Snyder asks business world for a $6 billion favor

rick snyder mackinac policy conference

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has not been able to turn high-profile commission reports into bold policy initiatives for the state.

LANSING — With Gov. Rick Snyder entering his final 18 months as Michigan’s CEO, who will be left to champion $6 billion in recommended investments to the state’s infrastructure and public schools after he leaves office?

Hint: Look to the C-suite.

Snyder and a coalition of business and academic leaders want to draft corporate executives, civic leaders and chambers of commerce to carry the flag for dozens of recommendations they say would help improve school performance, make water and roads safer, and help workers better compete in a global economy.

Enlisting the business community is gaining steam partly because corporate executives will remain in power even as lawmakers exit, many due to term limits. Michigan voters will elect a governor and all 148 legislative seats in 2018, many of which will be filled by newcomers to Lansing.

Snyder, too, is ineligible to run again after serving two terms as governor.

The corporate call to action is intended to avoid the likelihood that high-profile, Snyder-commissioned reports will wind up on a shelf as Michigan’s next governor sets his or her own priorities.

“As you have a dialogue or discussion about what you’re doing in your organization, reference these reports,” Snyder implored a business audience recently at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island.

“How are you embracing it?” Snyder asked the crowd. “...Are we moving the needle in some of these areas, or not?”

Snyder last year created three commissions with ambitious agendas: to improve the economy, reverse Michigan’s steep decline in education, and restore water, road and other infrastructure. The commissions were thick with executives of large Michigan companies, including Ford Motor Co., Huntington National Bank, DTE Energy Co., Whirlpool Corp., and West Michigan-based Talent 2025.

Omission of commissions?

Intro chatter: Gov. Rick Snyder created three high-profile commissions to make recommendations on critical issues facing the state: its crumbling infrastructure, low-achieving public schools, and economic future. Here are links to each of their findings:

The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission

The 21st Century Education Commission

The 21st Century Economy Commission  

One group looked at infrastructure, from roads to water to high-speed internet access. Another researched how to restructure K-12 education to improve student performance and prepare kids for careers. The third, led by Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, identified what a successful economy would need, including skilled talent and a favorable business climate.

“(We’ve) got to get our partners in the business community to rally behind this,” said Thomas Haas, president of Grand Valley State University, who led the education commission. “Case in point: You hear time and again, it’s all about talent. It’s about competitive advantage as a state and a region, and we aren’t there, whether it be postsecondary degree attainment or the achievement of third-grade reading.”

Though Snyder and business leaders are largely aligned, advancing these big-ticket items has eluded them ‒ largely because of a growing split between business interests and a small government, fiscally conservative Republican majority in the Legislature, whose top priority right now is closing teachers’ pensions.

Two Snyder-and-business-backed proposals would add up to $6 billion more to state spending annually ‒ roughly $4 billion just to maintain the state’s existing infrastructure systems, and another $2 billion to transform public schools.

With the list of people seeking to succeed Snyder growing, it remains unclear whether Michigan’s next governor will carry the torch on either issue.

Business leaders who spent hundreds of hours over several months researching reforms to infrastructure and education say the groups took pains to remain apolitical and nonpartisan in their recommendations.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said state lawmakers need to focus intently on education, infrastructure and the economy if Michigan is going to be successful.  

“These are not open to political debate,” Baruah, who led the economic commission, said of the effort. He bluntly suggested to lawmakers at the Mackinac Conference that Lansing needs to be equally focused on these same issues.

“Is the piece of legislation in front of you today advancing the necessary things to achieve either the infrastructure report requirements, the education report requirements or the economic commission report requirements?” Baruah asked at the conference. “If it’s not, then the Legislature needs to ask themselves the question: Why are we spending time on this?

“If the governor who follows Rick Snyder, and the legislators starting today, ask themselves that question,” Baruah said, “we will succeed.”

The dustbin of history

The question of collecting dust often comes up when state government publishes a new report. They make an initial splash, but skeptics wonder whether they will accomplish what they set out to do.

In December 2004, the “Cherry Commission,” led by then-Lt. Gov. John Cherry, was asked by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm for recommendations that would, among other things, double the percentage of Michiganders who have postsecondary degrees or other credentials over a decade.

Its success was mixed.

After the report was released, the state created the Michigan Merit Curriculum and high school graduation requirements. There was a merit-based college scholarship program, the collection of more educational performance data, and new programs for students to earn early college credits, said John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center and a former Democratic State Board of Education president.

