Economist People Bring Jobs

June 12, 2006
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ALLENDALE — Changes need to be made in the way Michigan attracts people to the state to do business, economist George Erickcek told an audience at the Michigan Association of Collegiate Career and Employment Service and the Michigan Council for Internships and Cooperative Education joint conference.

The senior regional analyst from the W.E. Upjohn Institute was one of the speakers at the two-day conference “Cool Cities — Cool Careers/Co-op,” which addressed how to make Michigan a viable place for careers, internships and co-ops.

Though Michigan has come out of recessions in the past with the automotive industry and manufacturing, Erickcek said after the unprecedented six-year economic slump, this is not the case.

“This is not a typical recession. This is a structural change,” he said. “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

While some say Michigan will come back when manufacturing does, Erickcek said those people do not realize that manufacturing as an industry has rebounded and is now producing more than ever — but with fewer employees than it had in the 1950s.

To bring more jobs to Michigan and boost the economy, the focus must change from bringing physical capital to the area to attracting human capital. While the state has been very successful with physical capital over the years, Erickcek said attracting human capital is a different story.

“That is more difficult than even I originally thought,” he said.

While infrastructure, a skilled work force and tax abatements have been mainstays of bringing industry to the area, the focus now needs to be on having a diverse and open community with a commitment to arts and culture, as well as good schools, public services and commodities such as green spaces. And instead of it being the job of the government and the economic developers to attract companies, it is now up to the community, he said.

Erickcek said the Upjohn Institute found eight factors for growth after studying 43 variables in 117 metropolitan areas. These include:

  • A skilled work force.
  • Urban assimilation centers where people of different cultures feel comfortable and included.
  • Racial inclusion.
  • A legacy of place.
  • Income equality.
  • Location amenities such as green space.
  • Business dynamics
  • Urbanization/metropolitan structure.

“It’s not just some economic developers doing something; it’s something we all do,” he said. “It sounds like a different pack of tools than we’ve heard before from economic developers.”

These tools are what will help bring more people to the area — people from other states and people with college degrees, which Erickcek said is an indicator of what makes a “cool city,” according to the criteria spelled out in Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

“Jobs follow highly skilled professional workers,” he said.

Despite the loss of 240,000 jobs in the state between 2000 and 2006, Erickcek said he does not advise giving up on manufacturing, but only diversifying to include other industries.

“It’s way too important to lose,” he said. “It’s the foundation of our economy. Build from that base to a better future.”    

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