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Governor hears ideas for growing Michigan's population at roundtable in Grand Rapids

 A group of people sit in chairs arranged in a semicircle around the governor at a co-working office in Grand Rapids.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Governor Whitmer listens to young professionals assembled for a roundtable discussion at The Factory, a coworking space in Grand Rapids.

Governor Whitmer picked up some ideas on how to attract more young workers to the state during a roundtable talk in Grand Rapids Monday.

The governor visited The Factory, a co-working space in the city’s downtown. Many members of the roundtable group said they were drawn to the area because of the natural beauty of West Michigan, and the Great Lakes.

Leanna Pelham said she grew up in Southeast Michigan, went to college at Grand Valley State University, then left the state for Nashville.

“But when we lived in Nashville, there’s no easy access to water or outdoor activities the way there is here,” Pelham said.

That water access, and family ties, brought her and her husband back to the state.

Mackenzie Almquist-Murray said she had no ties to Michigan before her sister came to live in Grand Rapids. Almquist Murray said she was on a cross-country trip from New Jersey to the Northwest when she stopped in the city for the first time to visit her sister.

“She showed us all of the top places, gave the perfect tour,” Almquist-Murray said. She’s now lived in Grand Rapids for five years.

“Got to send your sister a thank you note,” Governor Whitmer said.

“The beauty of Michigan that we’ve all talked about is also under threat."
Mackenzie Almquist-Murray

But Almquist-Murray, like others in the group, said she’d like to see more done to attract jobs, and protect the natural beauty that first drew her to West Michigan.

“The beauty of Michigan that we’ve all talked about is also under threat,” Almquist-Murray said. “And so protecting, and addressing climate change as it relates to Michigan is so important.”

Inclusivity was another theme for some of the roundtable participants.

“The mindset is there for inclusivity and openness and supporting people like me,” said Diane Wee, a roundtable participant who said she spent most of her childhood in Korea.

But she said while people she’s met in Michigan are kind, she doesn’t see as many people like her.

“The representation is a little low,” she said.

Others said child care and student loan support would also make life easier for young professionals trying to make a start in the state.

Governor Whitmer has created a new 28-member council to come up with more policies to grow the state’s population. She’s not the first governor to put population growth on the policy agenda for Michigan, but Whitmer says she hopes the council can continue the work long after she’s out of office.

“We know that this will have to transcend into another administration, maybe two or three more,” Whitmer said after Monday’s roundtable event. “But we’ve got to get Michigan on the path, and so you’re not going to hear the plan come from me, you’re going to hear it come from this council.”

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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