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Whitmer’s population group eyes Michigan infrastructure, education, economy

Michigan state on the USA map
Michigan’s population has remained stagnant for years, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has convened a task force to come up with policy solutions. (Shutterstock)
  • 64 workgroup members announced for bipartisan population council
  • Panel aims to jumpstart population growth, keep young people in state
  • Workgroups will cover infrastructure; jobs, talent and the economy; pre K-12 education and higher education

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s council to address the state’s stagnant population announced 64 new workgroup members Monday to study infrastructure, education, the economy and other factors that could draw more residents. 

The “Growing Michigan Together Council” is chaired by Republican businessman John Rakolta and Democratic education leader Shirley Stancato and will rely on input from the four workgroups. The panel of 21 voting members is tasked with creating a plan to help attract young people to Michigan and keep natives from leaving.


Recruits for the groups hail from across the state and include former lawmakers, labor leaders, business owners, educators, nonprofit officials and at least one current student: Emily Hoyumpa, president of the Associated Students of Michigan State University.

“These members represent a range of professions, communities, and perspectives—all of which are essential to developing a comprehensive strategy for growth,” Whitmer said in a statement announcing the appointments.


Voting members and workgroup participants include both Republicans and Democrats, but some Republicans have criticized the council, predicting its recommendations would ultimately give the governor cover to raise taxes to fund road repairs or increase spending in other areas.

House Republican Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland, repeated those concerns on Monday, urging task force members to "reject (the) pressures" to recommend tax increases.

"States we are competing with across the country are cutting taxes, and people are moving to states with lower taxes, better education systems, roads and bridges, and safer communities,” Hall said in a written statement.    

The Growing Michigan Together Council has a tough task:Michigan remains the 10th most populous state in the nation, with about 10 million residents, but it has ranked 49th out of 50 for population growth since 1990.

Experts say Michigan lags other states in jobs, earnings, health, educational achievement, public services and other metrics that help attract and retain residents. Michigan’s population is also trending older as more young adults migrate out of state.

The average age of voting members of the population council is about 52 years old, which is still well above the state’s average age of 40 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The new workgroup members are considerably younger, with many in their 20s.


Whitmer’s executive directive lays out an ambitious schedule for the population growth commission, which must finalize an initial report and recommendations by Dec. 1. 

Those workgroups are expected to draft potential recommendations by September, ahead of council deliberations in October and public listening sessions in November. 

Workgroup members appointed by the council Monday include:

Infrastructure and place

  • Rachel Gray, executive director, Hello West Michigan
  • Ron Brenke, executive director, American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan
  • Herasanna Richards, legislative associate for State & Federal Affairs, Michigan Municipal League
  • Melvin Henley, policy manager, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan
  • Emily Thompson, director of economic and community development, Techtown Detroit/WSU
  • Candice Miller, Macomb County Public Works commissioner S. Evan Weiner, president & CEO, Edw. C. Levy Co.
  • John Proos, CEO, JP4 Government Solutions and a former state senator
  • Michael Alaimo, director of environmental and energy affairs, Michigan Chamber of Commerce
  • Larry Filson, assistant vice president for design and sustainability, Walbridge
  • Lottie Ferguson, vice president of development and donor services, Community Foundation of Greater Flint
  • Ron Hall, president and CEO, Bridgewater Interiors, LLC
  • James Hammill, retired wildlife Biologist, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Kerry Duggan, CEO, SustainabiliD
  • Rian English Barnhill, vice president of government and community affairs, Olympia Development of Michigan
  • Aidan Sova, product solutions consultant, Google

Pre K-12 education

Jobs, talent and economy

  • Monique Stanton, president and CEO, Michigan League for Public Policy
  • Jeannette Bradshaw, recording secretary, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58
  • Guillermo Cisneros, president and CEO, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Alaina Jackson, managing director, Global Detroit
  • Ahmad Nassar, CEO and creative director, Detroit 75 Kitchen
  • Ken Horn, executive vice president of strategic development, Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and a former state senator
  • Randy Thelen, president and CEO, The Right Place, Inc.
  • Chad Bassett, chief operating officer, BAMF Health
  • Stacie Bytwork, president and CEO, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce
  • John Van Fossen, vice president of government affairs, Meijer
  • Ahmad Ezzeddine, vice president of academic student affairs and global engagement, Wayne State University
  • Kevin Prokop, managing partner, Rockbridge Growth Equity, LLC
  • Eva Garza Dewaelsche, president & CEO, SER Metro-Detroit
  • James Avery, director of talent development, Flint & Genesee Group
  • Adam Finkel, partner, Orfin Ventures
  • Abigail Baudry, Michigan’s Creative Coast project manager and communications & strategic projects coordinator, Traverse Connect

Higher education

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