Visual arts

How do you encourage millennials to move to Traverse City?

How do you get a millennial to move their family or business to Traverse City? After five years, multiple grants, and setting up a digital talent attraction campaign, the Traverse Connect team thinks they have a pretty good idea.

In 2017, a Michigan Office of Film and Digital Media grant was awarded to five communities to “encourage talent retention and growth in the creative and cultural economy.”

Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Marquette and Traverse City each received a portion of $1.5 million to create pilots and projects aimed at boosting professional support in disciplines and areas such as advertising, architecture and the arts.

There were some early local focus groups and ideas, but not much of a form to work with (and the grant itself was large and experimental in nature). Then, in 2019, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce officially merged with the economic development organization Traverse Connect. This is also when the current CEO, Warren Call, took over and inherited the project.

Through strategic planning sessions supported by community input, the Traverse Connect team launched Michigan’s Creative Coast Project in 2020 with a website and bulletin board aimed at attracting targeted talent to the region. The organized job site is unique in that most ads pay at least $45,000 per year or at least $22 per hour.

Michigan’s Creative Coast (soon to be a trademark) is now a spin-off brand managed by Traverse Connect staff. The objectives of the project are to promote the region as an exceptional place to live and work, then to help attract professionals in their 30s and 40s while offering them a support network for the big move. As the network grows, it provides a community to exchange opportunities, experiences, and resources.

Some of the early projects included the publication of a Creative Coast guide and the production of a podcast series featuring local creatives and creatives which was broadcast by Interlochen Public Radio. Networking and dating options are through the Fresh Coast Quarterly Club, and the team co-hosted a job fair with fellow talent incubator TCNewTech.

Abby Baudry is Creative Coast’s day-to-day operational manager and says the key performance indicators are traffic metrics to the online job board. The site features a range of employment options across various industries, with over 200 organizations having used the board.

The job board focuses on mid-career and emerging leadership positions that will increase the core employment population in the region (i.e. those aged 35-49). The goal was to increase this demographic group by 5% in the region by 2030, and early indicators show a 1% increase after the first two years.

The Creative Coast team acknowledges that it plays a game of thumbs, with average website views of 1,250 and 30-40 apps per month. Quarterly events are multiplying and now attract an average of 100 people. Several successful job offers and relocations have come from relationships that began with Creative Coast.

Job seekers can also deepen their understanding of the area with the help of Northern Navigators, people who already live and work here (many of whom are transplanted themselves). Northern Navigators arrange video chats, calls, or even in-person visits with people who are considering moving to the area.

One of the navigators is Dennos Museum Center director Craig Hadley, who estimates he talks to potential job seekers about once a month. “Ninety-five percent of the time it’s people from the visual arts and museum worlds, so it’s rewarding to connect on a professional level with other people in my field. If I had had a resource like this when my family moved here, it would have made it easier,” Hadley says.

As an Asian-American, Hadley knows some of the most personal challenges people face when moving here. “Sometimes I talk culture with prospects. If people are looking to move here, they are already in tune with the demographics and they have done their research, but they also want to know about the challenges and family issues. I can tell them about all the positive changes that have started and materialized since I moved here in an effort to support more diversity and cultural understanding.

Now approaching its third official year, Creative Coast recently received a $350,000 Economic Improvement Grant from the State of Michigan to support the initiative.

Baudry says the team plans to launch a new guide for freelancers and entrepreneurs soon, focused on freelance consultants and service providers looking to advertise and connect with potential clients. It will be open to everyone for an annual fee of $100, categorized and could potentially include everyone from photographers to plumbers.

The project also uses digital advertising to promote the lifestyle, and many resources are devoted to design, multimedia and storytelling projects that emphasize the region’s four-season outdoor recreational and cultural activities, as well as community professionals. Call and his team hope to emulate the national impact of the Pure Michigan campaign, with the Creative Coast promoting year-round jobs over tourism.