Emotional ties to Michigan bring entrepreneurs home
From The Detroit News
by Jennifer Youssef
Successful careers outside Michigan proved to be not enough for East Lansing natives Joe and Rose Glendinning.
The siblings longed to return home and run their own business, looking to create a less-stressful, more relaxed lifestyle closer to family and friends.
Joe Glendinning, a high-paid attorney in Chicago, moved back in 2007 and opened a Biggby Coffee franchise in Bloomfield Hills the following year. After some cajoling, he convinced his little sister, a Boston banking executive, to join him in his entrepreneurial venture.
Today, the pair run two Biggby Coffee franchises; the second opened last month in Birmingham. While there is no data on the return of Michiganians, the Glendinnings are among the stories of natives who are coming back home and partially countering the population exodus from the state.
“I’m very glad I came back,” Rose said. “Sure it’s been through tough times, but you have to have faith in Michigan.”
The reasons many return to Michigan run the gamut. Some are lured by the desire to be near family and friends. Some see an economic landscape ripe for entrepreneurial opportunities, and others are heeding a call to invest in their native state and help bring Michigan out of its lingering slump.
They’re also bucking a trend: In what’s been dubbed the “brain drain” many college graduates and young professionals are leaving for greener pastures in other states. The repatriated Michiganians are undeterred by the state’s high unemployment, the implosion of the automotive industry and a host of other economic woes.
“When times are tough, people tend to move back home,” said John Challenger, a consultant at Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a Chicago-based business consulting firm. “Starting (a business) where you know people is crucial.”
A nearby network of family, friends and the community creates a stable environment to launch a business, he said.
“People have been stranded,” he said, explaining that the soft job market nationwide is making it difficult for workers to advance in careers or find other work. “They’re saying ‘I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.’ ”
When few job options are available, and the entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, there’s no better place to open a business than where the entrepreneur knows people who can help, he said.
People who hail from the Midwest, where families often remain for many generations, tend to return to their home states because of strong family ties, said Todd Hohauser, a recruiter at Hohauser & Associates, a Troy-based executive recruiting firm.
“There’s always folks who are interested in coming back here,” he said.
Looking for a place to launch her gourmet granola company, Suzanne Vier, a former Metro Detroiter living in New York City, decided on Michigan, drawn by its diverse agricultural offerings, large manufacturing hubs and robust work force.
Vier and company co-founder Randy Tenbrink began selling Randy’s Granola at Eastern Market last year. Vier, who is now the sole proprietor, moved the operation from west Michigan to Detroit earlier this year.
“I left New York having built a close network of friends and professional contacts, but I’ve met and reacquainted with some wonderful people here, and I’m closer to family again,” she said. “This is my home, and I’m happy to be back.”
Gordon Krater, managing partner at Southfield-based financial services firm Plante & Moran, isn’t surprised to hear that native Michiganians are slowly trickling back to the state to start a business.
The timing is perfect for entrepreneurs to open a business in Michigan because a large number of vacant commercial buildings are available, rents are low and there’s a big pool of unemployed workers, he said. Another draw for people who have been living in other states and want to move back to Michigan: The housing supply is plentiful and reasonably priced, he said.
“The stars are starting to align,” he said, noting that the economy seems to have finally turned the corner, the auto sector apparently has bottomed out, Detroit has a new mayor and the city’s school system appears to be on the mend with new leadership in place.
All those things are good reasons for people to come back home and give Michigan another try, he said.
“It’s a good time and place to start a business here,” he said.
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