CEOs Education matters state must reflect priority

May 9, 2011
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Michigan still ranks near the bottom of an annual list based on surveys by Chief Executive Magazine, and that has chamber of commerce officialdom predicting a comeback, insistently based on Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget of “shared sacrifice” and elimination of the Single Business Tax.

Chamber lobbyists believe that single issue is the power that will propel the peninsula state toward the top of the list. Employers, however, are most concerned with recruiting talent, and they are having a darn tough time of it as the recovery continues in spurts. It is the inability to convince that talent to come to Michigan that will recreate a stagnant economy. The chronic problem is not limited to a specific industry. It includes physician specialists, researchers, engineers and manufacturing technologists and leaders in the services sector.

While the Travel/Pure Michigan campaign helps capture the attention of a talent pool that lists “quality of life” as a top motivator to any move, CEOs also list educational opportunities and an educated work force among the top five reasons for choosing one locale over another. Tax issues rank below education on the CEO list of imperatives. That fact is the most powerful reason to provide state budget policy that follows suit and makes education a top priority.

West Michigan has a long history of recruiting individuals for talents in specific clusters, such as automotive. The suitable skills of the Holland work force helped to extend that community’s job base with new opportunities in green energy and biosciences.

The pace at which any lures are successful, however, is agonizingly slow, but the recognition last week of 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For offers far greater leverage for regional business owners to attract that talent. The Michigan Business and Professional Association estimates it processes approximately 400 company inquiries for the honor, and has established what’s become known as a rather grueling process to achieve the honor of the designation, including interviews with employees of those companies. Winners are evaluated in 10 areas, including effective communication, diversity, work-life balance, employee education, development, recognition, retention, and compensation and benefits.

MBPA Executive Vice President Jennifer Kluge noted in a Business Journal report that the 101 companies honored strive to make the lives of their employees better, which makes them better companies and enriches the community.

Grand Rapids is on the map again this week for its ability to organize the technology, entertainment and design TEDxGrandRapids event that reportedly was sold out, even though it is the inaugural event. The demonstration of creativity, inventiveness and talent from across the country is an important and visible opportunity to further assist employers in the area. Organizer (or “host”) Steve Frazee refers to TEDx as “an ecosystem that is created by putting a lot of interesting people together in one place, at one time and fostering communication.” The educational component also is central, he said: “People that are leading in all sorts of sectors of society here in West Michigan also need to be educated and need to get together, and need to communicate and collaborate.”

State policy must mirror the motivating factors for talent and business retention and recruitment, and chamber of commerce voices to that end are now imperative.

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