Albion College has many graduates go on to do great things. From professional football players to CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, Albion is well represented all over the job market. However, there are some Albion graduates who decided to come back to Albion, like David Musselman (‘83). After graduating, Musselman went to law school, and after the last firm he worked for was put up for sale, he applied to go to school for urban planning. Musselman was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute Technology (MIT) and is on a one-year Masters program.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Musselman was using an office at the Ludington Center from January 25 to February 3, and he looked at some of the challenges shrinking cities are currently facing. Musselman was thinking about ideas for his urban planning thesis, and after hearing President Ditzler speak about what the college is doing to revitalize the city, he thought it would be an interesting topic. Most of the research that has been done on “anchor institutions,” or major universities in big towns with hospitals and large investments, and Musselman is hoping to show what a small town does to rejuvenate its economy.
“No one has really looked at a small liberal arts college in a small city, so I think I get to help fill in some of that academic gap,” said Musselman. “I also thought it could be a way to give an objective view of what the college is doing in hopes that we may learn things that are working well and encourage them to continue to do that. We may also identify things that aren’t working as well or gaps that they need to fill.”
Musselman said one of the common approaches for a small-town revitalization is to work from the downtown area outward, just as Albion has done with Superior Street. The addition of the Ludington Center has been working extremely well. While attracting people to the downtown area, it also serves as a meeting space for college and community members alike. The renovation of the Bohm has brought more people to downtown, and future projects on Superior Street will only bring more people to Albion.
Economics in Albion
As a major in economics during his time at Albion, Musselman looked at life through an economic lens. While Albion is getting more community members to the downtown area, Musselman says the city can move forward at a quicker pace if people from outside the community are spending money in Albion.
“If you can get more money from outside of the city into businesses and taxes, that will help the city move forward more quickly than just taxing all of the same people all of the time,” he said.
Along with getting new taxpayers, Musselman thinks that taking business risks will help improve the town as well. Specifically, he mentioned Books and More in downtown Albion. They’re planning to do renovations to become more of a bookstore and coffee shop, rather than “a bookstore that has coffee,” as Musselman put it. Putting their own money at risk is a good sign of progress being made. If they’re successful, Musselman thinks we will see more businesses in Albion begin to do the same.
Albion is different than many of the smaller cities around it. As opposed to small towns that have always been rural or agriculturally based, Albion was once a small industrial town, which is uncommon in rural towns. Musselman said the town needs to think about what it’s going to be moving towards to make it successful, but he’s already beginning to see signs of innovative thinking.
“I think there’s changes happening within the community leadership, so there are some good signs of new thinking and new approaches,” said Musselman. “There may be some things that won’t work quite right, but hopefully if you try enough things, you’ll find the right one.”
Past to present
Thinking back to when he was a student, Musselman said there were at least two grocery stores, a hospital and more storefronts downtown occupied by restaurants and shops. While there are currently some unoccupied storefronts downtown, the additions of the Bohm II and the Ludington Center have filled gaps on Superior Street. Though this is good for the downtown area, Musselman is concerned that Albion isn’t reaching all of its community members.
“One of the concerns is that most of the work seems to be happening on Superior Street or on Eaton Street,” said Musselman. “There are other parts of the community that don’t seem to be as impacted by that, and so one of the challenges is to figure out how to reach more broadly in the community.”
Going forward, reaching more people will improve the outlook and positive aspects of the town, and it will hopefully attract other businesses to Albion. One attraction the city is in dire need of is housing. According to Musselman, Albion hasn’t had new housing built in the last 20 years. However, in February 2015, it was announced that a gift from Judy (‘86) and Michael Harrington (‘86) donated a gift that would provide faculty housing on Superior Street.
Coming from one of the most prestigious technology schools in the world, Musselman said there are programs around MIT that help students create businesses around their ideas or inventions. If the city of Albion and the college could figure out a plan to help students stay in the area, they could help bring Albion back to a flourishing community.
Although Musselman said it was strange to be back, he enjoyed being able to get a feel for the community and figuring out some of the challenges Albion faces. For his 35th reunion in 2018, he hopes to see the activity from Superior Street continue to grow outward.
“I’m hopeful that when I come back in 2018 that there will be more restaurants, shops and activity on Superior Street, and hopefully it will spread outwards,” said Musselman.
Photo by Steven Marowski