Street Talk: Business groups aim higher

Four major business organizations recently announced support for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal of increasing the percentage of Michigan’s workforce with a post-high school degree or high-value certificate to 60 percent by the year 2030.

Business Leaders for Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan expressed support for the governor’s MI Opportunity and Reconnect proposals, and said they look forward to working together with her team and the Legislature to increase post-secondary access for high school graduates and adults, consistent with principles related to accountability for both students and colleges.

“Nearly every large employer in Michigan faces the same major challenge: talent attraction and retention,” said Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “We want to have homegrown talent sustaining our state’s productivity and continued economic growth, and to achieve that, we need to boost the number of residents who attain a post-secondary degree or certification. Gov. Whitmer quickly identified this challenge and brought forth an attainable goal for us to all work toward.”

Both chambers of commerce are on board with the proposal.

“The chamber was an early adopter of the goal of achieving 60 percent degree or certificate attainment by 2030 — a goal now shared by Gov. Whitmer,” said Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Our experience leading the Detroit Promise helps us provide valuable feedback to ensuring the governor’s proposal fills the talent gap and allows businesses to succeed across the state.”

“Closing the skills gap and addressing our talent crisis is the number one issue for our members,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber. “To combat this issue, we need a plan to increase degree attainment, including four-year and two-year degrees, as well as certificates and credentials. We are eager to work alongside the administration, the Legislature and other stakeholders to craft initiatives that accomplish these goals and create a sustainable and thriving workforce.”

Small businesses, especially, are hopeful the initiative works.

“Michigan has come a long way in the last decade,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “The lack of available talent to accommodate growth is a common challenge that businesses of all sizes face. We need a unified, comprehensive strategy to connect more people to education and opportunity. SBAM looks forward to working with the Whitmer administration and the Legislature to reach the ambitious 60 percent degree or certificate attainment by the year 2030.”

 Deep freeze

With the 2019 polar vortex causing several power outages and the shutdown of government agencies in the state of Michigan, many residents also were hesitant to leave home and go shopping, according to the monthly retail index survey from the Michigan Retailers Association.

The cold and snow at the beginning of the year continued through February, putting the seasonally adjusted performance index at 42.8 out of 100, a slight increase from February 2018’s 42.2. January 2019’s seasonally adjusted performance came in at 42.1.

The 100-point index provides a snapshot of the state’s overall retail industry. Index values above 50 generally indicate positive activity.

The February survey showed 32 percent of respondents reported sales increases over January, 53 percent of retailers recorded declines in February and 15 percent reported no change.

“January was a tough month with harsh weather. February, unfortunately, continued the trend. Retailers are eager spring will bring sunshine and an increase in foot traffic,” said James P. Hallan, MRA president and CEO.

The retail index showed 66 percent of Michigan retailers expected strong sales through May, while 14 percent predicted a decrease. Twenty percent expected no change. That results in an adjusted outlook index of 66.6 — a strong prediction for the upcoming months leading into summer.

“Retailers remain hopeful and ready,” Hallan said. “Consumers will start to venture out once warm weather and sunshine become more constant.”

The National Retail Federation recently released the holiday forecast for Easter spending. Eight in 10 people plan to celebrate Easter and average spending on clothing, cards, candy and flowers is estimated at $151 per person.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail jobs decreased by 6,100 jobs, but the average hourly earnings rose 11 cents over January to $27.66.

The state Senate Fiscal Agency showed February 2019 sales tax receipts rose 1.5 percent over February 2018’s $484.8 million but were $27.6 million below the forecasted level.

The Michigan Retailers Association conducts a monthly retail index survey in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit branch.

Bend in the road

Grand Rapids Community College Provost Laurie Chesley was named president of Central Oregon Community College, effective July 1.

Chesley has been GRCC’s provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs since 2014 and has been with the college since 2005.

“I’m excited Provost Chesley has this wonderful opportunity, and we will miss her leadership,” GRCC President Bill Pink said. “Throughout her time here, Provost Chesley kept the focus on student success, whether they were looking at gaining credits to transfer to a four-year university or building career skills. She is an outstanding educator and an even better person.”

Chesley taught English at a variety of higher education institutions for 14 years, including five years at Northwestern Michigan College. She has 18 years of administrative experience, including as interim dean of learning at Northwestern Michigan, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Ferris State University, dean of humanities at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, and then associate dean and dean of Arts and Sciences at GRCC.

“All of my life, beginning in the earliest grades, I have loved ‘going to school,’ and I have spent my entire career in higher education, where I get to do just that,” Chesley said.

“By far, the most rewarding part of my job has been and always will be helping other people — students, faculty and staff — to develop their talents and realize their potential. I feel honored and grateful to have spent these years at an institution where faculty and staff are so committed to student success.”

While at GRCC, Chesley oversaw several initiatives designed to get students off to a strong start, persist on a clear academic pathway and move on to a career or a four-year institution. She also led the effort to negotiate and implement a new, merit-based faculty evaluation system.

Chesley will be the sixth president in COCC’s 70-year history. She will follow Shirley Metcalf, who has served in the role since August 2014.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming Dr. Chesley to Central Oregon and to this college,” said Laura Craska Cooper, chair of the COCC board of directors. “We were so impressed with her passion for the mission of community colleges and our role of promoting student success and community workforce development.”

Located in Bend, Oregon, COCC has about 8,700 students in credit courses and 7,900 in noncredit offerings.

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