Young entrepreneurs staying in Michigan

LANSING — In a state that is battling to overcome its perception as an economic sinkhole, the presence of revived cities, growing local economies and the idealistic attitude of students are starting to keep young entrepreneurs in Michigan.

Small Business Association of Michigan Director of Government Relations Michael Marzano said it is time for the state to re-label itself and its vibrant cities to attract businesses. He used the introduction of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids as an example of a new idea that stimulates the local economy and draws in young people.

“Think about what ArtPrize does for the economy of a downtown area like that. It’s just built it up so much,” Marzano said.

“There are so many businesses going into Grand Rapids — and it’s not your normal bank that you’re going to see on every corner. These are small boutique shops, local restaurants, bars,” he said.

Spencer Covey, the entrepreneur-in-residence at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Grand Rapids, said the positive outlook on growth should extend to the economy — good or bad.

Covey said he saw some of his best success in revitalizing businesses in Michigan following the Great Recession. During that time, he worked with Perrigo Co. and Spectrum Health to quickly create new revenue streams.

“For me, the downturn resulted in businesses seeking out skill sets that they normally would not have been all that comfortable with,” he said. “They were willing to listen to the independent free-thinkers because they were struggling just as much as anyone else.”

Most of the student entrepreneurs at Grand Valley may not need an economic stronghold to keep them focused on Michigan, said Covey.

Places like Grand Valley and Grand Rapids pull in students who want to remain close to home and offer a scaled-down location in which young people can truly be creators.

“The nice thing about Michigan is you can be a part of the story,” he said.

“In bigger towns, you are a part of their story. It takes a lot to change Chicago. In Grand Rapids, you can impact the city, and that is evident and attractive to a lot of the students.”

Since August 2014, 125 startup businesses have been introduced across the state, said Amanda Lewan, founder and editor of Michipreneur, a Detroit-based online publication about startups in Michigan.

Lewan said an important part of encouraging startups is to tell their stories.

Because Michigan tends to have a negative economic image, tracking startups and offering them resources and advice with publications like hers are essential in encouraging growth, she said.

“Michigan has a lot of opportunity, and if we tell these stories, we can keep businesses growing and help build communities,” Lewan said.

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