Below find the full text with links of the Op Ed I wrote for LSJ – find the published version HERE
Lansing, MI: so much like so many places in the Midwest. Whether you call it the Rust Belt (a term that came out of the 1984 Presidential Campaign and many find pejorative, but I embrace), or the more euphemistic “Productivity Belt”, “Manufacturing Belt” or the slightly better “Legacy Cities” – or any other attempt at rebranding – there’s something going on here.
Lansing is proud to have been selected to work with the National League of Cities Cities of Opportunity program and the Lincoln Institute Legacy Cities pilots on efforts tailored to Lansing and similar cities – cheers! to our friends in Akron and Rochester. This part of the world matters a lot. Whether it’s food production, the presence of fresh water, the fact that ~70 million people live here or the lessons of what happens in the evolution of American cities there is much worth discovering in this part of the country. Where’s the Rust Belt? While the boundaries are debatable, Belt Magazine provides a good map and description.
With 9,000 other Opportunity Zones across the country, what makes this place a unique investment opportunity? I’ll make a case for Lansing specifically, but feel free to extrapolate out to the Rust Belt as a whole. Many people are trying to figure out where the middle has gone. It’s here and it’s in places like here and with places like Lansing.
Lansing historically has been a company town, of three types. The regional economy has been a three-legged stool: State Government, Michigan State University, and General Motors. Although that represents three sectors (government, academia, and big industry), the large institutional mentality is similar across all. For a long time, careers were linear, the pathway to the middle and upper middle class was identifiable and predictable, and the system provided a model. This mentality is tough to apply to the realities of today’s economy.
Thankfully our young professionals are moving away from this thinking. Recognizing that the linear ladder no longer exists, they’re making their own way. The economy is diversifying with the insurance sector (6 companies are headquartered here providing 10,000 jobs), advanced manufacturing, and small creative enterprise everywhere. The types of businesses arriving and growing are important, but the mentality is even more important. People of all ages are embracing nimble careers that are more jungle gym than ladder and breaking out of the institutional thinking that has served us well for a long time, but no longer does. It should also be noted that the Midwestern Work Ethic is real.
The quality of life proposition is strong in Lansing. Commute times are minimal (mine is a 40 min leisurely walk, 10-minute bike or electric scooter, 30 minutes by bus, or 5 minutes by car). In fact, on average Lansing residents enjoy 16.4 more days of life per year than the rest of the country because of the saved commute time. A key feature that cannot be downplayed is the ability to “adult early”, or rather “adult on time” here in Lansing. Our offices are full of young professionals in their mid-twenties who have purchased a home, set down some roots, and have begun building wealth through real estate. That’s an unheard-of proposition in many parts of the country. While that kind of commitment can be seen as constraining nimble career moves, the mentality I’ve heard is more of freedom – leveraging that asset or renting it out as career moves may come. It’s investment without constriction and is the new energy of this place.
Lansing and other Legacy Cities have great bones and community investments that just need a little renovation to make them shine again. Lansing residents enjoy 40% more parkland per capita than the national average. The centerpiece is the 16 mile Lansing Regional Trail that connects the major regional centers together and makes them easily accessible by bike. It has a renewed appreciation for the rivers that run through the city and the Middle Grand River was just designated as a Heritage Waterway by the Department of Natural Resources, demonstrating a renewed commitment to the river as a recreational asset.
With Michigan State University, the region enjoys the cultural and athletic attractions of a much bigger market and a constant influx of new students and faculty that bring energy, diversity, and ingenuity to the community. There’s also cutting edge technology with the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) – called the second greatest human machine after the CERN— and the #1 Nuclear Physics Department in the country at Michigan State University. Lansing is located within 90 minutes of both Detroit and Grand Rapids, providing easy access to those key markets in the state.
Neighborhoods in the City of Lansing provide vibrancy and high quality of life. Historic homes, new urban construction, creative commercial pockets, a robust urban agriculture scene and wide open spaces all within the city limits provide a variety of housing options. An abundance of restaurants, festivals, and events can be found in REOTown, Old Town, Downtown and across the region.
Within the City of Lansing there are unique school offerings within the Lansing School District Pathway Promise, such as biotech, advanced manufacturing, Chinese and Spanish Immersion, and much more. The community has developed a Pre K-16 continuum of education and offers the Lansing SAVE universal children’s savings account through the Lansing Promise post-secondary scholarship program.
Like so many Legacy Cities, we have a heyday in the rearview mirror. We have a bright future ahead, but it won’t be rebuilt in the way that it was. We are building on our strengths and magnifying our unique position in the country. As our Mayor Andy Schor is fond of saying “Lansing’s Time is Now” and our Opportunity Zones are ready to move us into the next wave of Lansing prosperity.