Alum Hilary Doe out to change the “old and cold” narrative about Michigan

Source: Special to Michigan News

Hilary Doe, the state of Michigan’s chief growth officer.

Hilary Doe says she’s always been a “walking through Michigan commercial,” and she’s got the tattoo to prove it. Doe, the state’s first chief growth officer—and the only one in the country—had the state of Michigan inked on her forearm while living in Brooklyn a few years ago. She said she missed Michigan and “needed a little bit of home up my sleeve.”

The Monroe County native has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan. She spent much of her career at NationBuilder, a Los Angeles-based technology company that helps people create advocacy campaigns online.

Doe and her family live in the Indian Village neighborhood of Detroit, which she praises as having “all the great food and cultural amenities you might get in a bigger city, but it is way more accessible. And you get a yard.”

The populations of Midwest states aren’t growing very fast, but why do you think Michigan’s population is growing even more slowly than neighboring states?

It’s not one thing. It’s a complex puzzle. What we’ve found so far points to faster growing states tend to have higher median family incomes and faster growing median incomes. Basically, they’ve made the knowledge economy transition a little bit more successfully than Michigan has over the last handful of decades. It seems like there’s a magic number about over 35% of your population having post-secondary credentials that is really critical for growth. We’ve been making good progress in that segment but we’re not there yet.

Is there a certain segment of the population that we should focus on more than others in trying to grow the population? 

We’re really focused on working-age folks. Having population centers that are walkable and transit-rich is really important. Young 18-to-34-year-old folks really want to be there and invest there and raise their families there. That will be really, really critical.

How else can we retain and attract young, working-age people and those about to enter the workforce?

If I could make a pitch, I would let everybody across the state and across the country know that Michigan is at the vanguard of this fight against the climate crisis and that purpose-driven appeal to Generation Z to say, ‘Hey, if we’re going to get it done, we need you, so come on home.’

We’re also focused on making sure that we wrap our arms around our young folks that are here and connect them to the good jobs that are here. Too often we aren’t being successful at exposing folks on our college campuses, for example, to the good jobs in our cities.

What is a big misconception people outside the state have about Michigan?

The sort of joke that I have boiled it down to is too many folks think, ‘Hey, Michigan is old and cold. It’s a little bit old school, it’s maybe cold up there and I don’t know what’s going on.’ My lived experience and the lived experience that Michiganders talk about as I traveled the state over the last eight months is that it’s not at all that. It’s that it’s creative and innovative. We’re makers, whether we’re manufacturers, or we’re innovative, or we’re being entrepreneurs.

How does Michigan do a better job of getting that message out?

In addition to policy changes (recommended in the Growing Michigan Together Council report), my mandate as chief growth officer is also to think about the messages, marketing, branding and storytelling that we can lean into to tell Michigan’s story. So we’re thinking about all kinds of activations from in-person activations, for example: road shows where we can do pop-ups to experience Michigan on the streets of Brooklyn, Atlanta or Houston, so folks can get exposure to what it feels like in immersive ways to stand on the sand on a Lake Michigan beach, to marketing campaigns with diverse voices and diverse places across our state. 

Do you have any goals for reaching a certain population over a specific time period?

Instead of specific numbers, we set goal that by 2050 we want to be a top 10 state for population growth. And 2050 is a long way away. So we tried to pull forward metrics that we can see sooner and hold ourselves accountable. In the more medium term, the council established three key metrics we can measure ourselves against that correlate to those things that we identified growing peer states have in common. One is becoming a top 10 state for median income, another is becoming a top 10 state for post-secondary attainment and third is becoming a top 10 state for talent migration.

How has your education at U-M benefited your career?

I really found a sense that we all had a part to play and take responsibility for our community and our future when I was at Michigan and studying both political science and public policy. And that has certainly never left me through my whole career. 

If you could wave a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would do to grow Michigan’s population?

If you were born here, it’s actually pretty likely that you’ll stay. We just are less good at having young folks from other parts of the country waking up and thinking, ‘I want to try Michigan.’ I really believe if I could wave a magic wand, and folks got the chance to experience some of our incredible communities and see our incredible natural resources and see the kind of innovation that’s happening here, it would be undeniable.

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