After alumna Kelsey Parkinson graduated MSU last summer, she wanted to move to New York. However, her goal of working in the fashion industry made it difficult to find a job. Parkinson moved back home and began to freelance for an advertising agency, all while continuing her job search outside of Michigan.
Many graduates look for jobs out of state. According to the 2015 MSU Destination Survey, 38 percent of surveyed graduates reported employment outside of Michigan. The state is facing a net migration loss of -4 percent, according to The , and while many MSU graduates tend to stay in state, others prefer to leave post graduation.
In the mitten
For some, there’s no lack of job opportunities in the area. Andrea Ragan, executive director at the Capital Area IT Council, or CAITC, said as the need for technology continues to rise, the need for information technoloy, or IT, employees grows. However, not enough students are going into that career field, resulting in an IT shortage.
Ragan said although the shortage is national, and possibly even global, Lansing is particularly affected.
“We’re feeling it just as much as anyone else, but maybe more,” she said. “I think that other, larger areas are feeling the shortage also, but they have bigger attraction options.”
Still, 78 percent of respondents reported finding employment in the midwest. While the survey did not break down by geographical area within Michigan, associate director of employer relations Eric Doerr said internal reports indicate 45 percent of students from Greater Lansing stay in the area after graduation, and 74 percent stay in state.
Doerr said that number tends to surprise people. He said people expect more of MSU’s graduates to move away. While many do, the majority find employment in Michigan.
Economics professor Charles Ballard echoed Doerr. He said college graduates tend to go where job opportunities are. For many, opportunities exist in places like metro Detroit, perhaps even compared to Lansing.
“An awful lot of them are going to be headed for large metropolitan areas,” Ballard said. “That means a very substantial fraction of the MSU students are from metro Detroit.
“Metro Detroit has a lot to offer because it’s bigger. Depending on exactly how you slice and dice it, metro Detroit, if you include Wayne, Oakland, Macomb county — that’s about 4 million people. Whereas Ingham, Clinton and Eaton county is about half of a million. So, that’s a big difference.”
Still, Ballard does not suspect Lansing suffers much migration loss, in part because of the impact MSU has on the market and community.
“Even though there are plenty of MSU grads who don’t stay in the Lansing area, Michigan State University is still a tremendous asset to metro Lansing,” he said. “If you take away this university, what do you got left? ... You take away an employer that has 50,000 students, 12,000 employees. That is an economic powerhouse. Even though some of those graduates don’t stay in the Lansing area, it’s still a huge net plus for Lansing metro.”
Jobs in the state are working to recruit and retain college graduates. Ragan said they focus their approach on encouraging students to join IT programs and careers. She said they focus their presence on campus to guest lectures, career fairs and other events on a student’s radar.
Still, Ragan stressed there is no perfect solution to the IT shortage.
“There is no magic bullet solution to recruiting or maintaining IT professionals,” she said. “We have to do some talent development to get people to choose these careers and paths.”
Ballard suggested raising salaries to keep people looking in the area instead of other metropolitan areas.
“The economist’s first answer is offer a higher wage rate,” Ballard said. “The best IT workers, they have lots and lots and lots of job opportunities. ... Lansing faces strong competition for keeping those people.”
Quality of life
For Michigan to attract and keep more residents, cities might need to be the focus.
East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas knows this. He said the city has been paying attention to the changes that need to be made.
“I think young people now want a more urban, walkable, vibrant downtown area,” Lahanas said. “That’s the place of choice for people graduating. So, we have to make our downtown more dense — meaning higher, bigger buildings — more housing, a diversity of housing, more and varied things to do downtown and hopefully provide larger scale employers so people have somewhere to work as well.”
Lahanas said several redevelopment projects are in the works throughout the downtown, aiming to bring in more housing and employment opportunities. Some projects include the 565 Building and Park District.
But moving out of East Lansing is an important step for some. After Parkinson graduated in the summer she lived part time in the Lansing area while finishing some work. Soon after, she decided to move back home to Novi.
“(I have) to get out of the college town mindset and lifestyle in order to grow up and move on,” Parkinson said.
She focused her job search in New York, Chicago and other metropolitan areas because she said the best jobs in her field are there and she enjoys the lifestyle.
“There’s just more going on,” Parkinson said. “I also just like the atmosphere of the city. It’s busy. There’s always something to do, people to see, places to go. You’re never really bored and there’s more excitement.”
Groups in Lansing are working to showcase the excitement of the city. is a new nonprofit that hosts events downtown for visiting college interns and residents to socialize and experience an environment different than they expect.
Chris Sell, founder of Lansing 5:01 and director of alumni and entrepreneur engagement at MSU, said their events have career counseling opportunities, but focus on opportunities in the area.
“Our ultimate goal is to attract and retain young talent to Lansing and we do that through creating meaningful experiences and events that showcase prominent places, people and things in the Lansing region and help connect young people, college students and young professionals, to all of the emerging quality of life assets in the region,” Sell said.
Some past events include summer concerts and free kayaking on the Grand River. He said the events are put on to encourage college interns and young professionals to experience Lansing outside of a workplace.
Some college graduates move to cities without secure jobs. Ragan’s friends moved to Chicago after college without jobs and had to be nannies and waitresses until they could find something, while she started as a marketing manager in Lansing.
While Ragan did not do it herself, she said she sees why others have.
“It’s one of the most mobile times in a young professional’s in life,” Ragan said. “If you don’t have any roots yet, looking for your first job or career move after college you can look around geographically. Getting out of Michigan is appealing to that audience.”
Ballard agreed. He said cities with high migration rates are interesting places for college students to work and live. To make Michigan and Lansing a place for college students to live, it has to highlight all aspects of the city.
“It’s not just a job and a paycheck,” Ballard said. “It’s a life.”