No County for Old Farts (or, No Sacred Cow Left Un-slayed)

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The question before Michigan — and Livingston County — could be snarkily summed up as this: Do we want to be a place for old farts?

Bill Rustem, Gov. Rick Snyder’s director of strategy, didn’t use quite those words, but his message was clear.

In order for Michigan in general and Livingston County in particular to recover now and thrive in the future, they must each become places where young people want to live. The steady exodus from Michigan of talented college graduates who can’t find jobs here must stop.

“It’s about our kids and grandkids,” Rustem said.

He’s so very right.

Rustem was the keynote speaker at the star-studded launch of the Advantage Livingston strategic growth plan. Movers and shakers across the Livingston County community spectrum turned out to see the product of the year-long effort to map a path to sustainable prosperity.

We know we need to reverse the tide that is sweeping out our best and brightest. For our future health and prosperity, we must refashion ourselves to be the kind of places that bring them in.

But how to accomplish the daunting task? The Advantage Livingston plan, the product of a partnership of the Brighton, Hartland and Howell chambers of commerce, facilitated by the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute, lays out a strategy.

The process of developing the plan involved a year and over 800 people. It’s noteworthy that this is the first plan developed in Michigan involving such broad public participation.

That could be part of the reason why the energy in the room during the Advantage Livingston launch this morning was palpable, contagious. Educators, business owners, clergy members, police, politicians, librarians, doctors and entrepreneurs were among the over-300 people who turned out for the event.

That this effort has attracted such a large number of people and maintained their interest over the course of a year tells me a couple things:

The time for making change is now: People are living through some of the worst economic times ever. They’ve had to adapt and change personally, which makes them all the more receptive to change in the broader sense.

How receptive?

Let’s just say that the mantra of those working on the plan was “No sacred cow left un-slayed.”

The process for developing the plan worked. It was educational, inspirational and fun. Ideas — some rather tame, others not so much so — flowed. Trends and patterns emerged. Consensus built.

In the end, a document “Advantage Livingston: A plan for thriving together in the New Economy,” and a website, advantagelivingston.com, emerged.

I am intimately involved with both pieces as editor and designer, but my job was simply to put voice and form to the hard work and wonderful, creative ideas of other people.

We now have a blueprint for sustainable prosperity in the future that is both reasonable and radical, built on three principles: collaboration, consolidation and cooperation.

While these principles don’t sound radical in the least, to adopt them fully means completely changing the way we’ve done business and lived up until this moment.

We seem to have embraced the reality that we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done, not if we want to be successful in the future.

So this plan shows us a way forward. It “represents a whole new way of thinking about growth and economic development,” said Glenn Pape of the MSU Land Policy Institute, who facilitated the project.

“It’s a paradigm shift that is neither natural nor easy,” he said. “This plan is the starting point in that shift.”

So, let’s start shifting. We’ve now got the route mapped; we need to get our efforts into gear.

About Maria Stuart 212 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.