Beyond rhetoric; one issue impedes economic progress

January 31, 2011
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Grand Rapids Business Journal readers have patiently listened to the political rhetoric of the State of the State speech and the State of the Union speech.

In each and in all, over and again, government leaders are beseeched and apparently held accountable for job creation. The point that businesses create jobs seems lost, especially among the federal officers who would create government jobs, which is certainly not the same thing and is a debt-building further drag on the economy rather than a boost.

Governments at the state and federal level must give all available effort to a review of the regulations that tax and hamstring job creation. Meanwhile, the slow progress of an improving economy is tied most to the impediments created by financial institutions and the availability of funding. That said, the elephant in the room sitting on our “Sputnik” moment is education — or rather lack thereof.

This region’s governments (most recently the Downtown Development Authority) and its universities pour all amounts of money into “entrepreneurial” programs to boost or showcase what exists, but the feeder system is broken. Michigan’s recession agony is prolonged by an adult constituency that long has ignored the relevance of advanced education.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s remarks in his State of the State message prepare us to think about P-18 education levels rather than K-12, even while Michigan’s student scores for education attainment and college ACT tests are among the lowest in the country.

The Business Journal makes note here of reader surveys completed last fall showing that the No. 3 issue for business owners and leaders is retention and recruitment of a talented work force. Indeed, Gentex and the Van Andel Institute are the poster pictures in this major concern as both work furiously to find scientists, advance-degreed engineers and software professionals. Gentex has made a point of scouring the Michigan landscape first to fill those positions.

Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer noted last week that the 15 states with the highest proportion of households with incomes of $200,000 or more are not the lowest tax states: In fact, they are states with some of the highest taxes. The income levels exactly pair to education levels.

Glazer noted that “metros with vibrant central cities are both places where the high wage knowledge-based economy is concentrated, and where talent wants to live and work.”

The facts cast aspersion on the initiatives that would call attention to “talent,” and is remindful of the manner in which communities across the country jumped to market themselves as “cool cities.”

Since education is a real and obvious problem, no amount of “entrepreneurial” sponsorships will cover this liability. Funding for such initiatives would be better spent on programs like First Steps, initiated by such business leaders as Lew Chamberlain, Mike and Sue Jandernoa, and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation.

As noted by the area business leaders surveyed by the Business Journal, the crisis has arrived.

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