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Will ride-sharing mean less parking? And getting students in career tech

LANSING — Cities should start thinking now about the impact driverless cars will have on everything from transit to parking, even though the first automated vehicles aren’t expected to be available to the public until at least 2020.

That’s according to the new CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which commissioned a recent report as a road map for cities to consider the kinds of infrastructure and land use changes that the emerging mobility industry will bring.

“Think about … what mobility and autonomy essentially allows in terms of helping our seniors potentially be more active and able to be out living on their own, or for the disabled community, or some of our rural areas,” said Jeff Mason, who took the helm of the state’s economic development agency in July.

“Just providing more access and opportunity, I think that’s what’s kind of exciting about what the future holds,” he said. “But it also can be, maybe, threatening or challenging from a planning and a community standpoint.”

I talked to Mason recently while he was in Montreal for the ITS World Congress, a conference devoted to intelligent transportation. The MEDC was there to pitch Planet M, the state’s mobility brand, and Michigan itself as the preeminent leader on all things connected and autonomous vehicles.

The “Future Cities” report, written by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, tries to make the case that the most attractive communities when it comes to attracting jobs and residents will be the ones that have invested in the infrastructure to be ready for ride-hailing and bike-sharing services, for instance, and self-driving cars.

That would include such things as eliminating minimum parking requirements for developments, creating car- and bike-sharing parking spaces and loading zones for ride-hailing companies, studying potential congestion and travel patterns if fewer human-driven vehicles are on the roads, integrating fares between several modes of transit and anticipating the need for fewer parking spaces in the future.

Mason said the MEDC plans to share the report with the Michigan Municipal League and local governments to begin the conversation.

Yet planning often is a short-term exercise, not just because policymakers generally are in office for a set number of years. How, I asked Mason, does the state help local governments take a longer view?

Municipalities have long grappled with that, he said.

“What the governor’s great at doing is kind of helping people to think around the curve and begin to think about the future and think beyond election cycles,” Mason said. “Municipalities or governmental bodies, we’re pretty risk-averse. But I think when you have the industry and companies here in the state that are beginning to introduce some of this technology, that’s helpful in terms of kind of exposing those elected officials to what the future is.”

“We’d be interested in those conversations,” said Richard Murphy, program coordinator in the Michigan Municipal League’s Civic Innovation Labs, which focuses on identifying the “next practices” around placemaking and planning that local governments should start to think about.

Murphy said the developing mobility industry mixes interest in the opportunities that arise with on-demand transit services and self-driving cars with concern over the cost of building infrastructure. For instance, he said, if fewer people will be driving cars in the future, what will replace the gasoline tax as the primary source of state road funding?

Career-tech challenge

Michigan ranks 42nd out of 50 states for the number of high school students enrolled in career and technical education programs.

That fact stood out last week as Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable, released its latest benchmarking report comparing Michigan to other states during its annual CEO summit in Detroit.

BLM’s report includes the data point, indicating that fewer than a quarter of public school students took a vocational course in 2015. That’s less than half of what “top 10” states on such metrics as jobs, personal income and economic health are enrolling.

That’s happening “in a state that prides itself for being a hands-on, practical place that makes things,” Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, told a crowd of about 500 attending the summit.

Yet the statistic shines light on a larger problem, which is that Michigan struggles to produce enough workers with the right set of advanced skills that employers are demanding in a global, 21st-Century economy. Just 23 percent of students graduated from Michigan high schools in 2016 meeting college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science on the ACT college entrance exam — far below the 36 percent who, on average, can do so in “top 10” states, the report shows.

The problem starts early: Michigan ranks 46th when it comes to fourth-grade students who are proficient in reading on state standardized tests, and 37th when it comes to eighth-graders who can demonstrate math proficiency.

Gov. Rick Snyder has focused his administration on increasing employment in skilled trades fields — which can be high-paying work — particularly for students who don’t plan to attend a four-year university. Getting students into vocational courses that can help accelerate that path, however, has proven more challenging.

For one, the state adopted more rigorous high school course requirements, which can leave less time in the day available for students to spend at a vocational program. Michigan has a decentralized career-tech structure statewide, with some programs supported by local millages. And the state has had difficulty recruiting enough teachers to lead courses.

There has been some progress. This year, 109,005 students are enrolled in career and technical education programs in Michigan schools, according to data from the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. That’s nearly 5,000 more students than in 2015, when enrollment hit a recent trough at 104,038, yet still below the 118,575 students enrolled in 2011 when Snyder took office.

The state is trying to boost the image of skilled trades fields in multiple ways, from its “Going Pro” marketing campaign to a tool called Pathfinder that aims to give students — and others — current information about job openings and average wages in given fields, talent department spokesman Dave Murray said via email.

“We also need to start the discussion about improving CTE statewide,” Murray said, citing the need to create equity between districts with vocational millages and those without.

That discussion includes potential policy changes meant to bring more people with expertise in these fields into the classroom, he said, adding: “So many districts say they are unable to offer some classes because they can’t find someone to teach them.”

Snyder this month signed a supplemental funding bill for this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, to increase vocational programming and equipment by $3 million. And over the summer, the state talent and education departments jointly rolled out a plan to enlist the state’s business community in an effort to find more teachers.

Now, a five-bill package is pending in a state House committee that would, among other things, allow non-certified instructors to teach career-tech courses so long as he or she has work experience or expertise in a particular field, has at least a high school diploma and currently holds or has had a professional license or certification in the field within the past two years.

The bills have the support of a number of professional associations, including groups that lobby on behalf of manufacturers, restaurants and road builders, as well as the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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