Recruited To Lansing and Loving It
In 2008, after meeting in Arizona and spending a few years living in Chicago, Zak and Jenna Neal were ready to pack up their PhDs and hit the job market.
“We knew we wanted academic jobs,” Jenna says. “The first time we went on the market, I got an offer in California and Zak got one in Georgia. Obviously that wasn’t going to work.”
The second time around, in 2009, Jenna got an offer from the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University
(MSU) in East Lansing
“MSU was the first school that solved our problem,” says Zak. “They created a position for me, so we moved here in May of 2009.”Affordable Quality of Life
After making the commitment to come to MSU, the Neals promptly decided to put down roots. Integrating what they liked about Chicago into their new life in East Lansing was a priority.
“In Chicago, we could walk everywhere,” says Jenna. “We didn’t even have a car. We definitely wanted walkability in whatever area we found our house."
They found what they were looking for in East Lansing where, according to Jenna, "we walk to campus everyday. We walk to Biggby
. We walk all over the place.”
The Neals also find themselves appreciating things they didn't really anticipate. For example, “The cost of living in Michigan as opposed to Chicago is fantastic,” says Jenna. “I love our neighborhood, our house, and it’s something that we could have never had in Chicago.”
“We even have a yard,” agrees Zak. “Since the weather has gotten a little warmer we see the neighbors outside with their kids and their dogs, walking around, and we love living in a neighborhood like that.”
The Neals spent several months becoming familiar with their new surroundings and discovering their own local favorites. “I love Horrock’s
,” says Jenna. “We love the East Lansing Farmer’s Market
and the trails at Lake Lansing
Zak takes a different tack in talking about how his life has changed since the big move. “I have a spot in the basement to brew beer,” says the homebrew enthusiast. “Also, we are vegetarians and we have been so impressed with all the sushi options in East Lansing.”
The Neals have also taken the opportunity to experience some of the more well-known attractions in the Capital region.
“The first weekend we were here was the East Lansing Art Festival,” says Zak. “We went to a Lugnuts game
on the 4th of July to see the fireworks, and we loved that—I’m sure we will be back to see the Lugnuts. We took a walking tour of historical homes during Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
, which was really interesting. It was a great way to learn more about Lansing.”Poli-sci Pair
Husband and wife, Matt Grossmann and Sarah Reckhow, are also both assistant professors in MSU’s Department of Political Science
. They arrived in the Capital region in July 2007.
They dove into the Lansing social scene as soon as the opportunity arose—which didn't take long. “When we came to East Lansing to look for a house, we were staying at the downtown Marriott
. We ended up randomly going to the Grand River Connection
event that night at Scene Metrospace.”
They have thrown themselves into many of Lansing’s different social networks, including the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club
, trivia night at the Michigan Brewing Company
, and a book club (Prose and Pinot, in which Reckhow participates with this author).
“Grand River Connection is amazing,” Reckhow says. “You see people you know, there are always new people and the changing venues are a huge draw.”
“GRC is one of the most successful young professionals groups I have ever seen,” agrees Grossmann. “In pure marketing terms, the numbers that this group is able to bring in are absolutely unbelievable.”
The two political scientists are also understandably excited to be in Michigan's Capital City, with such easy access to the state government. Grossmann, the founder of MSU’s Policy Network
, particularly loves connecting his students with politicians and area mentors. “I can already see my students using these connections,” he says. Niches of Note
Hitting town in July, the two professors had a few months of free time before their work really started. “We had a chance to explore a lot,” says Grossmann. “We would take the Rivertrail
from Old Town
to East Lansing. And I’d promised her that we could get a dog, so we worked on that too.”
Lansing’s niche neighborhoods quickly became favorite spots.
“We love Old Town, [and] the area on Michigan Avenue near the Green Door
, and I really like Gone Wired
,” says Grossmann, referring to the popular Eastside hangout. “Lansing and East Lansing have great ‘caffeine to block’ ratios, which is something that’s very important to me.”
The perspective of non-natives offers valuable insights into the Captial region culture.
For example, “Lansing has a lot of local versions of national chains,” says Reckhow. “Places like Meijer
, Biggby, Baryames
. . . and Quality Dairy
is probably the strongest example of this. It’s like the major national chains got here late and now there’s no place for them because Lansing already has its own version.”
Like the Neals, both Grossmann and Reckhow appreciate the affordability of the Capital region. “Renting space is so much less expensive than in other towns,” says Reckhow. “People can afford to open businesses.”
And local businesses have found extremely loyal customers in Grossmann and Reckhow. They point to their favorite restaurants, like Altu’s
, and the bevy of Lansing’s sushi restaurants.
They also appreciate the convenience provided by Lansing’s lack of heavy traffic—particularly when compared to their former home in Berkeley, California. “We’re right next to campus and Frandor
," says Grossmann. "I can’t imagine anything more convenient.”
Reckhow agrees. “Everything is five minutes away,” she says. “We can walk to campus. It’s like living next to an absolutely gigantic park.”
After growing up in Durham, North Carolina, Reckhow is no stranger to blue-collar, urban areas. “I have a real soft spot for places that are fighting their way up,” she says. “Durham is a perfect example of a success story, and I definitely see reflections of this in Lansing. I see the same potential and a lot of the same efforts that were happening in Durham happening in Lansing.”
While East Lansing may not have been on the radar screen of these couples at first, they have been pleasantly surprised with what they have found here.
“In one of the first Pure Michigan ads
I ever heard, I was surprised to learn that Michigan has sandy beaches,” says Grossmann. “I wasn’t sure I believed it until I actually got here. Now we’re going to Traverse City for two weeks in the summer.”To receive Capital Gains free every week, click here.
Gabrielle Johnson is a student at Cooley Law School
and also loves sandy beaches.
Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a
freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie
Zak and Jenna Neal on MSU campus
Matt Grossmann and Sarah Reckhow at their office
Jenna and Zak
All Photographs © Dave