Facing a changing future, Midland reimagines its identity

It's a bustling Friday morning at the Loch Coffee Company. Early September sunlight streams in through the windows as 20-year-old, mustache-clad proprietor Jim Adame whips up cappuccino and pour-over coffees. The menu, featuring items like avocado toast and nitrogen-infused cold-brew coffee, wouldn't be out of place in a hip, urban locale like Portland or Seattle.


But far from a major metropolis. the Loch Coffee Company is situated along an otherwise ordinary commercial-industrial thoroughfare just outside of downtown Midland, Michigan.


When Adame first moved to Midland from a tiny town in west Michigan at age 12, Midland seemed "like New York City." He says plenty of his high-school peers have left Midland for more cosmopolitan environs. But he sees a future here.


"I think Midland's got a lot of potential," says Adame. "I know a lot of kids that want to get out ASAP, but I think that we can reach out to more kids that want a bigger city vibe, and that's kind of what I'm trying to capture with the coffee shop."


Midland, a long-time mid-Michigan company town of 42,000 whose main employer, Dow Chemical Company, recently completed a $130 billion merger with Delaware-based DuPont to form a new, three-company DowDuPont corporation, is now taking stock of its past as it looks toward a changing future.


And that future, community leaders say, is likely to require some new ways of thinking.


A new road ahead


No one knows exactly what the merger will spell for Midland. The headquarters of one of the three new companies, a materials science company which will keep the name Dow, will remain in here.


Dow recently constructed a $100 million R&D facility here, located between downtown and Dow Diamond, home to the Great Lakes Loons Minor League baseball club which the company helped bring to town as part of its quest to provide the amenities needed to attract top talent.


Many see the investment as a signal that the new company will remain faithful to the hometown which it, and the numerous foundation and nonprofits it supports, have helped develop for more than a century. Dow has called Midland home since 1897. But city leaders are aware that in a changing world, Midland itself needs to change.


"Dow Chemical was such a main driver in the community. And how Dow went, the city went," says Bill Allen, president and CEO of the Midland Business Alliance, an economic and business development nonprofit affiliated with the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce and the county's economic development agency, Midland Tomorrow. "With the merger, to some extent our economy will be more diversified. So, while Dow will be still a critical part of our economy, we'll have a couple other larger companies that will be here. We just don't know how that's going to kind of roll out yet."

A key factor, according to Allen, is a continuation of the challenge Midland has always faced: creating amenities and culture in a small town that make it an attractive place for top talent.

Launching Soon: Catalyst Midland, a new Issue Media Group publication focused on what's next for Midland. Subscribe for free here.


"The challenge is to make the city attractive to those companies to be named later, so that they'll want to stay here, and they'll want to grow here," says Allen. "And hopefully that also provides the opportunity for other companies to come here, and open up, and grow here. So, it's incumbent upon the entire community to work to that end, whatever that might mean."


Creating a culture to support young talent


One of the ways city leaders are looking to create economic resilience is through strengthening the environment for young talent and entrepreneurs. In a city where many have come expressly for employment with a big corporation, building that culture requires intention.


That's the idea behind the county-led Midland Tomorrow Innovation Center, a business incubator and coworking space located just outside of downtown in an industrial park near the wastewater treatment plant. The center lists 17 members on its website, including firms offering services ranging from creative design, web development, and IT support to solar installation, temporary medical facilities, organic cleaning supplies, and plastics consulting.


Part of the effort is building on existing success within the community, through raising awareness and transferring knowledge to a younger generation.


Last year, Midland Tomorrow launched a "Made in Midland" campaign video highlighting Midland-based manufacturing firms that it says in a press release, "have made important contributions such as jobs to our economy, some for 70 years or more." Firms profiled included long-time Midland companies like Alloy Construction, Case Systems, and BOSTONtec.


The Midland MYPros, a 150+ member networking group aimed at serving young professionals in their 20s to early 40s, is looking to learn from those who have come before, according to Grant Murschel, a community development planner for the City of Midland.


"We're working with leaders within the community doing luncheons that will allow young professionals to have candid small group discussion with people that have been successful in their endeavors," says Murschel. "We are working on that engagement to allow new ideas and fresh perspectives to filter down from the top level down to the people that are just getting started."


"I think we have the fabric within the community to withstand something like this merger, and push us into that next season," says Murschel. "It's a matter of simply just having a positive outlook, and moving forward together."


Building a sense of place


Another way city leaders are hoping to attract young talent is by working to make Midland itself an attractive and vibrant place for young people.


Midland has long established itself as a great place to raise a family, with low crime rates and high-quality public schools. But the challenge now is to create amenities for the millennial generation, many of whom are waiting to have kids.


"You have a lot of people who are in their younger demographic, who might choose to live somewhere like a Detroit, or an Ann Arbor, or a Grand Rapids," says Chelsea Rowley, program manager for Momentum Midland, a coalition of interests whose goal is to "make Midland even better."


The community is currently at work on a downtown streetscape project which it hopes will lend itself to walkable, vibrant setting desired by millennials and empty-nesters alike.


"You also have a lot of private investment that's taking place downtown," says Murschel, pointing to a new mixed-use condo building downtown where Ann Arbor's Grazi restaurant will soon be locating. An additional townhouse development is also taking place just outside downtown along the U.S. 10 business route, and the city is at work on its zoning ordinances to better encourage such developments.


There's also evidence of amenities designed expressly to please the millennial cohort, many of which are being advanced by Momentum Midland. The group helped launch the Larkin Beer Garden, a family- and dog-friendly open-air space featuring a shipping container bar, picnic tables, life-sized board games, food trucks, and music. The city also launched a bike share program in June with seven stations and 35 bikes.


Outdoor recreational amenities are another focus. The downtown is adjacent to the 30-mile Pere Marquette rail trail, which links Midland and Clare. The Tridge, a three-way wooden footbridge which connects downtown and the farmers' market to trails and natural areas along the Tittabawassee and Chippewa rivers, is currently undergoing renovation. The structure will be power-washed, reinforced and lined with LED lights. The rivers and the associated Chippewa Nature Center are another key attraction, according to Melissa Farley, who directs special events for the Midland Chamber of Commerce and kayaks on the rivers regularly.


"If somebody says that there's nothing going on in Midland, they did not look," says Farley. "Every day there's like five different really cool events that I could go to. We always have something going on. There's a lot of resources here for anyone who wants to grow, and become better. It's a really cool place to live."

It's a sentiment echoed by Adame. His original vision for a downtown coffee shop changed when he found the space for Loch Coffee Company, located on the fringe of town in a space that formerly housed ice cream and pizza shops. What surprised him the most? The steady business and sense of community from regulars in the surrounding neighborhood.


"That was my main concern about not being downtown, is that there would be no foot traffic," says Adame. "But after opening, we have actually had a lot of foot traffic from residential areas. It's tailored to something a little bit different than I was originally planning, and it's even better than I expected."


Launching Soon: Catalyst Midland, a new Issue Media Group publication focused on what's next for Midland. Subscribe for free here.

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Read more articles by Nina Ignaczak.

Nina Ignaczak is a metro Detroit-based writer and the editor of Metromode. Follow her on Twitter @ninaignaczak.