Earlier this month at a presentation on campus, Teresa Gillotti, the city planner of Ypsilanti, spoke about how much of an asset Eastern Michigan University is to the city.
From the presentation of the draft Master Plan, it did not appear as if the city had developed a way to tap into this pool of human capital.
The city has already started Live Ypsi, a home loan program for school faculty, meant to entice them to live in the city, rather than simply work here and then eventually take their income elsewhere.
Loan amounts can reach $10,000 and for each year that the homeowner lives in the city and remains employed at EMU, 20 percent of the loan will be forgiven.
It would be wise to expand this to students, even if at a reduced level. Many current students and recent graduates have delayed major decisions like homeownership because of the burden they already carry from student loan debt.
If the city were able to lure students who commute from other jurisdictions to purchase or rent homes in the city in return for assistance with student loan debt, it would be a boon to the city.
The city would be remiss to simply offer money to students without the stable incomes of tenured faculty. Restrictions could be placed on the program. Perhaps students would have to show steady employment for a year or more before they could apply. Or the program could be restricted to those with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.
In Chapter 3, Ypsilanti Now of the Master Plan, data shows that Ypsilanti has fewer residents with college degrees from four-year institutions compared to surrounding areas.
More than 52 percent of residents in Ann Arbor Township, the city of Ann Arbor, and Pittsfield Township have college degrees. Only between 31.6 and 52 percent of the city of Ypsilanti’s resident have college degrees.
According to data from the Master Plan, per capita income in the city is also lower than that of surrounding areas.
The reason there has been an influx of business activity in cities, such as Dan Gilbert’s relocation of Quicken Loans headquarters into Detroit, is because employers smartly move their businesses into areas with concentrations of skilled labor. The city of Ypsilanti has not capitalized on this development.
Skepticism of this plan is understandable, especially on a fiscal basis, but the city must find a way to keep the human capital fostered in the city inside its boundaries even after matriculation has
Cooperation with the school could also help the local economy.
Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs has its master’s of public administration students assist localities – a partnership exists between the school and the cities that surround it.
The city could develop a partnership with the school’s College of Business and pair master of business administration students with local business owners to help develop business plans.
Students in the Department of Economics could do market forecast for businesses, too.
Not only would this provide the help that many small businesses need at a low cost, it would allow students to earn work experience – quite possibly allowing them to talk themselves into a job as a business consultant or accountant.
The development of creative partnerships such as these between the city and the university must be a part of the Master Plan.
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