Hypocritical Approach Is Flawed

August 24, 2007
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Michigan’s faltering economy has led to numerous schemes and strategies put forth from many circles by those who believe they can legislate the state back into long-term prosperity. The latest gimmick proposed by Michigan House Democrats is a “Hire Michigan First” initiative that they claim will put Michigan residents to work.

It’s poor policy on the part of state government representatives who want to pigeon-hole Michigan’s employers into abiding by “rules” of engagement when it comes to employing a work force required to meet the needs of their operations.

Among other requirements, the Democratic “hiring” plan, consisting of a 14-bill package to be introduced in September, would mandate that:

**Businesses with contracts for construction of state buildings hire 100 percent of their workers from Michigan. The state currently requires 50 percent of workers on state construction projects be Michigan residents.

**The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and certain other state-funded programs give priority to companies that hire all Michigan workers.

**State contracts with companies that hire illegal immigrant workers would be cancelled. Those companies would have to pay back incentives, and they would be barred from future contracts.

This unnecessary punitive action against the state’s employers is flawed on several counts, shedding light on the hypocrisy seen in Lansing for quite some time, including under the current administration. State outsourcing of contracts — providing jobs to those who do not live in Michigan — has been a practice pursued time and again by such agencies as the MEDC and state tourism bureaucrats awarding advertising program bids and other economic incentives such as research work to out-of-state firms and their employees.

Legislators who are charged with oversight of state agencies would be wise to tighten up the rules regarding out-of-state deals already taking place at taxpayers’ — and Michigan workers’ — expense, right under their own noses.

This also represents another attempt to crack down on the hiring of undocumented workers on the part of Michigan employers, who already face stiff sanctions if they pursue such strategies. Once again, the state has a consistency problem in this area in light of such actions as social service agency practices that have found Michigan to be the only state in the nation to have accepted foreign families for state insurance services.

There is another core problem with legislation that mandates companies and organizations to tap an employment talent pool that may indeed not have the qualifications required to do the job. This state’s ability to train a highly-educated work force should be where the focus of legislative priorities is placed. When studies, such as the one conducted on behalf of Western Michigan University less than two years ago, indicate Michigan ranks near the bottom in valuing a well-educated work force, there is much work to be done to focus state investment and resources on producing a quality education environment with the skill sets to compete in a knowledge-based economy.

How would the Van Andel Institute and other life sciences endeavors cope with government mandates that constrict them from receiving state funds because they look to out-of-state, and particularly to foreign talent, to meet the needs of that particular discipline? Would a “waiver system” — supposedly to be put in place for companies that need to go out of state for special talent — really solve this conflict? Why crimp progress in this and other vital economic sectors to begin with?

“Hire Michigan” is a prescription for disaster.

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