The Livingston County summit on creating a 21st Century economy had a lot of bad news for our county's way of doing business -- cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes and hope people move here so they can drive 40 miles to work.
That's so yesterday -- according to both speakers at the event on Thursday (April 15, 2010) sponsored by the area chambers of commerce.
More than 300 people crammed in to the event to hear a pair of speakers explain that members of the next generation -- the Millenial Generation -- have a different set of values from the baby boomers. They want communities that are vibrant and interesting. They are highly environmentally conscious. They are mobile, willing to move to interesting places even without a job and regardless of the cost of living or the tax rate. They think spending $400 a month on a car and driving long distances to work is a waste of money.
All that must have sounded like heresy to Livingston County Republicans who want only to brag about low tax rates and stand in the way of any kind of change. Yet the speakers said Livingston County must attract young people, with their entrepreneurial spirit, because the new economy will be based on attracting one or two jobs at a time rather than landing a big manufacturing plant that will solve all our problems.
Dan Gilmartin of the Michigan Municipal League said that members of the Millenial Generation are marrying later and having children later -- as much as 10 years later. And they go out twice a week, which over 10 years amounts to about 1,000 nights. Does Livingston County have 1,000 nights of interesting things for them to do? If not, they won't move here, he said.
Transportation alternatives, he said, have to be at the top of Livingston County's list. "If we don't figure out transportation, nothing else matters," he said. Pointing to a proposed rail line between Livingston County and Ann Arbor, he said, "It will light your economy on fire."
Glenn Pape, of the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University, said young people want more diversity in their quality of life, not just the suburban model of Livingston County. They want to be able to hike and bike after work, to have a downtown to walk around in. He said that is what will revive Livingston County's economy, "not industrial parks, not low wages, not low taxes."
Businesses, he said, are looking for young, educated people, not low costs and low taxes.
Not low taxes?
Good luck selling that to the Republican leaders of this county, the county commission that has turned its back on contributing to a study of a rail line between Livingston County and Ann Arbor.
The new economy summit was only the first step. Meetings are planned May 5 at Three Fires Middle School and June 16 at Crystal Gardens to talk about writing a strategic plan to take advantage of Livingston County's assets for the new economy.
We can't let the same old people, with the same old ideas, write the plan. Plan to attend and contribute your ideas.