Detroit business owner: "It is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan"

Andrew Basile, Jr., a patent lawyer in metro Detroit, is fed up with Michigan’s sprawl. More specifically, he’s fed up with Michigan’s ongoing loss of talented workers who are leaving the state in the thousands. Basile’s law firm has been directly affected by the trend, hard pressed to find employees locally and unable to entice qualified workers from other places to move to Michigan. And in a letter to Michigan Future published on Streetsblog earlier this week, Basile explains why he believes this is happening: “People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here.”

Basile correlates his law firm’s labor shortages with Detroit’s “poor ‘quality of place,'” a term he uses to describe the area’s spread out development patterns. He points to a lack of transportation choices and missed opportunities to invest in downtowns as reasons, at least in part, why so many Detroiters have left the area. As Basile describes his frustration with Michigan’s failure to innovate and the toll it takes on his business, it’s hard not to sympathize with him:

I noted sadly the other day that the entire Oakland Country government complex was built in a field five miles outside of downtown Pontiac. I find that decision shocking. What a wasted opportunity for maintaining a viable downtown Pontiac, not to mention the open space now consumed by the existing complex.

Basile highlights San Francisco – which he describes as “the place sucking up all the talent and money” – as an example of what talented young people look for when deciding where to live. He implies that today’s workers want to live in areas with schools and housing close to jobs with transportation options, including convenient public transportation. And he’s right. CEOs for Cities’ 2005 report The Young and Restless in a Knowledge Economy found that “close-in neighborhoods with higher density, mixed uses, walkable destinations, lively commercial districts and interesting streets can make a region more competitive for talented workers.” Even though many young adults are still choosing suburban locations, the report adds, having vibrant, close-in, well connected neighborhoods means a region can offer more choices and become more competitive for highly mobile young adults.

Basile’s letter should not be taken as a disparagement of Detroit, but rather as an opportunity for how towns and regions can grow economically stronger through innovative development strategies. Hat tip to Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog for posting this valuable account.