Editorial

Sobering economic research for West Michigan begs creative solutions

October 18, 2013
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The Business Journal last week celebrated the accomplishments and community connections of 40 young business leaders in four counties, seeding — and fueling — a number of new, inventive ideas and relationships that will assuredly continue to sustain the economic foundation in the West Michigan area. Gov. Rick Snyder spoke to the group with targeted insight and advice keying off what he said has been his lifelong mantra: relentless positive action.

It will take all of them and the relentless pursuit of such action to even begin to address this region’s — and Michigan’s — most persistent and crippling issue: public education.

The Business Journal Focus section this week reviews a number of new programs and academic opportunities in such far-ranging areas as law, health care, entrepreneurial training, business administration and sustainable business models. Getting there is the issue.

The Business Journal this week also is publishing the latest research from Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, and University of Michigan economist Don Grimes. The research and study are sobering.

The oft-cited economic analysts found that the Grand Rapids region (including Grand Rapids, Holland and Muskegon) is quite similar to the seven-county Detroit region when the bottom-line numbers are reviewed, despite all positive perceptions to the contrary. Preferring to believe in those perceptions is akin to putting one’s head in the sand or to party with abandon even as the threat of a tsunami is ignored.

Glazer writes that the research shows per capita income of 54 regions in the country with populations of 1 million or more. Of those, Metro Detroit ranks 39th in per capita income and Metro Grand Rapids is 52nd. He writes, “Metro Detroit ranked 50th and Metro Grand Rapids ranked 49th in change in per capita income” (between 2001-2011, the most recent Census information available), and that per capita income is influenced by a region’s “concentration in the knowledge-based sectors of the economy and, even more so, the proportion of adults with a four-year college degree or more.” Of the 54 U.S. regions, West Michigan is 54th in knowledge-based concentration and 42nd in college attainment. Metro Detroit ranked 35th and 37th. Chicago ranks 12th.

Glazer notes the bad news for both regions but finds it far more troubling for the state of Michigan as its two largest metro regions are substantially deficient.

In September during a Business Journal interview Dick DeVos enumerated the issues that would be “next steps” for community leadership. He cited downtown retail and housing as the first concern, with education second. The long-time advocate of a “voucher system” for schools touted “alternative” schools or charter schools as the answer for the downtown Grand Rapids area specifically.

Gov. Snyder has the counsel of several individuals with various levels of expertise — and political ideology, particularly apparent in the debates on Common Core standards. Glazer’s knowledge economy research and expertise should be a part of the solution. Gov. Snyder told the gathering of 40 young leaders, and again reiterated during a press conference regarding the breakthrough on the federal debt ceiling, “Of course, Republicans and Democrats have differing ideas and points of view. That’s to be expected. And sometimes, we have passionate disagreements. But, we find the areas where we agree and build upon them to fix our problems. And, at all times, we keep moving forward.”

The Business Journal has long been relentless in its reporting of the issues now cited by Glazer. It’s far past time for some of that positive action.

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