November 1, 2013
There is much angst about the brain drain in Michigan. You’ve heard it: Our young college grads securing education, knowledge, skills and talent only to flee the state after graduation.
Yet it is a big world out there, and Michigan has two beautiful peninsulas — we are not an island.
Perhaps Michigan will benefit from the worldly experiences our youth gain elsewhere, if the magnetic pull of Pure Michigan can draw them back someday.
I met one such young man, Dan Redford, in his senior year at Michigan State University. He flew the coop and now makes his home in Beijing, China. Dan is fluent in Chinese and bleeds “Green” as a proud MSU grad.
Redford earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in Chinese and international relations from James Madison College at MSU.
Redford, now 25, originally wanted to get a political science degree and attend law school. That all changed after his first trip to China in 2008.
Why China? He first fell in love with the language, and after his Middle Kingdom trip in 2008, taking in the sights, sounds, culture, language and people, he was hooked. The added excitement of the 2008 Olympics pulled him into the China orbit.
Redford grew up in Frankenmuth, a town of 4,000 people – in stark contrast to Beijing’s nearly 20 million people. As he says, “There are nearly as many people in my Chinese apartment building as there are in the entire city of Frankenmuth”.
Living in the Chinese capital, Redford feels like he is at the center of the most dynamic, unfolding story of the modern world. He clearly is, as China is the fastest growing large world economy, bursting with possibilities. Going forward, all major world geopolitical issues will intersect at Beijing and Washington, D.C.
Redford is director of China operations for First Pathway Partners of Milwaukee, promoting this Midwest state in China. Yet, he is a Michigan cheerleader, as well as one for Wisconsin, and a one-man marketing crew promoting the Mitten State with his unbound enthusiasm.
Does he miss Michigan? Of course. He would like nothing better than to mesh his love for Michigan and love for all things China. His life ambition is to “make a lasting impression on everyone I meet, and meet as many people as possible before I’m done.”
Redford credits his time at MSU with helping to open his eyes to the world. His first trip to China was through a study abroad program. MSU taught him to “think globally”.
Redford appreciates Governor Rick Snyder’s efforts to make Michigan a friendly place for immigrants and to build bridges.
“Governor Snyder is taking risks to propel Michigan forward past denial and to thrive on the global stage,” he says.
When asked what advice he would offer high school kids, he responds, “Find something to be passionate about and let God be your compass. Let your passions drive you forward.”
Sound advice from a young man who has circled the globe.
Yes, Michigan has lost Redford for now.
At some point in the future, he will return to Michigan and our state will get its ROI — return on investment — from his global experience and perspective.
Read about the adventures of “China Dan” at: www.danredford.com
Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.