Report urges lawmakers to look ahead
State can’t rely on high-paying factory jobs if it hopes to improve employee outcomes.
Grand Rapids is well situated to prosper if the agenda laid out in Michigan Future’s most recent report is followed.
Michigan Future, a statewide think tank, released its first set of policy recommendations, “A Path to Good-paying Careers for all Michiganders: A 21st Century state policy agenda” last week, calling on state lawmakers to re-examine the strategy for improving the economy. The plan outlines three specific agenda items that would reshape the economic future of the state, and Michigan Future President Lou Glazer said the viability of the state’s two biggest metro areas are crucial to Michigan’s resurgence.
“The most important piece is making the case to state policymakers that metro Grand Rapids and metro Detroit are of particular importance to the state and that we cannot be prosperous unless those two regions are prosperous,” Glazer said.
To spur the state’s economy, Glazer said state policymakers should focus their attention on three major initiatives. According to Michigan Future, the first and most important priority for the state should be ensuring education is attainable for all Michiganders.
“It’s not a coincidence that Michigan is 32nd in four-year education attainment and also 32nd in per capita income,” Glazer said. “The people who earn the most and work the most, not just on an annual basis but in a 40-year career as well, are those with four-year degrees.”
Michigan Future also is asking lawmakers to put an emphasis on placemaking to stem the talent drought in the state. Glazer said turning Grand Rapids and Detroit into talent magnets that can compete with cities like Chicago and Minneapolis will be crucial to the state’s turnaround.
Lastly, Michigan Future recommends sharing prosperity to ensure every citizen in Michigan can afford to raise a family. Glazer said that might come in the form of expanded safety nets for employees or through tweaking employer requirements, like an increased minimum wage.
Those policy recommendations hold true throughout the state, including West Michigan, Glazer said.
“In terms of the challenges we face and the levers that need to be pulled, I don’t think anything is different in West Michigan than it is for the rest of the state,” he said. “But because of this concentration of high-wage, knowledge-based enterprises in large metros, it’s easier to get West Michigan back on track than other, more rural areas of the state.
“Metro Grand Rapids has increased educational outcomes and the quality placement you need to attract talent, and that’s a clear path to more and better-paying jobs.”
With the report now in the public sphere, Glazer said the focus turns to publicizing its results and encouraging the political will of legislators. One way to do that is by encouraging employers to be clearer in their hiring requirements and spreading the message that education should be available for all children — not just the ones who are fortunate enough to afford those opportunities.
“We want to make the case that these are skills that all kids need, not just the affluent ones,” Glazer said.
Ultimately, Glazer said it’s crucial those in Lansing look toward the future instead of idealizing and hoping for a return to the “glory days” of Michigan’s past.
“You cannot have a successful Michigan economy by trying to turn the clock back,” he said. “And from our perspective, that’s what has dominated campaigns and public policies for years now. But at some point, we have to accept that there’s new realities that mean you can’t go back to an economy fueled by high-paid factory jobs. And if you can’t get past that, you can’t get to the next step, which is changing how we define economic success.”