NEXTGen Detroit has a bold agenda. It’s building Jewish identity, developing young leaders and improving…
Best and Brightest
Young Jewish leaders meet with Gov. Snyder to talk about retaining and attracting talent to Michigan.
About 50 young emerging Jewish leaders in Metro Detroit met Oct. 12 at the West Bloomfield home of Jewish News publisher Arthur Horwitz for an intimate conversation with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
The event, sponsored by the JN, Horwitz and his wife, Gina, and Lena and Brett Koretzky of Bloomfield Hills, was intended to begin a dialogue in the community on how to help Michigan reinvent itself, attract new talent to the state and make Metro Detroit a community where young people will want to stay and lead their lives.
Those who attended the invitation-only event were chosen from those passionate about the Jewish community and on the cusp of leadership. They were a representative sample of the community: Democrats and Republicans, entrepreneurs and teachers, community professionals and volunteers.
“We brought together a cross-section of the emerging Jewish leaders of Michigan,” said Lena Epstein Koretzky, vice president and general manager at Southfield-based Vesco Oil. “We all have different strengths, different career paths, but what binds us together are our shared Jewish roots and the fact that we all chose to stay in Michigan or return to Michigan to build our lives. We’re not part of any formal organization. We’re just getting together to make a difference.”
Young people are seeking an urban experience, Snyder said.
“A thriving vibrant Detroit is important to young people,” he said. “We need to reinvent Detroit — and some of you are already making that happen.”
Snyder’s talk was focused on how the community can work together to retain young talent and bring back those young people who have left the state for greener pastures.
To answer that question, the governor discussed the importance of mentorship, immigration and the need for “relentless positive action.”
He began his talk with a personal story of why he chose to build his career in Michigan. Snyder grew up in Battle Creek and didn’t have many ties to Metro Detroit. When he graduated in 1982, during a time of soaring unemployment, he had two opportunities: taking a job with an oil company in Houston — a growing city with lots of opportunity — or taking a lower-paying CPA job in Detroit. He chose Detroit, partly to stay closer to his family, but mainly because of mentors.
“It was people saying they were going to invest in my career,” he said.
He challenged the audience to help him create and launch a wide-scale mentoring program.
“If we want to keep our young people here we should be connecting people and creating mentor programs,” Snyder said.
That challenge fired up Rachel Wright of Birmingham, campaign co-chair for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Young Adult Division (YAD) and national co-chair of next year’s TribeFest in Las Vegas.
“It’s exciting to me that the governor is on the same page as we are,” she said. “A formalized mentorship program is something we’ve been doing in our own community for so long. We need to mentor not only each other, but other people as well.”
Attorney Stephanie Barr of Bloomfield Hills said, “I just graduated from law school and would love the opportunity to mentor and reach out to young law students and tell them that it is possible to work in Michigan.”
She says she knows that opportunity is what is going to keep young Jewish families in Detroit. Barr’s husband of three weeks, Michael, had left the state when he couldn’t find an engineering job. Then GE in Van Buren Township announced a hiring spree for engineers. Michael was hired.
“That allowed him to move back home,” she said, “get married and start our own Jewish family.”
The Welcome Mat
Snyder also told a story about a brilliant young Jewish man who earned a Ph.D. from Moscow University in the early 1990s. He had the opportunity to leave the Soviet Union. As he got off the plane in Vienna, Austria, he was given a choice by Jewish resettlement personnel: He could leave for Israel in a few hours or he could go to a camp and, depending on which country he wanted to go to, he might be there for days, weeks or even months.
“He chose the U.S. and rose quickly to the position of chief technology officer at a major company,” Snyder said. “That showed me the power of brainpower.”
Incidentally, when Snyder asked the man why he chose the United States, his answer was “because I like your music.” Still, the governor said, “I wish I would have been in the position to have a desk there for Detroit or Michigan because we have opportunities here. I don’t want to miss that opportunity again, whether it be one person or many.”
Snyder challenged the group to leverage the EB-5 visa program for immigration, which provides a green card to those immigrants who will invest money and create jobs in the United States.
“We need to create a pipeline for these people, dissolve boundaries and make people feel welcome,” Snyder said. “Immigrants with advanced degrees and money to invest are job creators.”
Attorney Steve Migliore of West Bloomfield liked that message.
“I work with a lot of companies that are bringing new, tech-savvy businesses to the state and investing in leadership development,” he said.
Randall Fogelman, vice president of business development at Eastern Market, said that immigration is key to Detroit’s resurgence.
“We can’t go forward without immigration,” said Fogelman, who’s lived in the city of Detroit for 17 years. “And we can’t have a strong state without a strong Detroit.”
Focus On Problem Solving
Snyder talked about a different philosophy for state leaders going forward: “relentless positive action.”
“Our total focus has to be on problem solving,” he said. “I blame no one for anything, and I’m proud of that because blame doesn’t solve problems. We don’t take credit either. Credit is irrelevant. It’s all about solving problems. It means an attitude of inclusiveness, of winning together. Our greatest power lies in diversity.”
He also talked about the need to take risks.
“Michigan was the entrepreneurial center of the world in the early part of the last century, and the problem is that we got so successful that we concentrated on protecting what we had rather than taking the risk to reinvent ourselves.”
Aaron Scheinfield of Birmingham, who’s on the YAD board, said, “I like what he said about focusing on problem solving. With that kind of approach, we can get a lot done.”
Snyder also issued a call to action.
“It’s about us doing it together,” he said. “You’re truly a fired-up group, and I ask this of you: Leave here passionately and with the attitude that it’s time we do things a new way and show the rest of the world that Michigan and Detroit is the best place to be.”
Lena Koretzky is ready to accept that challenge.
“The fact that the governor took time out of his schedule to speak to the group was a symbol of his commitment to the Jewish community,” she said. “We’re ready to work with him to find ways we can improve the future of Michigan and its Jewish community.”
She said the event generated much excitement.
“The feedback has been tremendous with a lot of buzz on social media from people who attended, and we plan to continue the conversation,” said Koretzky, who plans to convene the group for a meeting within the next few weeks to talk about the governor’s message and what they can do.
“I want to keep the momentum going,” she added. “The possibilities are endless.”
— By Jackie Headapohl
Photos by Jerry Zolynsky