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Let’s Detroit’s Marjace Miles: The Importance of ‘Why Michigan’

October 14, 2021
In 2019 when I decided to become a Talent Ambassador for Let’s Detroit, I never dreamed that filling out a 10-minute application would someday take me to Mackinac Island. MichAuto on the Island and the Mackinac Policy Conference are some of the most prestigious gatherings in the state, drawing the most influential people from throughout our region. So, when I was given the opportunity to attend and speak, I did not hesitate.

It did not take long for me to realize just how incredible the opportunity truly was. I started the day star struck as I boarded the ferry. I spent the entire 15-minute trip trying (unsuccessfully) to muster the courage to talk with award-winning journalist and host of Detroit Today, Stephen Henderson. When I reached the island, I chatted with Christian Greer, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Science Center, as a horse-drawn taxi carried a group of us to the Grand Hotel. The night was filled with networking, handshaking, and unforgettable conversations at The Gate House. The excitement picked right back up the next morning with a delicious breakfast with a great group, including the trailblazer, entrepreneur, and Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of GS3 Global, Lisa Lunsford. That all occurred in less than 24 hours.

Being in the presence of some of the brightest and best our great state has to offer was inspiring but also kind of ironic. See, the reason I was there was to talk about how, as a state, we are losing our brightest and best. In 2019, when I chose to volunteer at Let’s Detroit, it was because I was shocked at the low rate of my classmates that decided to stay in the area upon graduation (University of Michigan Ross School of Business); but it wasn’t just my class at Michigan. I looked back at every major step of my Michigan journey, and I realized that many of my academic and professional peers decided that Detroit was no longer for them. The fact of the matter is, without a concerted effort to attract and retain top young talent, the Mackinac Policy Conference in 20-30 years will not have the same reach, impact, or prestige it does today. It was with that undertone I prepared to give my speech.

The next morning as I told the MichAuto community my story, I concluded with a bit of an unusual call to action. I explained that as business professionals it is second nature for us to have a two-minute elevator pitch about why we invested in this company or why we are excited about that project. However, how many of us have a two-minute “why Michigan speech”? If we truly love this area as much as we say we do, why don’t we share it more?  For me, it’s the unique community, the special culture, and the career opportunities I have available. Initially, I was not sure how the message was received. However, the sheer number of conversations I had afterward was truly encouraging. There were so many people like me that shared the same passion and determination to see this area continue to grow.

Of course, simply telling why we love this area is not the silver bullet we need, but it’s a start and something we can all do. As Detroiters and Michiganders, it is up to us to control our narrative. I guess only time will tell if we are successful in our mission. If I have the privilege of attending MichAuto on the Island or the Mackinac Policy Conference again in the future, I look forward to meeting more and more young talented professionals. This will be the true measure of success.

Thank you once again to Let’s Detroit and MichAuto for the opportunity. The experience was incredible, and I was truly humbled to be a part of it.

This opinion piece was written by Marjace Miles, consumer marketing manager of autonomous vehicles for Ford Motor Company.