Ballot Choices Key To Growth

August 1, 2008
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While some municipal leaders around the state continue to call for “fixes” for manufacturers, others have declared the “death of manufacturing” and/or continue tirades regarding the NAFTA and CAFTA agreements. All are stuck in the “good old days” of another century and business model, which is akin to having one’s head in the sand. Or worse, having neither imagination nor appreciation for the changes taking place. This is true, too, of most of those candidates for state and local leadership positions as primary elections call voters this week.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal focus this week on manufacturing technology was crammed with more stories of new economy models than space to publish them all. Those who survive the primaries and look to November for election might begin to surmount the pending learning curve by reading “Brainpower and Technology Are Keys,” on page 3.

Candidates running for office note the national political landscape, especially that of Michigan, and acknowledge that “people want change.” The truth is, “people” (i.e. the constituents) have changed and stood the challenges of the old economy. It’s the political landscape that stays mired in the old model.

The Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, non-partisan “think and do” tank, has convened community (and politician) meetings across the state. It has issued white papers regarding Michigan’s evolution and the (mostly bureaucratic) roadblocks to progress. Contributors to those “action” items have included former Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray, Frey Foundation President Milt Rohwer, former Holland legislator Paul Hillegonds and almost every economic development organization in any corner of the state.

Even as Michigan residents and business owners have disavowed the state legislature’s complete ineptness the past several years, the political party “machines” that assist candidates continue to use the same playbooks of yesteryear.

Rather than the politics of misery and fear, how much better might it be to work to inform constituents of the businesses growing and flourishing (see any page of the Business Journal) with reassurances that Michigan’s business leaders and, indeed, its work force are well qualified in these new endeavors.

The Center for Michigan notes the state’s brainpower for the future is indeed in manufacturing, whether furniture or automobiles “or anything else.” Center President Phil Power noted there are automotive engineers working in Michigan today who are the “sum of all automotive engineers around the world.” The same is said of the “design centric” abilities of the Michigan work force, whether they are designers of furniture or new cars, and certainly they are a legacy of previous generations. New economy business models include the life and health sciences, medical manufacturing and alternative energy operations. The Business Journal story reporting the growth of EarthTronics is just one example.

If Michigan stays mired in economic devastation, it is not because of its business acumen or skilled labor force; it will be because legislators don’t possess the same skill set of their constituents to match or enable growth. That is precisely why the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is planning (with 50 local business leaders) a Regional Policy conference next month. To those winning enough votes on Tuesday to take a place on the November ballots: This is intended for you. Moreover, it should be foremost in the minds of those who plan the campaign trail.

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