Posted: 2:03 p.m. January 29, 2010

Business leaders, workforce experts, political officials and university leaders came together at the Southeast Michigan Regional Stakeholders Event at Washtenaw Community College to discuss various issues confronting the state.

Convincing Michigan workers to attend college is one of the best ways to boost the state’s distressed major cities, officials said this morning.

Persuading young people to stay in Michigan is critical to boosting the state’s economy, said David Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, a $100 million philanthropic economic development organization.

“Without them, there’s no tax base, no charitable contributions, no social service and no arts and culture,” Egner said. “We simply will shrivel.”

Some 2/3rds of talented young people nationwide are attracted to major cities, he said. But Michigan’s major cities are performing poorly in that talent competition.

Detroit, for example, has just 15,000 residents under age 35 with a college degree, Egner said.

Creating an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said, is a critical step toward revitalizing Michigan’s population centers and attracting youth.

“Seventy years ago, this was Silicon Valley,” he said of Michigan. “We believe that spirit is still here. It’s just become a dormant gene.”

Andy Levin, the state’s chief workforce officer, said that generating an educated workforce is imperative to reversing Michigan’s economic decline.

But he argued that educating young people is not the only way to build an educated economy. He said that people who have already graduated from high school will make up 2/3rds of Michigan’s workforce by 2025.

Levin said programs like the state’s No Worker Left Behind initiative, which provides college funding assistance to laid-off workers, are critical to building an educated workforce.

“For a couple generations of people, a lot of them never had any reason to go to college because when they left high school they get get a great job,” Levin said. “The only way we are going to fundamentally increase our level of education is including our workforce in that education” movement.

Early signs from the No Worker Left Behind program are encouraging, he said. Recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that from 2007 to 2008 the number of Michigan workers with some college education increased by 120,000, Levin said.

Still, convincing those educated workers to stay in Michigan is challenging. Some 46 percent of Michigan’s public university graduates leave the state within eight months of graduating, according to a 2007 study, said Dan Little, chancellor of the University of Michigan at Dearborn.

One grassroots way to keep talented students in Michigan is internships, Little said. He pointed to the early success of, a new Web site created in partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber that aims to connect Michigan students with Michigan companies.

“Internships are a great tool for retaining young people in the region,” Little said.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587.