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The place to be: 'Millennials' scout Grand Rapids, shown the best it has to offer

April 24, 2012

By Zane McMillin,

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — ArtPrize public relations director Brian Burch sat in the event’s headquarters Thursday and regaled a small group of college students with tales of his “big dreams” of leaving the Grand Rapids area.

Those dreams were, of course, leading up to 1997, when Burch up and left his hometown for a job and life in Chicago. It was a time, Burch recalled, when Grand Rapids had little going for it, and little reason to stay.

“Grand Rapids was not a big city to me at the time,” Burch said. “Grand Rapids was not a place that I could find opportunity.”

But then, the kicker: “That all changed very quickly.”

After four years in Chicago, Burch told the group of eight students, he returned home to find things had changed. Concert venues had sprung up, a nightlife was growing and an arts scene was taking root, among others.

“I came back here,” Burch said, “and the city had changed in that very short amount of time.”

A whirlwind tour

It was a tale right up the alley of Burch’s student audience.

They were eight members of the Van Andel Millennial Board, an endowed youth council comprising students from 14 private Michigan colleges, including several in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

An arm of the Michigan Colleges Foundation, the Millennial Board works to “develop and implement … strategies to attract and retain students in Michigan,” according to its website.

The Millennial Board’s ArtPrize visit Thursday was one leg of a rigorous, two-day whirlwind tour of sorts to sites around Grand Rapids that, in some way, highlighted parts of the city that would attract a young, right-out-of-college crowd.

The group started their day at The Rapid bus system’s Central Station, where the group learned about recent service changes and the upcoming bus rapid transit Silver Line.

Other stops Thursday morning included a tour of design hub GRid70, where bustling creatives from the likes of Amway, Steelcase and Meijer worked as the Millennial Board members looked on.

From there, the group walked over to ArtPrize’s headquarters at 41 Sheldon Blvd. Other Thursday stops will include meeting Mayor George Heartwell, touring the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology and attending the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Politics and Pints event.

“I think our visits today have, in large part, they speak to the heart of what the Van Andel Millennial Board is about,” said Casey Hoffman, an Albion College senior who chairs the Millennial Board, “and that is going against a common stereotype that Michigan and Michigan’s cities, including Grand Rapids, is washed up, and that’s simply not true.”

What students want

Hoffman said the Millennial Board recently conducted a survey of college students across the state to see what drives their post-graduation planning. To wit: Where would they want to live?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, survey respondents highlighted a city’s vibrant nightlife, leisure activities and recreation as traits desired most in addition to a steady job.

“It’s more than just about working, it’s about living,” Hoffman said, “and that’s what cities like Grand Rapids are offering students and graduates who want to be a part of Michigan’s ethos.”

Holland native and Hope College senior Courtney Dernberger, a Millennial Board member, said she has heard from multiple friends that plan to move to Grand Rapids upon graduating from college, largely because of what it has come to embody.

“The biggest thing I hear is just a community, and that they can have people that they feel comfortable with and places to congregate — Founders Brewery, things like that,” Dernberger said. “And I think Grand Rapids offers that. It’s growing in its ability to offer that.”

Showing off

Kyle Los, program manager at GRid70, played tour guide Thursday as he took the Millennial Board throughout the design hub on Ionia Avenue.

The tour included a stop at Meijer’s Culinary Innovation center, a modern-looking test kitchen in GRid70 where the company tests out its gastronomic concoctions.

“There’s a focus on the future generations from a product standpoint, but more importantly, from an innovation standpoint,” Los said.

“For us, the next generation is going to be the ones who are innovating, so we need to be focusing on how these people work, where they work, and we want that to be a part of the community here.”

For Hoffman, at least, the two-day tour was all but certain to reinforce that need.

"Michigan has a lot to offer, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer," he said, "and I think we’re going to find in future years young people… are going to be in the state and staying in cities like Grand Rapids."

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Van Andel Millenial Board tours Grand Rapids hot spots

April 24, 2012

by Corey Morse,

GRid70 Program Manager Kyle Los talks with college students from The Van Andel Millenial Board while taking them through the Meijer facility at GRid70 Thursday. The Van Andel Millenial Board toured through Grand Rapids hot spots Thursday and Friday to gather information on why young graduates may want to stay in Michigan versus leaving the state.

