Making It in Traverse City

In 2005, Detroit native Allison Beers was looking forward to moving back to her home state after working for four years in Philadelphia. She and her husband, Adam, had decided to relocate to his hometown – Traverse City. Though excited, Allison, a public relations and event planning specialist, did have one reservation.

"I was apprehensive about the job market," she admitted.

Her concern is a common one among many considering a move Up North.

A steady stream of national accolades for Traverse City's beauty, cultural amenities and leisurely pace of life has made the area attractive to both families and professionals looking to relocate. The city has averaged an annual population growth of 2.62 percent since 2000; more than double the national average of 1.1 percent.

But Traverse City hasn't been immune from the effects of the recession, with unemployment rates at times ballooning as high as 12 percent – also considerably higher than the national average, which peaked at 10.1 percent and now hovers around eight percent.

That combination – a highly desirable community with precious few jobs to spare – has proved to be a daunting obstacle for many looking to make the move to Traverse City. But as Allison and countless others here who are now enjoying successful careers in northern Michigan have discovered, a willingness to be flexible, network and build relationships in the community are key.

For her part, Allison spent three years building contacts and volunteering for local organizations while working for a handful of small marketing and events companies in town before finally launching her own business, Events North, in 2008.

"I started with one client, a laptop, a website and business cards," she said. "Today, my business has grown more than I could have imagined even five years ago. I hired another full-time person last year, and we just moved into an office three times the size of our last one."

Allison attributes her success to frequently attending networking events, regularly reading local publications to stay current, and strategically picking organizations to volunteer for that aligned with her interests and plugged her into the community – like the Rotary Club of Traverse City and the Traverse City Film Festival.

Susan McQuaid, director of the volunteer center at United Way of Northwest Michigan, has also witnessed firsthand the benefits of volunteering in terms of expanding one's social and professional circles in the community.

"Because we work with so many agencies across the five county area, we can almost guarantee a customized fit for [someone looking to volunteer]," she said. "The value of that is you can often find people with like interests, as well as make business connections."

Laura Oblinger, chief operating officer at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, said donating professional services to community organizations and events in need "can be a very powerful way to show your capabilities in action."

Oblinger also advised that those looking to relocate be "very thoughtful" about their resumes, talk to connected individuals in the community and build relationships with the Chamber and other organizations that specialize in recruiting and retaining talent.

"Don't make it a secret you're looking for a job," she said.

Local talk radio host Ron Jolly, who has anchored a weekly program on WTCM AM580 for the past eight years called "Entrepreneur Spotlight," highlights area success stories from those who've launched and developed thriving Traverse City businesses.

After interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs for nearly a decade, Jolly has seen a number of recurring attributes in those who have found success here.

"Some business professionals I've spoken with lost jobs through downsizing, or just wanted to live in Traverse City," he said. "Realizing they could not immediately find jobs similar to the positions they were leaving, they opted to buy a business here instead. Other entrepreneurs started businesses based on something they saw in another, larger market. If it worked elsewhere, it could work here."