Ingham County: A Changing Community

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By Alexa McCarthy
Ingham County Chronicle

Stephanie Vanis, born and raised in East Lansing and a junior at East Lansing High School, is starting her college search and hesitant to got to Michigan State University.

“I don’t want to go to MSU because I think it’s a bad school or because I don’t like it, but rather because I’ve been here my whole life. I want to leave.” For Vanis, getting away from the family and what’s familiar is a draw just like for so many other people her age.

Vanis says she feels the stress to stay close to home and save money because there are plenty of opportunities close by.

Sitting in her family’s restaurant, Vanis says she feels the stress to stay close to home and save money because there are plenty of opportunities close by.

While Vanis may just be starting to explore what her post-high school life will be like, she represents a similar mentality for area high school and college students

For many years, young professionals, college students and recent college grads have not seen the Ingham County area as anything more than a place to go to college for four years. This is something that the Ingham County area is trying to change perceptions about.

The Lansing area went through similar transformations of many city centers decades ago as people got tired of urban areas and moved outward toward the suburbs. Now, as young professionals are trying to move away from the suburbs, Lansing area businesses are trying to convince them to look their way.

LEAP, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, provides resources to entrepreneurs and businesses for new projects and economic development. It serves the tri-county area in attracting employees to area jobs, giving businesses the tools to convince potential employees the benefits of living in the area.

In 2012 and 2013, LEAP has helped create 2,885 direct private sector jobs and $565,064,000 in total private sector investment in the counties it represents.

According to Sara Partkinson director of communications and talent at LEAP, it can be a hard sell to young professionals that are looking for the hippest place to live. “Its ends up being hard to sell the region because it may not seem as cool as something like San Francisco or Chicago,” she said. “But we obviously have lower living costs so there are long-term benefits of living here, settling and being a young professional. But it’s hard to relay that to students.”

Stuart Vanis, Stephanie’s dad and part owner of the Coral Gables restaurant in East Lansing did what many young students do when they graduate from MSU, he moved to Chicago. After four years there, with a wife and credentials from the big city, he returned to his home to help run the family business. This pattern is not unusual. Partkinson calls this the boomerang.

“We have a ton of students that leave the state, and then come back because they realize the jobs are just as good here, with less competition,” she said. “And you can buy a home for less than what you’re paying in rent in a big city.”

The financial possibilities in the Lansing area are something that Partkinson and her colleagues are trying to stress to young professionals who are often strapped with college loans and debt.

Libby Lussenhop, a 2014 MSU graduate, was offered a full-time job at Air Lift Performance, a producer and seller of vehicle air life and air management systems, after completing an internship this past summer. She said staying in the area has proved to be a good balance between finding and experiencing new things about the area and remaining close to her university friends. “It really is such a different mentality to have because I can enjoy being here as a community member,” she said. “I can love the city for all the reasons why I loved it as a student, but without the college stress. It’s refreshing.”

Lussenhop said she considered leaving the area before graduation but felt the experience she would get at her company was worth the stay. But like most young professionals, she’s not entirely set on one place to live. reported that millenials stay at jobs for an average less than three years. That leaves Ingham County with the responsibility of convincing people like Lussenhop to look for their new jobs in the area.

And if people don’t think there are jobs to be offered in the area, they are surely mistaken. The area has become a hub for insurance agencies, with 5 nation headquarters in the area, which has led to a high demand for a range of positions, specifically in IT. “We have these little IT companies and these large IT sectors that formed out of the insurance companies,” said Parkinson. “It’s kind of like the sleeping giant that people don’t know we have.”

Carol N. Koenig, Ingham County commissioner of District 9 and parks commission member, sees the area’s environment and outdoor activities as an important part of keeping young talent. On Nov. 4, Ingham County passed a trails and parks millage and Koenig said the importance of the funding goes beyond maintaining and building parks and tails.

She said that the board looks at many studies that show the importance of parks and trails to young professionals. “When they are considering a play to live they like to picture themselves using these recreational facilities or parks and it is high on their list of important factors,” said Koenig. “That’s why trails and parks are more important than people think.”

Brian McGrain, Ingham County Commission vice-chairperson and commissioner of District 10, said these are the types of things that help to create a sense of community that people are looking for. McGrain has been in the area about 20 years, first coming as an out-of-state student to MSU. He has been a resident of Lansing’s eastside neighborhood for 12 years.

“We weren’t always thinking about what our community looked like. We were letting development happen just as it did, out on the edge in the suburbs,” he said. “There has been a reaction to the fact that we have strong core communities and wanting to make them stronger.”

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