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Dan Gilmartin Writes About Why Placemaking Matters in Michigan

By Daniel P. Gilmartin

There’s been a lot of talk lately on why we need to cut taxes to boost the economy and grow more business in Michigan. There’s no denying that business owners would love to pay less in taxes—it might even encourage them to invest more in an expanded workforce and infrastructure. We’re not arguing the point that Michigan needs to create a more business-friendly climate as part of the overall strategy.

But let’s set all that aside for a moment to answer two simple questions:

1. How many of us know a young person—maybe even your own son or daughter—who has recently moved or is planning to move to Chicago?

2. How many of us know someone who has recently moved or is planning to move to Sioux Falls? (In case that doesn’t a ring a bell, it’s the largest city in South Dakota.)

I’m willing to bet a whole lot more fingers were counted for Chicago. Yet, Illinois is currently ranked 23rd on the State Business Tax Climate Index by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, while South Dakota tops the chart at number one. Michigan, incidentally, is currently sitting at 17th. So what’s going on here? Shouldn’t the Index ranking mean our young people are flocking to the high plains to fulfill their American dreams?

Not a fair comparison, you say? After all, Chicago is a cosmopolitan city with world-class shopping and dining, an endless array of theater, museums, art galleries and music in an incredibly vibrant downtown—and with fast and easy mass transit to enjoy them all. Who wouldn't rather visit or live in Chicago?

Exactly. Today’s young people don’t choose a place to live and work based on the tax base. Time and again, studies have shown our most talented workers choose where they want to live first, and get a job. They choose a place where they can enjoy a particular lifestyle that’s built on the core assets they value. Increasingly, that high quality of life has come to mean things like great physical design and walkability, cheap and efficient mass transit, quality schools, arts and culture, sustainability…Is all this starting to sound familiar? That’s what our Center for 21st Century Communities concept is all about.

That’s also what rebuilding our downtowns is about: creating a sense of identity and community, making a place where people want to work, live, and play. This issue of The Review focuses on communities that realize place matters. You’ll find articles about celebrated downtowns throughout our state.

But you can’t build an environment like that out of thin air. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, taxes exist for a reason: to pay for the services and amenities we share as a community, a state, and a nation. Sure, we can all get a little smarter on how we spend public money. We can all find innovative ways to streamline and become more cost-effective.

If you were at the League’s Capital Conference in April, you know how important these issues are, and how hard the League is fighting for our downtowns and all they stand for. We brought in experts to talk about smarter ways to fix the state’s budget mess not just for today, but for tomorrow and on toward the future. We talked about how to work with less and what we can do to hang on to what we have.

It’s a conversation that will still be going on this fall, when hopefully you’ll join us at the 2011 Convention, Oct. 4-7 in Grand Rapids. It’s never been more important to show our solidarity as the leaders of Michigan’s municipalities. In the meantime, remember to get involved at your upcoming Regional meetings too, in May and June. This is the time to present that innovative municipal program or project for the League’s annual Community Excellence Awards. It’s the chance to share your successes with your peers, in making place matter.

Prosperity Agenda Radio Show Audio Found at

The Michigan Municipal League is taking its message to one of the largest radio stations in the Midwest—News/Talk 760 WJR. Throughout 2011, League Director & CEO Dan Gilmartin will host the “Michigan Prosperity Agenda” radio show that challenges listeners to help make Michigan a better place to live, work, and play by creating vibrant and prosperous local communities.

The show is sponsored by the League and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and is scheduled to air at 7 pm on the fourth Wednesday of every month. We encourage all our members and friends to tune in for each show. For those outside the WJR listening audience, you can hear segments of the show by clicking here.


Daniel P. Gilmartin is executive director and CEO of the League. You may contact him at 734-669-6302 or



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