More than advocates, these residents are the push behind the region’s purpose.
However, referring to them the region’s cheerleaders is a bit of a misnomer because they aren’t content to show their support from the sidelines. They have skin in the game and are emotionally invested in the quality of life and image of the 517. They also know the key to the region’s success.
“The people of this community embody the blue-collar manufacturing work ethic that put this city on the map over the last century, yet we also have a tremendous amount of scientists, educators, health care professionals, artists and creatives,” said Christopher Sell, founder and executive director of Lansing 5:01. “Subsequently, there’s a ‘can do’ attitude with a sense of humility that permeates the entire region, as well as a wide spectrum of lived experiences — both personal and political — that make Lansing diverse.”
Lansing 5:01 aims to attract and retain emerging talent to the area through unique events, experimental programming and place-based marketing initiatives. One of those talents attracted to the region was Sell himself. Although he grew up in the area, he left after high school only to be drawn back to the region’s urban core.
“As a young professional, I quickly recognized that this community was special, had a tremendous amount to offer other young pros, but didn’t have the glowing reputation and far-reaching narrative that it deserved,” he said. “The Lansing region offers the perks of big-city living, coupled with the charm of a smaller community. Short commutes, virtually no traffic, dense neighborhoods, a vibrant art and cultural scene, an abundance of trails along the state’s largest river and Big Ten athletics just a few miles east of the state’s Capitol building are among our region’s many compelling assets.”
Those opportunities and experiences are as diverse as the people of Greater Lansing, according to “Metro Melik” Brown, founder of Lansing Made. Brown’s organization highlights the positive attributes of the tri-county region. He agreed the people of the region are what make it so distinct and connected.
“#LansingGrit,” Brown said. “What happens to a community that is often dismissed? They learn to depend on themselves. They stick up for themselves. And they show the world what it means to get grimy in order to persevere and prosper. Lansing is a very forgiving and supportive community. If you have a solid plan that can uplift our region, someone will help you see it to fruition.”
A supportive community is what will help local businesses regain financial footing now that stay-at-home restrictions have been eased, according to Kellie Johnson, owner of Kellie’s Consignments in Okemos.
“I hope to bounce back well enough to make it into 2021,” she said. “Thank goodness the people of our region will support each other. Shopping local is the only way we will bounce back.”
That sense of a tight-knit community not only benefits Greater Lansing residents, but it also helps grow the region’s reputation as a destination.
“The strengths of our destination remain the same today as every day: We offer visitors a small-town dynamic with the opportunities of many big cities, from unique museums; a robust arts and entertainment scene; and a variety of restaurants, brewpubs and distilleries,” said Julie Pingston, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are able offer so many diverse attractions and opportunities for our visitors to find something to do with our balance of Michigan State University and serving as the state’s Capitol as well as the unique neighborhoods and main streets within our region.”
Those community cornerstones will serve as anchors for the region’s future, Sell said.
“I hope — and believe — that our region will continue to look toward the riverfront as an equitable, inclusive, exciting and environmentally friendly opportunity for revitalization, placemaking and economic development. … My hope is that we live up to our community’s namesake and continue to build upon the exciting urban corridors that serve as the hub of our region’s ecosystem,” he said.
Or as Brown likes to describe the 517 region’s attitude and outlook:
“Let’s make it happen, cap’n.”