Show IT Industry The Economic Love
Today's front page is a fitting example of what is holding Michigan back.
On one hand, the transformation of Delphi Corp. — in whatever form it takes — will have a negative effect on a state economy that's already foundering. The automotive industry, that manufacturing giant that has strapped Michigan to its back and carried it since the early 1900s, can no longer shoulder the load. At least not alone. That much is obvious to any interested observer, whether partial or impartial.
Thousands of workers and millions of tax dollars are tied to Delphi and its automotive brethren. Any ripple in that pond sends far-reaching shock waves. The figures put forth in this week's page 1 story on Delphi's restructuring are staggering, if not frightening, and point to the statewide implications of any action.
On the same page, however, is a story about the information technology industry and its resurgence in the state's economy. The employment numbers there are as hopeful as they are ominous in the automotive industry. Yet it's the increasing levels of knowledge and skill required of IT professionals that may be most encouraging.
IT is clearly an industry moving forward with the promise of strong, high-paying jobs, while the automotive industry is on the same road but heading in the opposite direction, faced with mounting layoffs and wage and benefit concessions.
No one is sweeping the dot-com bust of four years ago under the rug — nor should they — but a leaner, stronger industry has emerged from that rubble.
It should be recognized with many of the same opportunities and advantages that are currently being thrown at a sinking auto industry.
Should automotive manufacturing be ignored? No. It's far too important to Michigan's — and the world's — economy to be abandoned. Besides, the feeling here is that a leaner, stronger industry will emerge from this rubble, too.
But to continually shush an IT industry seeking attention is to risk missing an opportunity to bolster the state's reputation, not to mention its coffers.
Gary Mahieu, CEO of iMart and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, is sounding the alarm, and local politicians and policymakers would do well to heed the call.
"The Grand Rapids region is looking for innovative ways to take part in the information age," he said. "At the grassroots level, entrepreneurs are ready to take part in doing that. But at the government, university and policy level, we're not ready to do that."
IT firms are forging ahead, but they need a little push. Tax breaks and incentives have long been useful tools in strengthening manufacturing. Now let's apply those same principles to IT.
"We'd like more support from the local and state government," Mahieu acknowledged. "There really aren't any tax incentives for technology."
By the way, these are not handouts. They are economic development tools designed to help the entire region.