A huge factor to consider when deciding where to work, play, and live is quality of life. The catch-22 is that a region’s quality of life is largely dependent on what local professionals give back to the community. So, if a region experiences brain drain, quality of life will suffer, and attracting new talent will prove difficult, resulting in a regional downward spiral.
A group of young professionals—some who returned to the region after time away and some who are transplants that now call the region home—is not only finding they enjoy the quality of life in the Great Lakes Bay Region, they are also doing their part to contribute to it by giving back to the community. This helps to ensure that the region will be attractive to future professionals. All seem to agree that there is no other place they would rather work, play, live, and raise a family.
Growing up in Midland, Ashley Ghose had a desire to leave the region and see what other communities were like, but she never found a good enough reason to do so.
“When I thought of starting a family, I knew the region was a good place to grow up in,” says Ghose. “It’s eclectic and has a lot to offer.”
After receiving a B.A. in dance and chemistry from Hope College and a physical therapy doctorate degree from Central Michigan University, Ghose accepted a position as a physical therapist at Midland’s MidMichigan Health, Campus Ridge Physical Therapy.
“I enjoy what I do,” says Ghose. “I help people get over injuries and get them back to work and day-to-day activities.”
Beyond rehabilitating people back to health, Ghose also serves the community as a board member for Creative 360, a nonprofit community organization that focuses on enhancing physical, mental, and spiritual wellness through the arts and humanities.
Ghose appreciates that everything in the region is in relatively close proximity to each other. “You have access to nearly anything within about a 40-minute drive,” she says.
This allows her and her husband, Anirban, a growth finance manager for packing at The Dow Chemical Company, to provide their two children with various activities and cultural opportunities.
“We love the parks and trails, and we often visit the Saginaw Zoo, the Saginaw Children’s Museum, the Chippewa Nature Center, and Loons games,” says Ghose.
And are the mechanisms currently in place to let young families maintain a proper perspective?
“Employers in the region are supportive of supplying good work-life balance, and that is important,” Ghose says.
“I’m a huge supporter of Saginaw and the region,” says Anthony Taylor. Originally from Wyandotte, Mich., Taylor has called Saginaw home since 2008, when he accepted a position as an area pharmaceutical sales rep for GlaxoSmithKline. In July 2013, Taylor took a position as an investment associate at Saginaw’s Tri-Star Trust Bank, working on a variety of duties related to portfolio management.
“Tri-Star was a company that I wanted to work for because of its commitment to the community,” says Taylor.
Given that Taylor holds a B.S. in biology from Hope College and an M.S. in health services administration from Central Michigan University, investment banking doesn’t necessarily fit his educational background, but relationships he had fostered helped open the door for his current position at Tri-Star.
“I have an unbelievable opportunity here,” says Taylor, referring to his current employment. Though he doesn’t have a financial background, he is seeking his financial planning certificate from the College for Financial Planning. “I’m able to perform my job duties while I learn, and I have a lot of opportunities to work in the community,” he adds.
Taylor’s community involvement includes serving on the boards for the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce, the Saginaw County Habitat for Humanity, and the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, which, together, help serve the entrepreneurial, housing, and cultural needs of the community.
But there is more to life than work and community service. For leisure, Taylor and his wife, Samantha, a retail manager in Birch Run, like to bike the Rail Trail, take in a Spirit hockey game, and attend various events at the Dow Event Center.
“It’s a great region to live in,” says Taylor. “The cost of living is very reasonable, and quality of life is great.”
It’s likely that as a health fitness specialist, Ryan Martin could find more lucrative opportunities in larger markets, but he is happy to call the region his adopted home. Originally from Allen Park, Martin moved to Midland in 2010 to work part time for The Dow Chemical Company after receiving his B.S. in rehabilitory health and fitness from Central Michigan University. In 2013, he took a full-time position as health fitness specialist for MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland.
“MidMichigan is concerned with corporate wellness, [and] having a healthy workforce is vital to that,” says Martin, who develops fitness training and exercise programs, and promotes healthy lifestyle choices to that end.
“I’m sure I could go out to California and work for a tech company and make more money than I do now, but I like it here,” he says.
For Martin and his fiancée, Jessica Hermann, a receptionist at MidMichigan Health, the region has a lot to offer.
“We enjoy the Loons and Spirit games, the Chippewa Nature Center, and the region’s phenomenal biking trails and rivers for kayaking,” says Martin. He also plays in Midland’s adult hockey league and likes fishing on the river in Bay City.
To give back to the community, Martin became involved with the United Way Young Leaders, community leaders in their 20s and 30s who volunteer both time and money toward causes that enrich quality of life in the region.
“I’m happy to give back to the community. The region is where I plan to stay and start a family,” says Martin.
All roads lead home. At least they did for attorney Sara Eastman.
A Midland native, Eastman earned a B.S. in biology and chemistry from Michigan State University and a general law degree from Indiana University, clerking for the Wisconsin Supreme Court during summers while attending law school.
Following law school, Eastman spent a decade serving as a JAG officer for the U.S. Air Force, serving in Alaska, Idaho, and the Middle East.
“My father is an attorney, and it’s the last thing I thought I would be,” says Eastman.
However, in 2013, she and her husband, Christopher Rishko, a major in the Michigan Air Guard, moved their family—they have two daughters and a son—back to Midland, where, despite being offered jobs in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Anchorage, she took a position working alongside her father at the Handlon Eastman Law Firm.
