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Alternative Narrative Can Become the Dominant Narrative

Paul Schutt, Issue Media Group

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Paul Schutt is co-founder of Issue Media Group, a company that produces online magazines including Model D, Rapid Growth, Metromode, and Capital Gains that focus on non-traditional media themes such as city assets, growth and investment, neighborhoods, and solutions.

Issue Media Group helps people see places differently. Its ezines feature stories about remarkable people and places that capture the positive and authentic stories of communities. The mission of this new media is to tell the good news about economic growth and investment. The ezines partner with local developers and realtors to feature emerging, authentic and growing neighborhoods that are great places to live. They are creating online directories of lifestyle amenities and comprehensive guides on how to visit, move, and invest in a neighborhood.

Before creating the ezine editorial model, Issue Media Group researched 29 communities that are growing in population to see why they are growing. Just like the Michigan Future Inc. report, they discovered successful knowledge-based economies that support high numbers of citizens with degrees; innovation as seen in many small start-up businesses, and the availability of venture capital and small business loans; diversity where different ethnicities are living together; and a sense of place. They asked the twenty-five to thirty-four year olds living in these communities “where are you when you are in the third place (not at home and not at work)?” What they found is millennials are looking for comfortable locations where they can hang out, be with their friends, or work on their laptops. They want amenities—restaurants, cafés, bars, shopping, bike paths, arts and culture—in walkable, authentic neighborhoods. They are finding what they are looking for in vibrant core cities.

Paul SchuttHaving identified what twenty-somethings are looking for, Issue Media Group is using the penguin theory to boost investment in Michigan’s core cities. Documentaries show groups of penguins standing on the edge looking into the water. They are all very hungry and eager to begin fishing, but very apprehensive to be the first to jump into the water. If one or only a few penguins jump in, they may be attacked. If an entire group jumps in, however, the chances of a negative outcome decrease substantially. So the penguins are content to jump in as long as they know others are willing to go with them.

We are just like penguins, so the ezines show people in the water. By featuring real estate development, jobs, start-ups, and neighborhoods, they create transparency in the market that stimulates investment as others decide to test the water. Features on talent and guest bloggers who live in these settings help others see themselves living and working in these environments. Millennials can tell from reading the ezines where they can find people who share their interests.

Millennials are sometimes compared to urban tribes—they live together and even move together from place to place. Paul has a brother in Phoenix who has over twenty friends from Central Michigan University living in his community. His other brother lives in Maui with six of his friends from Western Michigan University. Mainly single and living without kids, millennials are looking for communities that provide locations where any night of the week they can socialize after 9:00 p.m.

One of the questions millennials are asking themselves is “Do I stay and help build the community I want to live in or do I go to a place that is already happening so I can live my dreams now?” How do we help them answer this question so that we retain and engage talent in Michigan? Internships may be part of the answer. Studies show that fifty percent of interns end up staying in that state, and of those who stay, 50 percent of them end up working at the company they intern with. Eighty percent of entrepreneurs start their first business in the town they grow up in or the city where they went to college. These are the people who can help us remake our cities.

Another hurdle we face in Michigan is the housing stock. Seventy percent of the homes in Michigan are detached single family homes. However, less than twenty-five percent of U.S. households have children. There are 78 million millennials and 82 million boomers. The current narrative is to buy as soon as you can, but twenty-somethings are looking for unique housing, at affordable rents in walkable neighborhoods. They are not looking to buy, preferring to keep their mobility and flexibility. They are not looking for non-descript white wall apartments out by the highway. They are environmentally sensitive and looking for historic or unique living spaces in multi-family and multi-use buildings downtown in a community with public transportation. Millennials have strong feelings about cars; they prefer mass transit, walking and bikes for health, social, environmental, and financial reasons. They want to know that they can access their lifestyle basics—Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or H&M—without driving a car.

Michigan is a great place to live if you are under twenty-three or over forty and have kids. Those in the twenty-five to forty age bracket without kids are looking for places to spend their third place time. If you live in Chicago or New York, there is no problem finding things to do two nights a week for the next ten years. It is easy to picture 1,000 fun-filled nights in Chicago. To help Michigan succeed, we have to disrupt the current narrative and help millennials and boomers see that you can spend 1,000 fun-filled nights in places such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, and East Lansing.

During the twentieth century, large manufacturing plants had Michigan’s job growth at the head of the curve. In the old economy, a new big box manufacturing plant could add 1,000 jobs to a community. Today, the numbers of manufacturing jobs are dwindling and Michigan is at the head of the traditional narrative of job loss and decay. Stepping away from manufacturing plants, today’s job growth is in the knowledge-based economy, which is incremental; it’s all about the long tail, where new companies start out small and grow over time. With each start-up or new expansion, jobs are added four or five at a time. Traditional media typically doesn’t report on this form of growth.

Issue Media Group recognizes this fact and is mining out stories on investment and talent. They report on approximately 1,500 stories a year about investment in Detroit. They focus on urban pioneers who are leading the charge to restore Michigan’s inner cities. By submitting these stories to traditional media and getting the message out in today’s social media—ezines, blogs, message boards, MySpace—Issue Media Group is turning the traditional vicious cycle of news about Michigan’s core cities into a virtuous cycle of the rebirth that is happening in Michigan.

 

If you have any questions, please contact: 
Colleen Layton, clayton@mml.org or Arnold Weinfeld, aweinfeld@mml.org .

 

 

 

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