But the commission’s goal of boosting degree attainment fell short. In 2005, 32.7 percent of Michigan residents 25 or older had an associate’s degree or higher, according to American Community Survey data reviewed by Bridge. By 2015, that percentage was up to 37 percent ‒ an improvement, but of just 13 percent.

Austin helped lead a December 2015 report called “Reaching for Opportunity,” which he said sought to update the Cherry Commission findings. Recommendations were similar — more residents with postsecondary degrees or credentials, making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to universities, and expanding need-based financial aid programs.

Some higher ed experts who worked on the 2015 study told Bridge last year they were frustrated by the lack of state funding that has been budgeted to date toward the goals.

Austin said he believes the Snyder administration has made talent and education a focus of its remaining time, and a workgroup led by the Lansing-based Michigan College Access Network continues to work on solutions.

The Legislature, however, “is not serious about investing in infrastructure or about making changes to our funding model or other things that are good recommendations,” he said.

Several business and academic leaders who worked on the policy goals said they need to wind up as issues in the next campaign.

“I know that not one party has all the good ideas,” Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic state Senate majority leader from East Lansing who is running for governor. “I’m very interested in seeing if there are things in there that we would want to carry over.”

A short timer

In the short term, Snyder said he could use his remaining time in office to push forward on a goal to increase broadband Internet access, particularly in northern, rural areas of Michigan.

At the Grand Hotel during the Mackinac conference, he gestured toward the Straits of Mackinac and said the state’s Great Lakes shorelines would be attractive places to live and work — if only high-speed Internet were reliable.

People gravitate to large cities for economic opportunities, he said, but the ability to work remotely creates new opportunities for people who want to live in less-populated places.

“Let’s try to be more proactive about making it happen faster and better,” Snyder said. “If there’s multiple innovations or pilots we can try, let’s get them out there.”

The infrastructure report is unlike any that has preceded it, said S. Evan Weiner, the commission’s chairman and chief operating officer and executive vice president of Detroit-based Edw. C. Levy Co., a construction materials conglomerate that specializes in steel mill services and road construction,

Future governors and policymakers will have to confront the facts about the state’s deteriorating roads and water systems, Weiner said.

Already, the report led Snyder this spring to launch a pilot effort in metro Detroit and West Michigan intended to help guide the creation of a database that will serve as an infrastructure inventory, including locations and conditions.

The two regions cover about 55 percent of the state’s population. The results are due within a year, before Snyder leaves office.

In the meantime, state lawmakers have been less than friendly to any proposals that call for more revenue. For two years, legislators have cut Snyder’s plans for a statewide infrastructure fund. The 2018 budget has not yet been adopted, but proposed legislative funding levels are far below Snyder’s $20 million pitch.

Business leaders need to step up to teach local and state leaders, including newly elected legislators, the importance of the issues, Weiner said.

“The economy, education or infrastructure — those are three things that government leaders have to deal with,” he said. “If the business community could take care of it by themselves, they would have. They can’t.”

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John Saari
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 8:23am

Pay-off MDOT'S huge debt and never do it again. Reduce the amount of infra structure the State owns. Have the best interstate highway and trade/college education . Blend State Police with Border Patrol. Encourage Communities.

Mark Higgins
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 8:29am

It is frustrating that Governor Snyder cut school funding by $470 per pupil in his first year and has the audacity to create a commission for reversing education declines while simultaneously asking the private sector to step up and pay for the reforms. This will be a part of his legacy, defunding of K-12 education and the negative consequences it created. You cannot change that now that the end is in sight.

Jack Urban
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 8:30am

If I were Governor Snyder I would offer this practical suggestion to the business community: Buy some new state legislators and feed them regularly. Sell the ones who are inimical to effective and creative state governance.

John Tiemstra
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 9:07am

Everything that is discussed here will require funding. The Republicans have to get past their obsession with tax cuts to make sure that there is money to make these new initiatives real, while maintaining funding for the regular obligations of government.

Ida Byrd-Hill
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 9:42am

The reason the 3 items are issues is that the status quo who are enlisted to solve the problems created the problems. For example education is failing as the Autos wanted a certain population "dumb" enough just to screw on widgets for production. Schools delivered just what they wanted. Only 20% of students had classes, like Algebra/ Geometry, that prepared them for post-secondary training. Foreign competition almost wiped them out. Now those same people need to retool themselves with the basics they should have learned in k-12. Nonetheless, Schools have yet to make the transition. Even with new graduation requirements passed in 2007 which provided ALL students with post-secondary prep classes, schools are still failing most students. We need new school curriculum and models. Read Invisible Talent Market

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 10:33am

Business leaders need to step up and explain to Lansing how results are delivered, how departments/programs regularly report performance metrics, how protocols and procedures follow successful practices.