“You can’t beat the quality of life and cost of living here,” says Eastman.
Eastman and her family enjoy taking advantage of the region’s lakes and beaches, as well as its central proximity to metropolitan Detroit and the wilderness of Northern Michigan.
“There are a wide variety of activities [here] for less cost, with nature close by,” says Eastman.
Time spent away from the region helped Eastman experience the best of other communities, and by serving on several boards, including the Midland County Bar Association and the Midland Rotary, she applies that knowledge toward continually improving the region.
“Compared to other communities I’ve lived in, people here are noticeably more caring, volunteer oriented, and interested in improving the community,” she says. “I’m happy to add to that.”
“This area is authentic Michigan,” says Zak Branigan. “There are hard scrabble, working-class remnants, cool towns, great outdoors, and water, water, water.”
Branigan knows a bit about water. As executive director of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, he oversees the preservation of land and water resources in all 22 counties within the Saginaw Bay watershed; these lands provide habitat for various wildlife.
An Auburn native, Branigan holds a B.A. in nonprofit business and art from Aquinas College and an M.A. in urban planning from the University of Michigan. He lived and worked in Ann Arbor as a community planner for 17 years before moving to Bay City in 2012 with his wife, Moira, a recruiter for Leveraging Technology, and their son.
“Landing this job was like fate,” says Branigan. “I wanted to move back to the region and was interested in doing something in the environmental field.”
Given his profession, it’s no surprise that Branigan is a member of the Michigan and AuSable Valley Audubon, whose mission entails protecting habitat and conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for the public interest.
When he’s not protecting habitat in the region, Branigan and his family enjoy hiking and bird watching, biking on the Rail Trail, and spending time at the YMCA. They also look forward to Bay City’s annual Fireworks Festival, the River Roar, and the Tall Ship Celebration.
“I spent 13 years in Ann Arbor, but it went more upscale and lost its character,” says Branigan. “Bay City is the new Ann Arbor. It’s a good place for young people to move to.”
If you do the math, the solution becomes: Talented group of young professionals + Community pride = Bright future for the Great Lakes Bay Region.
“I love living in the region. It beats the big city,” says Karl Ieuter, president and owner of Ieuter Insurance Group in Midland.
That’s saying a lot, considering Ieuter has lived and worked in cities such as Charlotte, San Francisco, and Seattle.
A Midland native, Ieuter received a B.S. in finance from Miami University, Ohio, and an M.B.A. from Georgia State, then spent nearly a decade working in the insurance industry in major metropolitan areas. In 2006, he and his wife, Julie, a sales rep for Parker Hannifin, moved back to the region and settled in Sanford following the birth of their first daughter. Their family has since grown with the addition of two more daughters.
“There is no better place for raising a family,” says Ieuter. “There are excellent resources available throughout the region.”
Some of the resources Ieuter boasts about are the schools, the Midland Soccer Club, and the Midland Center for the Arts. He also lists attending Loons games and boating on Lake Sanford among his family’s favorite activities.
“The region is like a big city without the traffic,” he says.
Ieuter doesn’t only take advantage of the region’s rich resources, he helps provide resources that enrich others’ lives within the community. Among his contributions are volunteer hours with various United Way and Lions Club activities, and as a member of the Lions Club and Midland Area Chamber of Commerce board member.
It is equally important to Ieuter that his company positively impacts the community.
“At nearly any event in the region, you will find members of Ieuter Insurance Group involved in it,” says Ieuter.
Businesses and communities have a symbiotic relationship. Local economies depend on the success of local businesses, but communities must be attractive to the best and brightest job candidates, so that businesses have a robust pool of talent to choose from when hiring.
“It’s cyclical,” says Erin O’Brien, president and CEO of CMURC (Central Michigan University Research Corporation). “Retaining top talent produces deep roots, economic development, and community pride, resulting in time and resources, both capital and human, being put back into the community—and everyone benefits.”
CMURC is a nonprofit business incubator that focuses on growing businesses and accelerating the success of local entrepreneurs throughout the region by providing business services and helping businesses foster partnerships that help them grow.
One key aspect to helping businesses grow is ensuring that they have the best talent working for them.
“It all comes down to people,” says O’Brien.
However, attracting top talent is easier said than done. O’Brien advises the best approach is to focus on three things: company, relationships, and planning for the future.
Company. It’s essential to build a culture that reflects the kind of employees you are seeking. This helps ensure that new hires will be the right fit for the business.
Relationships. You never know where your next great hire will come from. Build relationships with other businesses, local colleges, and hiring agencies. Companies too often underestimate the value of these relationships.
Planning for the future. The marketplace is ever changing. It’s prudent to be prepared to promote from within, so that if positions become available due to growth, or should someone leave the company, there is a seamless transition. Internships and employee development initiatives can help in this area.
There is, however, an added element to these three culture-building essentials that companies can’t necessarily control.
Community. And while they can’t control it, they can contribute to it. When hiring, a company can do everything right to attract the best talent, but if the community or region isn’t a desirable place to live, the candidate is likely to pass on the position.
“People want to love where they work and where they live, and where they live is where they will spend money. This goes hand in hand with quality of life in the region,” says O’Brien.
So, in this symbiotic relationship between companies and communities, companies must not only invest in the communities themselves, they should also hire those who are willing to do so, too. In this way, employees enjoy a high quality of life, and businesses and local economies thrive.
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