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BLADE GATES: Young Adults, Small Towns: The State of Gen Z and Millenials in Manistee County

MANISTEE, MICH. - Let's pretend that you are me for a second: a twenty-something-year-old college grad that lived in Manistee for most of your life. You leave for four years, come back a little older, now with a college degree, and just like that, the next chapter of life begins!

I'm a part of Generation Z, generally considered to be within the mid-to-late 1990s to early 2010s as birth years, and I am not the only one currently telling this story. We are in a decade where many of my Generation Z peers, as well as Millennial peers, are entering the workforce, making professional and personal strides, and assuming prominent roles across several businesses and organizations.

Working at the Manistee Area Chamber, I witness this all the time: from networking events like our quarterly Chamber UnTapped's, to a ribbon cutting for a new start-up with a fresh face in charge, to free business workshops at the Downtown Education Center… I see people my age everywhere here.

But that's just through my lens: how else are others my age experiencing Manistee? To answer my question, I decided to reach out to a few local Gen-Z and Millennials to understand their perspectives. 

Take Elayna Johnson, Career Services Specialist for Northwest Michigan Works!, for example, who found a Manistee job opportunity at the height of the 2020 pandemic.

"When I moved here, it was the very beginning of COVID," said Johnson. "I had settled in just in time for everything to shut down. I was able to find a job, and that is where I really began to get comfortable - meeting others and finding my place. It was a challenge at first."

It didn't take long for Johnson to become embedded into the Manistee business community.

"I’m able to work with people of all walks of life, which allows me to be truly immersed in the diversity of Manistee’s population," explained Johnson. "I also have the opportunity to interact with other major establishments, seeing how local businesses and governments work with each other. Now, it's so easy to get involved with the various events and outreach activities, and am also met with interesting networking opportunities - sometimes when I least expect it!""

Elayna isn't the only one to recently move here: Logan Tomaszewski, Assistant Director of the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts, has currently been living in Manistee County for about a month.

"We wished we had more of an opportunity to see [my family]," said Tomaszewski. "We came to the conclusion that we loved coming to Manistee… we couldn't be happier with the decision." 

Logan shared how living in Manistee was unique to other communities. 

"I've lived in different places that try to find a way to grow their business or connect with people, but the Ramsdell and especially in Manistee and any business I've seen along any of these streets is focused on those two things naturally. They do it so well," said Tomaszewski. "If you're looking for a place to live and grow and really find yourself and your future, Manistee feels like a beautiful place to do it."

'Opportunity' and 'community' were ideas people kept using to describe their experience in Manistee. Zachary Reau, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones, went on to emphasize that these were the key ingredients towards growth for Manistee County.

"There are an abundance of opportunities in all facets of our community," said Reau. "Through my involvement in the Leadership Program with the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, I have learned about industries and careers that I hadn't realized existed in our community. Entities such as the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, the Manistee County Tourism Authority, and the Downtown Development Authority [are all] actively pursuing their goal of growing our community." 

Bottom line, the most common thread I kept hearing was the unmistakable identity that makes Manistee County so special.

"We have the small town feel with all of the beauty that someone could hope to find in a community,"  said Reau. "The people are kind [and] the town is growing."

For Elayna, Manistee has become the perfect fit. "Manistee is just the right size - not too big, not too small. I love the experience of being in a community that is so interwoven. I’ve moved around so much over the years, and settling roots here is the first time I have felt a part of the place I live."

"Interconnectedness is the job," said Tomaszewski. "We love being able to connect with the Chamber, with volunteers, with anyone who lives in Manistee. I've noticed that a lot of people, especially in my age group, might be struggling with finding that balance between growing personally and finding a community to connect with, [but] there's a welcome here that's not available elsewhere."

Hearing the stories of emerging business professionals in Manistee County was incredibly valuable for me. How will my generation and future generations to come contribute towards the identity of Manistee County? I can't wait to see.


Blade Gates is the Marketing & Communications Specialist for the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit 501 C (6) organization. You can contact Gates at 231-723-2575 or

Author's Note: The Chamber of Commerce and Edward Jones have an existing business relationship. This event is not an endorsement or testimonial of the services provided by Edward Jones Financial Advisor Zachary Reau.