michigan. 

I looked back at every major step of my journey at Michigan, and I realized that many of my academic and professional peers decided that Detroit was no longer for them. The fact of the matter is without a concerted effort to attract and retain top young talent, the Mackinac Policy Conference, in 20-30 years, will not have the same reach, impact, or prestige it does today. It was with that undertone that I prepared to give my speech. 

The following day as I told the MICHauto community my story, I concluded with a bit of an unusual call to action. I explained that as business professionals, it is second nature for us to have a two-minute elevator pitch about why we invested in this company or why we are excited about that project. However, how many of us have a two-minute “why Michigan”? If we truly love this area as much as we say we do, why don’t we share it more?  For me, it’s the unique community,  the special culture, and the career opportunities I have available. Initially, I was not sure how the audience received my message. However, the sheer number of conversations I had afterward was encouraging. There were so many people like me who shared the same passion and determination to see the Detroit region continue to grow.  

Of course, simply telling why we love this area is not the silver bullet we need, but it’s a start and something we can all do. As Detroiters and Michiganders, it is up to us to control our narrative. I guess only time will tell if we are successful in our mission. If I have the privilege of attending MICHauto on the Island or the Mackinac Policy Conference again, I look forward to meeting more and more talented young professionals. This will be the true measure of success. 

Connect with Marjace Miles on Let’s Detroit.

Written by Marjace Miles 

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