Michigan's surrounded -- and it's a good thing

Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of some of the state’s most progressive, far-seeing corporate chiefs, has released a new 2012 Michigan Turnaround Plan – and it’s worth checking out.

It lays out a far-reaching, long-term agenda that Michigan’s leading CEOs say would create nearly 500,000 jobs and increase per-capita incomes by $18,000 within 10 years.

This is worth paying attention to, partly because their original Turnaround Plan has a lot to do with Rick Snyder’s agenda as governor. After all, he was a BLM member before he was elected in November 2010. BLM stressed reforms in Michigan’s business climate, tax system and in the workings of government -- many of which the governor has helped make happen.

The new plan assumes continued progress, but goes much further in identifying six durable, distinctive assets that can form the foundation for a new Michigan. “Our vision is to do a better job of building on what’s already here,” says Bill Ford, Jr., Ford's executive chairman and a big champion of the new Michigan strategy. “We’ve identified existing assets we can build on. The opportunities are right here, right now.”

Our six strongest selling points, as they see them:

* Global Engineering Village. Michigan has more engineers per capita than any other state. They represent the human capital base that can continue to drive our manufacturing foundation and lead into a diversified service-based economy.

* Gateway to the Midwest. Half the population of the United States and Canada lives within 500 miles of Michigan. Access to this enormous market can come easily by road, rail, sea or air -- a potential logistics base unrivaled in the world.

* Higher Education Marketplace. We have some of the finest universities in the world right here. However, Michigan’s work force needs 1.3 million more college graduates by 2025, and state support for colleges and universities has fallen faster and further in recent years than in most other states. We need to be among the nation’s top 10 states for higher education.

* Natural Resources Economy. We have magnificent natural resources right here: Water, food and agriculture, minerals and timber, wind energy. Nationally, these things are all becoming increasingly scarce, which means that we currently have a massive opportunity and a set of distinctive assets.

* Global Center of Mobility. The auto industry is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next eight years. Additionally, that industry provides a base that can lead a transformation into serving the global mobility market -- a technology that could rival anything in Silicon Valley.

* Life Sciences Hub. Michigan boasts excellent high-end medical and biological facilities linked with outstanding hospitals. Whether it’s the North Campus Research Complex at the University of Michigan or the “Medical Mile” in Grand Rapids, our strong base of bio-pharma is poised for growth.

But will our leaders in the Legislature and elsewhere enact the reforms needed?

That’s the billion-dollar question. Given that this is an election year, most elected officials will be tempted to pay lip service to the plan, saying nice things, but bascically hoping it will go away and save them the task of making politically hard decisions.

That is exactly the wrong approach, for two reasons.

First BLM is B-I-G. The association, which grew out of the former Detroit Renaissance group of progressive business leaders, represents 80 of the biggest organizations in Michigan. Together, they have 320,000 employees and generate fully one quarter of the state’s gross domestic product and pretty close to $1 trillion in annual revenue.  It’s far more than just another parochial group spouting a narrow what’s-good-for-business agenda.

Because of its size and centrality Business Leaders for Michigan represents the core critical mass of Michigan’s future.

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, the BLM plan sports important characteristics that have -- so far -- been largely lacking in Michigan’s public policy discussions. Plus, it builds on our existing base of durable, distinctive competitive advantages. We don’t have to create from scratch the assets needed to drive our future prosperity.

Actually, the BLM plan doesn’t require anything wholly new. It calls for working better and more creatively with the assets we already have. The plan is tightly focused on just the six areas, or assets, outlined above. That alone makes it unlike most public policy proposals

Because they want to appeal to a variety of constituencies, most elected officials like to spread the goodies as widely as possible. Unfortunately a “competitive plan” where everyone gets a prize is, in reality, no plan at all

Additionally, the BLM plan has a realistic time frame: 10 years. Most important things don’t happen overnight. Most of the “chattering class” is interested in today’s headlines, without doing the hard work required to get things done in the long-term.

Th BLM report doesn’t sugarcoat matters; it acknowledges that transforming Michigan isn’t easy and won’t happen right away. This mixture of realism and hope is, however, what is most attractive about the latest BLM proposal. It’s serious. It deserves respect. And it’s one of the best things to come along in Michigan in a long time.

