Boomerangs: Coming Home again, for Good.
It's a common story nowadays: Someone you know or love wants to come home. They begin looking for a job. The networking begins… and all they ask is that you keep an ear to the ground for them.
Welcome to the boomerang boomlet, in which the last five years has seen the return of Traverse City natives back from places far and near.
Why the uptick, when at one time it was a given that area grads would head downstate or out of state for higher-paying jobs?
Mike Norton credits the new face of Traverse City and a sustained effort in the last five years to build the town's reputation and commerce.
Norton, the media relations representative for the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), notes that tourism promotion has a double focus.
"As we're aiming our message outward, telling people in far-flung places what a vibrant, exciting, gorgeous place Traverse City is, we're also aiming the same message back at the members of our own community – those who still live here and those who've moved away," he said.
Two head-turning public relations events have helped significantly: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore being voted the Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011 by viewers of Good Morning America and the National Geographic picking Traverse City as one of the its Top 12 Summer Trips for 2012.
"When [boomerangs] hear those things and hear about the wonderful food and wine and microbrew scene, they feel good about the place where they live, about themselves and about their fellow citizens," Norton said. "People who've moved to Chicago start hearing from Chicagoans who ask, 'You're from Traverse City? Why in the world did you ever leave?'"
Coming home seems all the sweeter when it's from abroad. John Stocki is one who recently made his way back again, landing a job as the digital marketing specialist for CVB. He spoke with TCBN on the eve before his first day on his new job.
"After traveling to over 20 countries," said the 27-year-old, "I can say that nothing quite compares to northern Michigan."
Stocki lived in the same house his entire life and graduated from Brethren High School in 2003. After college, he moved to Australia for one year and took a marketing position with Kempinski Hotels in the United Arab Emirates for three years. After that, he transferred within the company to China where he worked through the end of 2012.
Stocki recognized his five years of travel was invaluable experience, but nonetheless looked for five months before landing his "dream job" job at the CVB.
"I was able to get out and explore the world and see things like the pyramids in Egypt, dive on the Great Barrier Reef, hike the Great Wall of China, see the Berlin Wall and sail in the Sydney Harbor," he said. "Being home and close to my family and friends is a great feeling and I can't wait to be a part of all the experience I've missed while traveling the past years."
Laura Oblinger, COO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, also credits Traverse City's robust event-based calendar for the boomerang trend.
"People are coming back for events in our area and vacationing at their family cottages, but while they might have come home to see the Cherry Festival, they also see that Traverse City is thriving," she said. "They run into old friends who have moved back and are thriving. They start to see that living and working here is a possibility."
Erin Bernhard, 24, came home because of the Traverse City Film Festival. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she came home and accepted an internship with the film festival, held each August.
"The water, the sunshine, and the community draw many people my age 'home' for the season," she said. "While I intended for that summer to only be a brief visit before traipsing off to New York to pursue my MSW at New York University, halfway through the summer I realized I didn't want to leave. I realized I wanted to be a vital piece of the growth that Traverse City would inevitably experience."
Oblinger estimates she fields one to two inquiries a week from boomerangs hoping to snag a job lead or establish a connection to get them back home.
Likewise, Allison Beers, coordinator of the Young Professionals (YP) Program through the Chamber, estimates she receives about five inquiries a month.
"The Young Professionals group is a resource to help them get connected back into the community," said Beers, whose husband Adam also boomeranged home. "Many YPs are finding jobs through old-fashioned networking, which means asking friends, family and their friends' friends for connections."
One YP success story is Madeline Begley. She grew up in Traverse City and left in 2004 for The Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago.
"Traverse City is one of the most beautiful places to live; however, this was something I didn't fully understand until I moved away," said the 26-year-old. "I don't think I would have ever appreciated this city as much had I not left and seen life elsewhere. I missed the peacefulness, the friendliness, and the laid-back vibe of TC."
When she grew tired of life in Chicago, she came home for a break and caught the bug.
"I job hunted for the first couple of months," she said. "I had been going to networking events, and my job hunt ended at a Young Professionals event when I met my business partner Kat Philips. We established our event planning company, Events to Remember, last January."
The Pay and the Bay
As more boomerangs return, the question arises – is there enough money for those who want to live here?
The old adage, "a view of the bay for half the pay," is a myth, said Oblinger.
"The caliber of people here and the people we are attracting are obtaining work where they are appropriately compensated," she said. "The cost of living is lower here and the quality of life is higher. It's a wash in the end when you compare it to a metropolitan area."
Oblinger said that the numerous business success stories of the area are starting to grab the attention of those who once lived here and left.
"Word is getting out about people living here and working globally," she said.
Bernhard has seen it firsthand with her peers.
"The young professional freelance world is huge in Traverse City, though not many are aware of it," she said. "Most people who are moving back to town are telecommuting or working remotely for companies that aren't located in Traverse City, but have chosen to live here just the same. A lot is happening around here!"
In addition, Oblinger said successful, global businesses like Hagerty Insurance "have put TC on the map for talent."
Erin Fedorinchik took a job in January as a licensed sales agent at Hagerty. While she is originally from Ohio, she fell in love and married a Traverse City native, following him here. After getting married this last November, Fedorinchik searched two months before landing the job at Hagerty.
"There is something so incredibly beautiful and carefree about TC in the summer," said the 26-year-old Fedorinchik, who had worked two previous summers in the area. "There is nothing like it. I love it!"
And that is the last and first piece of the puzzle – the same in every boomerang story – a love for the area's natural resources.
"The landscape, the beauty, the water – that alone is very attractive," Oblinger said. "The story always starts with the landscape bringing people back."