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More money. More jobs?

Southeast Michigan is poised to get a share of $1.3 billion in U.S. economic development grants. Lisa Baragar Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) for Southeastern Michigan, a consortium of Michigan Works! agencies and community colleges formed to create a talent system for employers, tells Bridge how the money should be spent.

Bridge: Southeast Michigan is one of 12 communities eligible to get millions in federal funding to increase manufacturing. How did this happen?

Lisa Baragar Katz: The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership has access to $1.3 billion in funding from 11 different federal agencies. Michigan is one of 12 regions to win a 2-year designation (renewals are possible), an advantage over other cities applying for the grants. The application was a show of unprecedented collaboration between counties in Southeastern Michigan.

When could we see investment dollars flow into Michigan and what could this grant program mean for Southeastern Michigan – as many as 9,000 new jobs?

Yes. We’re not sure but we could start to see investment next fall. The application included proposals to develop vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and other non-automotive industries as well as blight reduction, roads and talent development.

So this is a broad plan and could be an opportunity to get federal funds to invest in developing new industries?

Yes. Some of these new emerging industries deal with vehicle efficiency and safety in the automotive industry. For example, alternative propulsion, different fuels, use of new materials, sensors. Connectivity also is an emerging industry. But it still hasn’t been fully defined - what does connectivity mean?

So-called “Eureka!” or “disruptive technologies” (those that transform the economy and everyday life such as the Internet, for example) are interesting but only if they can answer, “What’s next, how can this change our culture?”

The unemployment rate in Southeast Michigan saw a down-tick this year. Why?

Michigan’s 8.5% unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2014 is down from 10% in 2013. For the first time since 2008 in a first quarter, the number of jobs is up. What’s different is, it is a reflection of more jobs, not attrition or people stopping looking for, retiring or moving out of state.

The top five jobs that employers are advertising for on the web are retail, software developers, sales representatives, registered nurses and trailer/truck drivers. Michigan saw the most growth in tractor trailer and truck driver jobs.

I expect continued growth because of job demand as shown in online job listings.

What’s a big workforce problem that needs more attention from officials and the public?

Michigan needs to address training if we want to be successful. Career readiness is a big story. Looking at the WIN data on youth employment, there is an inverse relationship between the percentage of older workers in the workforce increasing and the percentage of youth employed decreasing. A person with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is harder to get employed. There’s a skills gap.

Who should be leading the discussion on job training and career readiness?

It needs all hands on deck – educators from all levels, everyone. The question is - is the business community poised to lead the legislature on education?

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