Policy Forum brings bright minds to the discussion

September 9, 2012
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The West Michigan Policy Forum this week is being conducted amidst some of the best economic news the state has seen in a decade. Comerica Bank’s Michigan Economic Activity Index spiked to the highest level the index has reached since 2002.

Grand Rapids Business Journal also is reporting this week on economic strides made through travel and tourism, its impact on hotel occupancy and on the Michigan Business and Professional Association’s survey demonstrating continued optimism among employers in the food and beverage industry — including increased business, hiring and expansions.

The Policy Forum was initiated in 2008 and was sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce before it became its own entity, more fully immersed day-to-day in the governmental issues confronting business owners. It is interesting to note its attraction of east and west Michigan executives and leaders, just as the Great Recession heaped its full impact on the state. The policy conference brought home the tremendous strain of the Single Business Tax and certainly played a key role in its death.

The Business Journal finds it especially noteworthy this year that the conference is focusing on education. The lack of an educated work force already is costing business owners an escalating amount of real dollars for training and recruitment. But it’s not enough and it’s not fast enough for the jobs that are becoming increasingly plentiful in this region, yet are going unfilled.

Urban center investments in Detroit and Grand Rapids will be highlighted by Rock Ventures, Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert, Windquest CEO Dick DeVos and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan CEO Dan Loepp. It’s not just a cheerleading session, however, because whether current gains can be sustained is the bigger issue.

The Business Journal reports this week on the results of a study commissioned by the Kent County Board of Commissioners. W.E. Upjohn Institute conducted the study, and among the findings in regard to collaborative governmental efforts was the effect of one unit on the whole.

Upjohn employment economist George Erickcek, who provided an overview of the report, was asked by a county commissioner whether the current model of government across the county is sustainable to meet future needs. Erickcek noted Grand Rapids’ success in developing downtown for its younger residents, but also noted the city’s poverty level has increased and the city is unable to raise enough revenue to deal with its special needs.

In the story on page 1, Erickcek commented, “It’s not sustainable. I worry about that.”

The Policy Forum brings bright minds to the discussion of such issues, and has an even greater opportunity to help the most potentially devastating threats to the future economy of this state and region.

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