Commissions and their reports such as this were dead before the first meeting, the are designed for the Governor or whomever is funding them to hold them up before the press and say this reports confirms all that I have claimed so I am as good as I say I am. It isn't until the reports are about measurable results, includes performance metrics and expected results for each program and those administering the programs will there be any value in the reports.

All these reports are about is spending other people's money with no accountability. Mr. Barauh supports education, but if he talked to the companies about the knowledge and skills they need their employees to have they will talk about learning, they will talk about the roles and responsibilities of each employee, and they will talk about results. As we have seen when Lansing talks about education they exclude those that decide on what the results are [the students].

If the Governor or Mr. Barauh truly want business support then get them committed not just involved. Recruit individual companies to be the champion for a school where their employees send their children, get the individual schools to be committed to their students learning, and have the business and the school staff work together not simply the school asking for money. Have the champion companies identify successful performers to work with the schools, have the schools with their business champions establish smart [ones that measure actions that drive learning] performance metrics and regularly report on those metrics, have them included students in the teams.

The infrastructure needs a similar approach, deliver results, establish performance metrics and report them regularly, identify a priority system and report regularly on what is done [don't claim another bridge is critical and then never deliver, do what you can before doing what you want].

This report falls on the heap of history that has not delivered results so why are those touting this report using the same old political practices thinking anything will change or that they will magically gain voter support?

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:08am

Businesses do not know anything about delivering education. They are totally ignorant. In fact, they are totally ignorant of how governments serve the general welfare of the community. Government isn't run for the benefit of business and there isn't a profit involved. Government solves problems of community life--like education, transportation, and more. using a "business" model always fails. That's what Snyder and the Republicans have done and it is a complete and total failure.

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:16pm


I use to think I had lived a sheltered life, but I am regularly reminded that for what ever reason so many others are oblivious to the realities all around them.

In my career at a science based company I quickly came to understand the importance of learning both personally and from my employer. Have you ever considered how their employees gain the specialized knowledge and skills that are unique their operations?

There were several areas of knowledge that over my career the organization felt were necessary for employees to have to make our company more effective and sustainable. We had programs to ensure that employees learned and applied the necessary knowledge and skills. These topic span the whole of the organization across all jobs [roles/responsibilities], across all function [manufacturing, research, marketing, sales, administration], across all geographies [around the world], across all cultures. The topics range from statistical control, risk management [personal, process, organizational], scientific principles [physical chemistry, unit operation principles, computer languages and mathematics principles such as derivatives and integration], project management using Six Sigma [3.4 errors per million events], personal and group dynamics [psychological principles and practices], 'critical thinking,'and the list goes on. These were not simply read a pamphlet or sit in a meeting room, these were interactive requiring a demonstration by application of learning. These were all done in house by people in the function who were trained and supported by an internal learning 'experts'.

A few of the simpler principles we found effective [we learned] were establishing expectations [higher than what they had for themselves] for the students, engaging the student by identifying and framing the lesson to items of interest [things they were doing everyday], verifying their learning through their demonstration of to knowledge and skills.

Most of these topics required several session so they were spread over several weeks [the work still had to be done to stay in business] with sessions ranging from a few hours to a few of days.

"Businesses do not know anything about delivering education." sound someone that has a stereotype thinking, if you don't see it then it must not be true so you use the media stereotypes as reality. The least technically informed people I have had to deal with are the media. They use the common refrain 'I'm not a math person,' 'I'm not a science person,' 'I haven't the time to learn all of that.'

The type of thinking that doesn't believe businesses can learn and can teach what their people need to know is what is holding back Michigan economically and academically.

You should pause and consider what technology involves and what knowledge and skills are necessary to make it work profitably, and then recognize that those businesses that are succeeding are relying on their people for that success. I can assure you there aren't enough degreed engineers to do all of what is being delivered by American businesses. The other fact that is, that this learning/training/education has been the cause of the transition [since the 1960s if not the 40s and 50s] from a 'hardwork' leveraged economy to a knowledge leveraged economy.

If you still have doubts, consider in the 1970s when no one was using or had even seen a computer that men in their 40s and 50s [most never ever learning algebra] had to learn to read the computer language, understand what the computer was doing and why [because they had to periodically take over control through the computer] and had to make operational decision based on what they gather through the computer. You want to describe challenging students, these people had grow up and operated their processes by knowing how each part worked, then that had to accept that learning how the internals of a computer work was not material, but learning a new language to communicate with the computer was imperative. Similarly, as the technology change the need for more scientific understanding become critical because they had to take that into consideration when deciding on actions.
The reality you [and many others] seem to fail to appreciate is that the applied technologies are applied chemistry, applied physics, applied mathematics, applied computer principles and they are being used by people that didn't learn that in Michigan K-12 or didn't take those subjects in college.

