Kirsten McIlvenna contacted HHM in 2011 on behalf of the SVSU Valley Vanguard newspaper to write some stories on our 6th annual film festival. After the festival ended, the following opinion piece was written by Kirsten for the university publication. It was interesting to hear about Kirsten’s festival experience. We loved her enthusiasm so much that we’ve asked her to oversee content for our web site and social media.

You’ll see lot’s of great articles from Kirsten in the coming months, including interviews with filmmakers, and stories about great things happening right here in the Great Lakes Bay Region. We believe that Kirsten’s story is a great example of how a community effort can affect an individual, and how an individual can contribute to their community.

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN THE VALLEY VANGUARD NEWSPAPER

There has been a recent concern about how students from the Great Lakes Bay Region are obtaining degrees and then moving out of the area, and often out of the state. This “brain drain” has been a regional issue for a number of years. Over the last ten years, Saginaw county has experienced a population decrease of 9,870 people and Bay County a decrease of 2,386 (US Census, 2010). Of course, people will go where they can find jobs, but another determinant of people staying in the area is the appeal of it.

Research has shown that one solution to making smaller cities like the ones in this area thrive is to create a desirable culture beyond all the industry. Cities rich in art and entertainment are often able to retain more young and educated people. I think they also need to have a strong sense of community.

I would argue that Downtown Bay City has the appeal that many fresh graduates might be looking for. I moved to Bay City about five months ago, and I am already in love with the city. Many students feel as if it is “far away” or a “long commute,” but realistically, it is only about a 12-minute drive. Many apartment complexes in Saginaw are farther away from campus than those in Bay City.

I have noticed that Downtown Bay City is reaching out to young individuals and young families to make a fun and exciting place to live. Not only are there a lot of small and unique shops and restaurants, but the community is one that seems to work together. Most community events I have been to have been sponsored by many local businesses. After not only living, but now working for a few months in the downtown area, I feel the sense of community even stronger.

With almost every weekend, comes something new and exciting to do. Bay City offers concerts in the parks, art markets and festivals, boat races, fireworks and car shows. The list goes on and on, but the best part is that most of the events are offered at little or no charge to attendees. The Bay County library system also offers book discussion groups, author readings, family and youth activities and annual book sales. The farmer’s market provides fresh produce from the area, for the area.

I just finished covering Downtown Bay City’s Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival for the Valley Vanguard, and it was an experience I truly appreciated. I might not have participated if I hadn’t heard about it through my research while filling in as A&E editor for the past month. I wish more students would have attended it.

The festival really made me realize what a great community Bay City is. The festival brought in film directors, producers, writers and actors from the east and west coasts to the area to share their experiences. They also had local filmmakers. I can’t even begin to explain what an amazing experience and networking event it was. Beyond that, it was an enjoyable weekend of films and music. I was able to see films not otherwise accessible in this area.

The festival director, Alan LaFave, and all the programmers work hard all year to make this event possible. Additionally, businesses throughout the city support it with their buildings and sponsorships. I appreciate these people in the community that work hard and take their time to provide these great events.

The film festival was truly a highlight of my year and has made me consider staying in the area after I graduate in December. Before, my plans were to get out of here to find amazing job opportunities in Chicago; I’m now reconsidering. If it is possible to find a job in the area, even if it is not the best one, I will consider taking it to stay in Bay City and participate in the vibrant community life. I hope to volunteer to work on different community events so that I can attract more people to the area and show them how fantastic I think it is. If attending one film festival is able to make me change my mind, I can’t imagine the impact it would have on other students if they started participating in this and other events in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

But of course, it all comes down to being able to find a job. I won’t pretend to have any solutions for creating jobs, because really, I’m not an expert. But I do know that the Great Lakes Bay Region offers lots of job networking fairs, educational opportunities and training events.

I think that other cities and counties in the area should look to Bay City as a great example of how to attract young people. I am not all that familiar with what other communities around here are doing, since I don’t live in them. I don’t want to make it sound like Bay City is the only one doing this, but I certainly know that Bay City has me hooked.

Kirsten is currently living and working in Bay City.