Creative energy should spark Lansing's urgency

September 28, 2009
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The energy of the ArtPrize opening last week was even greater than its vast variety and inventive color palette. Community corridors were packed and people laughed, smiled, held discussions and reinvented a downtown — in Michigan.

It was certainly a reprieve from what is occurring in Lansing, and a necessary one at that. There again is the example of the contrast of West Michigan.

Grand Rapids Business Journal this week reports on updates of the 2008 Regional Policy Conference hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and its five most important goals after more than two days of forums last year — goals set by more than 600 attendees from across the state, and one that gave regional chambers (from Detroit to Traverse City) a united voice.

Answering the universal call for structural reforms in state budgeting would be far, far easier than the bitter divisiveness of wagering on various tax increases or unceremoniously lopping off programs — some of which are paying for themselves or which also cut off billions in long-standing federal matching monies. Once again, as the legislatively mandated Oct. 1 deadline looms for a new state budget, legislators are paralyzed in rote reaction rather than taking action. It has become a legacy that so obviously impales this state, and it is without reason.

The Business Journal editorial board meeting with the co-leaders of the Policy Conference provided critical observations. Amway President Doug DeVos noted that the private sector will move wherever there is opportunity: a talented work force and/or good customer base. “There is no magic pill. What is necessary is long-term, strategic thinking. What is the atmosphere we’re creating in Michigan?”

Blue Cross Blue Shield West Michigan operations President Jeff Connolly commented, “The legislature does not have to reinvent the wheel. In business practice, you look at what others are doing and what works best.”

Much has been made of Michigan’s net loss of young workers and talent. But it is not for lack of love of the state, but instead for lack of jobs. Connolly estimated Michigan is “easily two years behind from a tax and talent opportunity.” Those facts are reiterated in the story on page 20, in which West Michigan Strategic Alliance Executive Director Greg Northrup emphasizes that job creation has to be the first and primary focus.

Michigan’s attributes are more widely understood as the result of the wildly successful Pure Michigan tourism campaign (which had a return on investment of nearly $3 to $1). Its attractiveness is underscored in the fact that the Great Lake State obviously has water, and such is not true of the more populated states to the west, which has increasingly become an issue of inhabitance and economic stability.

There is no good reason for this abyss. Perhaps it is time for legislators to see the Pure Michigan campaign in order to better understand what is at stake — to understand they represent this entire state in all its beauty. Perhaps they should be bused to Grand Rapids to witness the energy of a creative class, who by the legislative hand may have to leave. The energy level here may truly be their inspiration toward the new economy and change.

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