I am just one person offering personal experiences in hopes of people applying 'critical thinking' to our education system.

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:39pm

With regard to profits, you seem to have a misconception. Where government is provided moneys even when they don't solve problems, businesses have to earn their money by solving problems and without profits they cannot develop new ideas/better solutions/new solutions to new problems.

Businesses are judge by results, if you don't like you phone you buy from someone else, if you don't like you City government you are stuck and have to continue to pay for their disappointing you. As for education, it is the students that determines their success not the schools.

I have tried to understand what problems the schools, the governments are solving and as best I can tell the problems we hear about are the problems we have heard about all our lives. You expect/demand ever improving solution to you wants and needs from businesses and if that slack off just a bit in advancing technology you go somewhere else. Take the time to ask you community 'Engineer' about new technologies for improving roads and you will get a blank stare or at best some hemming and hawing but no specific examples. Listen to all the educators and all they talk about is money and staffing. How long have the KIPP schools been succeeding and at least in my community they mention nothing about it or why it is succeeding. If you compare schools across the state none have any new answers, but if you look at why some are succeeding and others are failing you will find it is the students and not the schools.

Government isn't solving problems it is nurturing them, government isn't accountable because no matter that the problems persist they have an assured income, look at Flint and Detroit they have failed and are still there recieving tax dollars both local and state wide. Looked at Kellogs, Steelcase, Ford, Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Wolverine, etc. they have all struggle but survived and prospered because they only get paid if they solve problems, people wants and needs.

If you truly want Michigan and people to succeed you have to be willing to open up to use all the resources available, to a diversity or perspectives, to the inclusion of people who have the capacity to help.

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 11:45am

They don't have to "confront the facts" about anything, all of the needs listed here are well known to anyone with a brain and past legislatures have shown no interest in dealing with the problems in a meaningful way. I would consider the proposal DOA even before it arrives for a new legislature to look at, anything with the dreaded "t" word attached to it means they will just kick the problem down the road as they have before.

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:08am

Tax businesses. They are the only group not contributing to the general welfare of the community. They have shifted all their taxes to the poor, the seniors, and the middle class. Do your share. Pay some taxes.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 1:16pm

If these business "leaders" are so concerned with the state of education here in Michigan, let them show some leadership for a change and step up to solve the problem on their own.

I have already previously cited several examples from the past where the business community has stepped in and taken care of this problem all on its own.

Or is Mr. Baruah and those he represents trying to tell us in no uncertain terms that Michigan Businesses are totally incapable of doing what their predecessors had done?

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 9:20am

We have seen what the DeVos business ideology has done for Michigan schools, its not a pretty picture. Those that have a ton on money, influence in the legislature and an axe to grind toward public education have not been helpful.

Michigan Observer
Mon, 06/12/2017 - 9:27pm

The article says, "But the commission’s goal of boosting degree attainment fell short. In 2005, 32.7 percent of Michigan residents 25 or older had an associate’s degree or higher, according to American Community Survey data reviewed by Bridge. By 2015, that percentage was up to 37 percent ‒ an improvement, but of just 13 percent." What accounted for that modest improvement? More college graduates moving into the state? Improved retention of graduates of Michigan colleges and universities? To what extent did state government efforts contribute to the improvement?

It's unfortunate that the paragraph describing the Cherry Commission report isn't comparable to the paragraph describing the change in the percentage of Michigan residents with an associates degree or better. That report called for a doubling of " the percentage of Michiganders who have postsecondary degrees or other credentials over a decade." What was the increase in the percentage with "other credentials"?

Ann Farnell
Tue, 06/13/2017 - 11:46am

The improvement is not 13 per cent. It is 4.3 percent. 2005 was 32.7%. 2015 was 37%. Subtract 32.7 from 37=4.3 not 13.

Actually, 32 to 34% of the population holding a bachelor's degree has been true since the G.I. bill opened up higher education to non-elites, except for Black soldiers who were mostly denied the benefits of the G. I. Bill. I think I recall that only 340 Blacks actually got it. This is another example of how federal policy, that is, giving states the responsibility to distribute the G.I. Bill, during segregation, enabled mass denial of a federal benefits to a minority.

John Saari
Sun, 06/18/2017 - 7:04am

Combine all Public Recreation lands and give maintenance and Management to the local Community. Community volunteers get free admission.