Economic Development, Government, and Higher Education

Business community backs State of the State

January 17, 2014
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Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address last night seemed to further cement his popularity with the business community.

Local business leaders chimed in to praise Snyder’s address Thursday night, approving of the statistics and numbers he shared, as well as the goals he laid out.

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, said he was pleased that the governor continued to “focus on many of the priorities needed to continue Michigan’s turnaround.”

David Fant, a board member with the Small Business Association of Michigan, shared Rothwell’s sentiment.

“What stood out for me is that Gov. Snyder, coming from a small business background, understands that the state of Michigan is a business and should be run like one,” Fant said. “His perspective on small business, in fact all businesses, is exactly in line with what I feel is necessary for the state of Michigan to continue growing and succeed.”

Since the Great Recession, Michigan has truly become the comeback state, Snyder said, becoming first in economic recovery in the nation, and creating the first labor force growth since 2006. He also said that 221,000 private sector jobs had been created since December 2010.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said Snyder’s numbers were spot-on. GRACC was glad to see the governor highlight the state’s economic growth and successes, Baker said, while also acknowledging the challenges that are still ahead, especially in the area of talent as it correlates with what West Michigan businesses are experiencing.

“The chamber’s recent survey reinforced this, showing job growth for West Michigan businesses. Seventy-seven percent of more than 700 respondents reported that their firm hired and/or added new positions in the last year,” Baker said. “However, chamber members also reported difficulty finding qualified talent to fill available positions as a top challenge.”

On the issue of education, Snyder said Michigan has made a larger investment in preschool education than any state in the U.S. He also promised to do more to invest in education, a gesture that was well-received by Matthew McLogan, vice president of university relations for Grand Valley State University.

“Snyder highlighted the work of Harrison Park School in Grand Rapids, with which Grand Valley has had a longstanding partnership. Grand Valley, along with other area colleges and universities, is a participant in a Grand Rapids Community Foundation scholarship program that encourages Harrison Park students to strive for college and which will help them to pay for it,” McLogan said.

“We were heartened to hear the governor stress the importance of STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math). Grand Valley is one of the state’s largest producers of STEM graduates. Any steps the state can take to help these graduates to begin their careers in Michigan would be in the state’s best interest.”

Snyder also addressed immigration, saying he planned to create a Michigan Office for New Americans by executive order, offering support to make it easier for immigrants to start businesses in the state.

This news was received with welcome support from the business community, especially from The Right Place Inc., a regional economic development nonprofit. President Birgit Klohs said she was glad to see Snyder taking a stand on this issue, especially when a lot of other governors are ducking it. His words sent the right message, she said, that Michigan is not only open for business, but open for talent.

“Being an immigrant myself, I have been very disappointed in the stance of the federal government, that we cannot figure out how to let talent into this country,” Klohs said. “If we don’t believe in that anymore, then the Statue of Liberty shouldn’t be in New York anymore.”

On the matter of infrastructure, however, there are issues. Klohs said more work is needed, especially on the roads, which Snyder did admit needed improvement.

“He’s right to put a little pressure on the legislature on fixing the roads. It’s the basis for good economic development,” Klohs said. “If we want to have a world-class state, you can’t have people drive around on third-world roads.”

Klohs said she also wants to see more progress made on building the bridge to Canada, which was a major issue for Snyder last year.

“We all went to the mat for this bridge, so . . . what about the bridge? When are we going to start building it? I want to see a plan,” Klohs said.

Overall, Snyder made good points, Klohs said. The state now needs to continue to invest in talent and infrastructure. It’ll just take time, she said, because Michigan hasn’t arrived at perfection just yet.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Klohs said. “It’s a long journey, and we’re started on a good journey, but we’re not at the goal. He’s setting us up for long-term development, and we need to remember that.”

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