For a look, go to www.MichiganTurnaroundPlan.com.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Thu, 02/02/2012 - 9:03am
The bullet point about higher ed seems like lip service, considering that I don't recall Business Leaders for Michigan making a peep when the Governor & the Legislature slashed spending for public universities last year.
Sat, 02/04/2012 - 4:56am
Problem is the university's don't have the capacity for high demand fields such as nursing , Pa 's and doctors while the state drowns inlawyers and teachers?
Rebecca Gale-Go...
Mon, 02/06/2012 - 5:27pm
This is completely false. College's not only have the capacity with regard to human resources and expertise. What seems to be the sticking point is funding.
Rebecca Gale-Go...
Mon, 02/06/2012 - 5:28pm
I second that.
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 10:31am
Link to plan not working. With regard to the previous comment, was pleased to hear the President say that our universities need to become more efficient. Seems like one of the few areas of our society that has not had to become more efficient over the years and could raise prices almost at will. Support is important, but there needs to be more innovation on containing costs, improving efficiency and outcomes. College affordability is a big hurdle. Think that tourism - nationally and internationally - should also be singled out as a separate area. Bringing people here on vacation builds our "Brand." Some of those visitors are capable of taking part in economic development if they like what they see. Unfortunately for too many people - their image of Michigan's "Brand" is still focused on Detroit - it;s many problems and the decline of the auto industry, bailouts, etc - prior to the recent turnaround for the "big" three. Not a Detroit basher - it's turnaround is vital to our overall recovery. We need to broaden people's perception of what Michigan is and has to offer.
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 11:49am
I find it hard to understand that with all the analysis of the Michigan economy going on that no one acknowledges the facts that a college graduate is the cart. The horse is jobs. We need to concentrate on job creation if we want to keep or even need college grads in our state. If you look at the demographics, the middle and upper class have the ability, if not the desire to move to other states for jobs. Its the less affluent, unemployable and retired folks that are forced to stay and bear the burden of an economy in distress. These folks are the least able to fund the cost of making Michigan a boon to employers. The only real solution is reducing the cost of government and ending some of those sweet perks that the State was able to afford when the Big Three were at the top of the food chain. It is easy for special interest groups to say, "We have to have top schools to get employers and workers to come to Michigan." In reality, if big business wants to locate in Michigan, they will address the educational opportunities needed for their employees families. This comes from good paying jobs, better housing, bigger tax base and community revitalization. The idea that pouring big money in to education so we can supply other states with college grads whose education is highly subsidized by Michigan taxpayers has no logical basis outside of the educational community.
Joan Reyes
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 8:20pm
Until Michigan builds a diversified industry portfolio, the state will not be able to attract college graduates or keep them. The state needs every kind of industry to come here and build companies so that when one industry, like the automotive industry, has a downturn, then people who are laid off can take their skills to another industry. Politicians shouldn't be allowed to favor one industry over another, or allow political groups, like the Mackinac Policy Center, to decide which should be championed.
Richard L Miga
Mon, 02/06/2012 - 10:56am
@Joan Reyes, etal.. I totally agree that if the plan does not include and mandate a diversefication of the industries in Michigan to significantly change the economic base and reduce Michigan's dependancy on automotive, then it is not really a plan, but an attempt to maintain the status quo for the authors of the plan. Since the plan was created by "current" leaders I suspect (since the link to read the plan is not working) it contains minimal changes so as to not disrupt their busninesses and lives. Afterall that is human nature. Perhaps having "current" leaders write the plan is not such a good idea, after all they lead Michigan into this miminably diversity economy. Michigan does need a new plan, but it should not be created by only current leadership. BTW how does one go about suggesting changes to this plan?
John Q. Public
Thu, 02/02/2012 - 10:43pm
Assuming the $18,000 per capita income increase is accurate, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. For every 100 workers and $1.8 million, will it be $18,000 per person, or will 99 have stagnant wages while one gets an increase of $1.8 million?
Sat, 02/04/2012 - 4:55pm
Agree completely with Hardvark Feb 2 comment. More low-cost college degrees that lead to "useless" graduates is not the answer. We already have enough lawyers, and then some. We need people who start businesses that create value and thereby create jobs. I'm happy that the huge companies want to do something. However, it is the small businesses that provide job growth, and that takes self starters who want to make something better. Ironically two of the richest people in this country, people who had a huge impact on the entire world, never graduated from college -- Jobs and Gates. Might be a message there. We need gates to more jobs. That takes training in analysis and logical risk-taking, not a diploma to hang on the wall.