Government

State, local business community have powwow

August 1, 2014
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Representatives from the state of Michigan and the West Michigan business community met last week to discuss the reinvention of Michigan and ongoing efforts to continue its growth.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Steve Arwood, director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, met with representatives of the West Michigan business community at the Meijer Inc. corporate office, 2350 Three Mile Road NW, to discuss improvements and the administration’s efforts to grow Michigan’s economy and talk about future needs.

Topics discussed included incorporating lean process into regulatory systems, collaboration between the government and businesses to aid growth, connecting businesses through Pure Michigan Business Connect to create economic development, and challenges for the state’s continued growth.

The business roundtable consisted of: Rob VerHeulen, state representative of the 74th District; Rick Baker, president of Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; Mark Jansen, state senator; J.K. Symancyk, president of Meijer; Steve Arwood, director of LARA; Jim McBryde, vice president of governmental affairs at Michigan Economic Development Corp.; and Rick Chapla, vice president of The Right Place.

Calley has met with members of business communities across the state and representatives in the regulatory environment to set priorities in order to maintain the state’s forward momentum. 

“I like to get feedback directly from those who are directly in the regulatory environment or those who represent those regulatory environments,” said Calley. “Is this improvement that I am hearing back at the state government actually hitting the streets? Do people feel it? There has been a very positive response.”

A significant improvement the state has incorporated as it has gained its financial footing is implementing the concept of lean process into daily operations within LARA. Through the Office of Regulatory Reinvention, more than 1,400 “needless” rules and regulations have been eliminated in order to reduce obsolete and time-consuming processes for businesses.

Arwood said LARA re-evaluated the daily operations within the government and recognized it was a service provider, and there was a lack of innovation.

“We had to really step back and admit that we are a customer service agency and that everything we do has a customer on the back end,” said Arwood. “It is a rapid rebound where we want to make sure that we were not caught holding you back. I think we are beginning to operate as a major customer-focused business, and I think that is the biggest cultural turnaround we have had.”

Symancyk said Meijer Inc. both appreciates and applauds the efforts that have gone into streamlining regulatory systems, and the overarching idea of simplicity combined with the orientation toward customer service is notable.

“What we have found here in our own home state to be particularly special is recognition that we all want to do the right thing — how do we do that simpler, how do we do that quicker, how do we do that easier so that we can grow — whether that is personal growth that our customers experience or the growth of our business and subsequent growth that comes from that to any of the communities we serve,” said Symancyk.

Shifting toward streamlined processes serves all parties, according to Symancyk. “I don’t think it is a coincidence that we have been able to see business grow and prosper over the course of that time.”

Representing the business members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Baker said as the government becomes more customer-friendly with an approach to walk side-by-side with businesses, and assuming positive intent on the business community perspective, the opportunity for businesses to reinvest, create jobs and grow will arise.

“Stable, predictable was the theme of the business community all the time for them to be able to plan for growth within their own organizations; know that as they are making an investment, it is in a stable and predictable environment and government environment,” said Baker. “I applaud the work that has been done under the administration’s leadership to create that environment for the Michigan business community.”

The regulatory reform is reflective of the reinvention of Michigan, and it is an exciting time from an economic development standpoint, according to Chapla.

“Certainly some of the efforts are ongoing; it is a continuous improvement exercise once it starts,” said Chapla. “It never stops, and certainly regulatory reform is truly reflective of that, and it has made our work in retaining business as well as attracting business to West Michigan a whole lot easier.”

In terms of business growth and economic development, Calley said one the most successful tools MEDC has implemented is the Pure Michigan Business Connect, which links companies to one another for vendor services or contract needs.

Originally beginning as a pilot program with Consumers Energy and DTE Energy for a $100 million commitment a year, the economic development program recently garnered more than $2 billion more in new investment from other existing companies in the state contracting with Michigan vendors.

“That has produced over 10,000 jobs without a dime of state incentive. So all we are doing is performing that matchmaking role and holding these meetings,” said McBryde. “It has been an amazing success story. We are the only state doing this.”

From rural areas to urban communities, Calley said feedback shows that, in order for businesses to take the next step to expand operations or take advantage of opportunities within the country or abroad, the top issues concern talent development.

“They need to have people with the right skills in order to fill the jobs they have. That is one of the areas that we feel is really a great opportunity in terms of the next stage of economic development,” said Calley. “We have great tax reform, we have great regulatory reform, now we just need to make sure that our people get connected to the skills they need to be competitive in a 21st century economy.”

Collaboration and communication are key in connecting the talent pool with the right skills, whether using traditional educational routes or apprenticeship programs and specialty schools, according to Calley.

“There are so many different potential avenues here, but if there is not a direct connection and communication, collaboration between those who need the talent and those who are preparing (people) for the work world, then it is not likely that we are going to have good connections there,” said Calley. “Connecting the supply and the demand between education and the economy is going to be our best pathway forward into the new Michigan.”

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