Third 90 Program Pairs MCF with UPA Students to Restore a Wetland

April 24, 2012

Michigan Colleges Foundation (MCF) and University Preparatory Academy of Detroit (UPA) hosted a special presentation at UPA to showcase initial results of a new collaborative model, The Third 90 Program. The Third 90 utilizes teams of college and high school students under the direction of college faculty to work collectively on projects that create positive environmental change. The academic classroom is extended outdoors with extensive “hands-on” field and lab work and also across the high school and college continuum. The presentation included an overview of three research projects (water, soil and wildlife) conducted on property in Monroe County along the River Raisin. Doug Ross, Founder of Detroit UPA opened the program and explained the significance of this new model to more than 100 students and guests including Bob Thompson of the Thompson Foundation, Glenda Price, former President of Marygrove College, and Jerry Jung, former CEO of Michigan CAT and environmentalist. (See related MCF news release)

Factors That Will Keep College Grads in Michigan

April 24, 2012

SOUTHFIELD, MI – A newly released survey of nearly 4,000 Michigan college students has identified clear reasons why talented young people choose to leave Michigan after graduation – and what it will take to get them to stay.

The Michigan Colleges Foundation (MCF), a consortium of fourteen independent colleges and universities located throughout Michigan, commissioned the study in partnership with Madison, Wisconsin-based Next Generation Consulting, leaders in the field of millennial market research and talent retention. Students on MCF’s Van Andel Millennial Board (VAMB) were also pivotal in the success of the survey. A 14-member student board consisting of one student from each MCF institution, VAMB students each developed their own plan for marketing the survey to students which resulted in the high number of responses.

Why – and how – do Michigan college students form their opinions about Michigan cities, what can we do to address perceptions, and reposition Michigan as a smart choice for grads and what do they value in “cool communities” were the central questions of this study.

Although 89% of students value the earning opportunities in a potential location when deciding where to live, only 11% agree that Michigan has broad enough job opportunities. Of Michigan’s three major metropolitan areas – Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids – students feel the most positive about Grand Rapids.

More than half (59%) of the Michigan natives surveyed are considering staying in the state after graduation, 30% are unsure of their plans. Classified as “convincibles” the survey suggests that Michigan has the potential to retain almost 90% of native students through active engagement and peer networking efforts - critical components to influencing perceptions.

The survey indicated that successfully keeping this young talent in Michigan will depend upon the ability of businesses and learning institutions to partner together to promote to these students specific quality of life amenities such as good-paying jobs, affordable housing, easy commutes, and access to parks, bike and hiking trails, the authors of the survey conclude.

The study is phase one of MCF’s Think Michigan campaign – an integrated, Michigan-focused strategy to attract, engage and retain the state’s top young talent. With seed funds from the Charter One Foundation, MCF benchmarked comparable cities nationally, assessing their efforts to attract and retain talent. Three focus groups on MCF campuses were conducted and a survey was distributed to students on all 14 campuses to assess student life and career preferences, as well as perceptions of opportunities in Michigan’s major urban areas. A comprehensive report was developed benchmarking Southeast Michigan to national millennial retention trends and identifying clear marketing approaches and themes.

“Our plan is to utilize this foundational study to create a targeted Michigan marketing effort at our member colleges and universities,” said MCF President Bob Bartlett. “Connecting students in personal and meaningful ways to Michigan’s future before they graduate and plan their lives elsewhere is a critical component to the state’s economic growth.”

The next phase of MCF’s Think Michigan campaign will promote the state’s urban regions with a statewide marketing campaign designed to reach a sizable population of the more than 38,000 emerging college graduates on its campuses on the brink of making “place” decisions.

The campaign will include consistent and frequent messaging to reach students through on-campus programs and city-based events and activities as well as interfacing with MCF’s new “concierge” recruiting program with leading Michigan employers.

“Despite the broad recognition that young talent is critical to the state’s future, few efforts have been made to market Michigan to its greatest talent source: students on its college campuses. MCF is working to engage students before they make their decisions to relocate,” said Denise Christy, President of Humana Michigan and Indiana and MCF Board Chair. “The implications of this campaign will be far-reaching and will benefit all of Michigan’s urban centers.”

MCF will be partnering with existing organizations working in the state on talent retention and development. For more information about MCF, visit For a copy of the Executive Summary, click here or for the full report of the Student Survey findings, click here.

To inquire about funding or partnership opportunities for the Think Michigan campaign, call 248-356-114.



Think Michigan

April 12, 2011

Despite broad recognition that young talent is critical for economic growth, few efforts have been made to market Michigan to the greatest source of young talent: students on our college campuses. Leveraging MCF’s special access to a network of 14 colleges and universities, the Think Michigan Millennial Marketing Campaign will directly promote throughout the year, our urban hub’s lifestyle and career opportunities to over 35,000 MCF college students statewide. The campaign will employ social media, web based communications, direct marketing, campus programming, city-specific activities, and other "insider" strategies. Beginning with the city of Detroit, Think Michigan will communicate opportunities offered throughout the state, to help attract and retain emerging MCF graduates to support economic growth and improve communities.