Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of some of the state’s most progressive, far-seeing corporate chiefs, has released a new 2012 Michigan Turnaround Plan – and it’s worth checking out.
It lays out a far-reaching, long-term agenda that Michigan’s leading CEOs say would create nearly 500,000 jobs and increase per-capita incomes by $18,000 within 10 years.
This is worth paying attention to, partly because their original Turnaround Plan has a lot to do with Rick Snyder’s agenda as governor. After all, he was a BLM member before he was elected in November 2010. BLM stressed reforms in Michigan’s business climate, tax system and in the workings of government -- many of which the governor has helped make happen.
The new plan assumes continued progress, but goes much further in identifying six durable, distinctive assets that can form the foundation for a new Michigan. “Our vision is to do a better job of building on what’s already here,” says Bill Ford, Jr., Ford's executive chairman and a big champion of the new Michigan strategy. “We’ve identified existing assets we can build on. The opportunities are right here, right now.”
Our six strongest selling points, as they see them:
* Global Engineering Village. Michigan has more engineers per capita than any other state. They represent the human capital base that can continue to drive our manufacturing foundation and lead into a diversified service-based economy.
* Gateway to the Midwest. Half the population of the United States and Canada lives within 500 miles of Michigan. Access to this enormous market can come easily by road, rail, sea or air -- a potential logistics base unrivaled in the world.
* Higher Education Marketplace. We have some of the finest universities in the world right here. However, Michigan’s work force needs 1.3 million more college graduates by 2025, and state support for colleges and universities has fallen faster and further in recent years than in most other states. We need to be among the nation’s top 10 states for higher education.
* Natural Resources Economy. We have magnificent natural resources right here: Water, food and agriculture, minerals and timber, wind energy. Nationally, these things are all becoming increasingly scarce, which means that we currently have a massive opportunity and a set of distinctive assets.
* Global Center of Mobility. The auto industry is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next eight years. Additionally, that industry provides a base that can lead a transformation into serving the global mobility market -- a technology that could rival anything in Silicon Valley.
* Life Sciences Hub. Michigan boasts excellent high-end medical and biological facilities linked with outstanding hospitals. Whether it’s the North Campus Research Complex at the University of Michigan or the “Medical Mile” in Grand Rapids, our strong base of bio-pharma is poised for growth.
But will our leaders in the Legislature and elsewhere enact the reforms needed?
That’s the billion-dollar question. Given that this is an election year, most elected officials will be tempted to pay lip service to the plan, saying nice things, but bascically hoping it will go away and save them the task of making politically hard decisions.
That is exactly the wrong approach, for two reasons.
First BLM is B-I-G. The association, which grew out of the former Detroit Renaissance group of progressive business leaders, represents 80 of the biggest organizations in Michigan. Together, they have 320,000 employees and generate fully one quarter of the state’s gross domestic product and pretty close to $1 trillion in annual revenue. It’s far more than just another parochial group spouting a narrow what’s-good-for-business agenda.
Because of its size and centrality Business Leaders for Michigan represents the core critical mass of Michigan’s future.
Second, and perhaps even more importantly, the BLM plan sports important characteristics that have -- so far -- been largely lacking in Michigan’s public policy discussions. Plus, it builds on our existing base of durable, distinctive competitive advantages. We don’t have to create from scratch the assets needed to drive our future prosperity.
Actually, the BLM plan doesn’t require anything wholly new. It calls for working better and more creatively with the assets we already have. The plan is tightly focused on just the six areas, or assets, outlined above. That alone makes it unlike most public policy proposals
Because they want to appeal to a variety of constituencies, most elected officials like to spread the goodies as widely as possible. Unfortunately a “competitive plan” where everyone gets a prize is, in reality, no plan at all
Additionally, the BLM plan has a realistic time frame: 10 years. Most important things don’t happen overnight. Most of the “chattering class” is interested in today’s headlines, without doing the hard work required to get things done in the long-term.
Th BLM report doesn’t sugarcoat matters; it acknowledges that transforming Michigan isn’t easy and won’t happen right away. This mixture of realism and hope is, however, what is most attractive about the latest BLM proposal. It’s serious. It deserves respect. And it’s one of the best things to come along in Michigan in a long time.
Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.