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Opinion | Governor’s population council a chance for smart ideas to shine

I’m writing in response to Governor Whitmer’s announcement of her Growing Michigan Together Council (GMTC), a council to study and recommend policy ideas intended to spark positive and substantial population growth in Michigan.

Ken Horn

Ken Horn serves as executive vice president of strategic development at the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.

Two years ago, as chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, I laid out a case for growth with my Project 1MP — an effort to expand Michigan’s population by one million people over a decade. Today, I’ve scaled down Project 1MP proportionately to Operation 40K: growing the four-county Great Lakes Bay Region (Saginaw, Bay, Midland and Isabella counties) of the state by 40,000 people.

There’s no first step to attracting people to Michigan, because everything that needs to happen must all happen simultaneously. Creating and appointing members to the GMTC is only the first step to creating a genuine statewide collaboration.

Growing Michigan by a million people by the year 2050, the target year set for the council, is a reasonable and attainable goal. Practically speaking, given the right tools, Detroit could absorb a million new residents all by itself. 

A bigger question for the council might be: How do we share the wealth of population growth with the entire state? Including our beautiful Upper Peninsula.

It is an enormous task and will require serious people to consider a broad range of policy issues that can solve the specific population growth-question which is being asked of it. It will also need to rise above petty and partisan politics, while it considers solutions that can withstand the test of time in an ever-changing, term-limited world.

The deadline for a GMTC recommendation is at the end of this year. That doesn’t mean the governor, the Legislature, community, academic and private sector leaders shouldn’t pay attention to the general tone and direction the council is heading. Policy ideas and external solutions are at our fingertips today. We can allow public comment to guide us, when appropriate.

For instance, Michigan employers know we have a talent crisis. We know that welcoming a migration of talent from other states and nations can more easily fill our talent shortage. Michigan communities know we have a workforce housing shortage. Working parents will tell us everything we need to know about a shortage of daycare facilities.

We know Covid changed the typical office and workspace. Gen-Z and the next I-Generation are less likely to want to own cars, meaning regional and municipal transportation will force an evolution in mobility. K-12 schools will always drive home-buying decisions, and clean, safe, walkable downtowns are also making a genuine comeback. These days, it’s all about work/life balance.

Most of all, Michigan needs to be recognized as a leader in innovative technologies of all kinds. An innovative private sector needs to be paired up with an education system that, from early-childhood to a meaningful career, can offer a lifetime of opportunities to Michigan families.

The good news is, good people are already working on all these issues all over this great state. There are brilliant ideas already being tested locally. The governor’s council allows us to convene Michiganders to gather and collect these seeds of ideas to be re-planted in each region where they’ll flourish best.

So to all of Michigan, from your friends in the Great Lakes Bay Region…let’s get growing.

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