If you grew up in the Great Lakes Bay Region, you’re invited to come home on Oct. 11 and discover what’s new in your hometown.
Between the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Greater Flint Area, the eight counties of Bay, Arenac, Midland, Isabella, Saginaw, Gladwin, Clare, and Gratiot, make up the Great Lakes Bay Region. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and even Fortune 500 Companies call this place home. But business leaders say it’s often difficult to attract young professionals to live and work in this region.
One initiative to connect businesses with talent is the 2nd annual Coming Home event, which takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Mountain Town Station, 506 W. Broadway St. in Mt. Pleasant. Anyone interested in networking and learning more about the area is invited.
Coming Home is a program of Discover Great Lakes Bay, a community organization based in Saginaw that serves both people living in the area now and those who want to return home. The organization promotes the region’s highlights, including miles of freshwater coastline and every type of community from those with bustling downtowns to quiet rural areas.
Middle Michigan Development Corporation is leading the Coming Home planning efforts this year. Kati Mora, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications for Middle Michigan Development Corporation, says the talent initiative was launched in 2018 as an effort by the economic development corporations across all eight counties to promote the Great Lakes Bay Region and the jobs available here.
It is also a microsite to promote opportunities to young professionals who may have left the area and are looking to return.
“We’re looking forward to it being an opportunity and a time for people to really celebrate all that the region has to offer,” Mora says. “But, also, hopefully help our businesses to fill the talent gap that we know they are all dealing with currently.”
Mora explained there are many open positions across multiple fields in the area, yet there’s not talent that’s readily available. “What I like about this particular event and talent initiative is that it’s really creative in how we’re approaching a solution to this problem that we know our companies are facing.”
This year’s event won’t use the typical job fair atmosphere. Instead, attendees will discover high tables for casual hangouts. Businesses attending are encouraged to come with limited marketing material to turn the focus on networking and conversation, “I think this will allow for us to really focus in on relationship building” she says.
Casual conversations keep the Coming Home event from feeling like a traditional job fair. During the 2018 event, participants gathered at high-top tables.
Attendees will enjoy beer brewed at Mountain Town Station and the “Meet Here Mule,” a specialty drink offered exclusively for the event. There will also be wine and prizes.
Another Discover Great Lakes Bay program to attract outsiders to the region is ambassadors and a social media hashtag, #DiscoverGreatLakesBay.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to see all of the activity that they’re up to. I think before this I wouldn’t have realized just how much there was to do throughout the region,” Mora says.
Mora explains the ambassadors hope to reach people who grew up here or have ties to the area, but who left for larger cities or different regions. People who leave an area tend to follow it on social media and look for what’s changed or new.
Megan Manning is a Bay County Ambassador and works as Investor Relations and Marketing Manager of Bay Future Inc. After college, she and her husband, Keith, moved to Flint where they commuted to work. Megan assumed they eventually would move to Metro Detroit, “And then they surprised us and transferred me back up to this area.”
Since moving back to Bay City, the couple has become involved in the community and started a family.
Manning’s husband, Keith, works as Vice President of Finance at Falcon Asphalt Repair Equipment in Freeland and serves on the United Way of Bay County Board of Directors. He’s originally from St. John’s, which is more rural, so he quickly fell in love with downtown Bay City.
“There is always something to do,” Keith says. “There are events happening in the region every week. There are beautiful parks, boating, fishing and beaches, and professional sports being played year-round.”
“The cost of living is a big factor that I believe gets passed over quite often,” Keith adds. “The housing market in comparison to other areas in Michigan is very hard to beat.”
From Dow Gardens in Midland to the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum in Saginaw, the Mannings and their family share their experiences on social media. They recently attended the Chalk Walk Art Festival in Bay City.
“Showing people that this is an event that is happening that heightens the quality of life here,” Megan Manning says. “And that’s the main piece to me — what quality of life are we finding? There’s a lot of things people don’t necessarily know are going on, but they make a big difference and they make our community more enjoyable and that’s what makes people want to move to different communities.”
Amelia Jaskiewicz, Business Development for Garpiel Group based in Saginaw, and Breanna Theisen, retail sales professional for Herman Hiss & Company, 905 Washington Ave. in Bay City, are also Bay County Ambassadors.
Jaskiewicz heard about the opportunity through Megan Manning and thinks it’s a great way to engage people to come to the area. “Visiting Bay City State Park is always on my to-do list and you cannot leave without getting an ice cream cone from Mussel Beach or playing putt-putt at Dutch Village,” she says. She will attend this year’s Coming Home event.
Working for a store with such strong roots in the community, Theisen wanted to do more. She heard about the opportunity on social media.
“Being an ambassador, I am able to just do what I like to do,” she says. “I visit local events, keep my eye out for interesting things in my travels around the area, and then I share what I see on social media in hopes of others discovering a store, event, or place in the area that they didn’t know existed.”
The ambassadors make the program work, Mora says.
“They’re so engaged with their communities, they’re so passionate about their communities, they want to make things happen,” Mora says. “By shining the light on what this particular group of individuals are doing within our communities that only attracts more young professionals to be here.”