Street Talk: Head of the class

Creative camps.
61

Business leaders from across the state are outspoken about the need to expand investment in Michigan’s universities — especially the state’s top research universities — so businesses will be able to tap the highly educated college graduates and research they need to keep up with the growing demand for workers.

Both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Senate have proposed using some of Michigan’s budget surplus to give universities a major boost.

In addition to significantly increasing funds for university operations, the Senate has proposed spending $360 million for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which will make a university education more affordable for Michigan families. The scholarship is estimated to benefit 100,000 full-time students, saving them tens of thousands of dollars they otherwise might have to take out in loans. It also is expected to raise enrollment and increase the number of potential graduates by 15,000 over the next five years.

Michigan business leaders say the state must make such investments if job providers are to have the workers they need to compete. Among them is Sue Schweim Tellier, president of JetCo Federal, a Grand Rapids supply chain management, logistics and packaging services company serving the defense industry. A leader of Women in Defense at the state and national levels, Tellier said Michigan isn’t doing what’s needed to encourage people to get college degrees so they can start their own companies, work in advanced manufacturing and do critical research that can lead to new discoveries.

“I hope our lawmakers realize that one of the most important assets a state can have is universities that produce graduates who keep the economic engine running,” said Tellier, who holds degrees from Michigan State and Wayne State universities, which along with the University of Michigan comprise the state’s University Research Corridor. “While I want to see all universities supported well, our top-ranked research universities invest more to train graduates in high-demand jobs such as those in the defense industry and deserve to have that reflected in their state funding. We need to invest in our universities and students to have access to more of the talent we need.”

Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services in Detroit, said a college degree can be valuable to success in the fast-growing energy industry. She reinvented her company during the height of the 2008-2009 Great Recession, pivoting from electrical transmission and distribution equipment sales to energy efficiency management. She now heads one of the largest Black- and women-owned clean energy companies in the country.

“While there are many opportunities in the energy industry that do not require a college degree, a college degree significantly expands your options. Our state will thrive when everyone thrives, and one of the surest paths to economic success is higher education,” she said. “It’s imperative that Michigan increase its college funding so more students can get the financial aid they need to graduate. When this occurs, businesses such as mine can hire talented students from all communities to keep us on the cutting edge of technology and solve our greatest challenges.”

As executive director of the University Research Corridor, Britany Affolter-Caine said now is the time to tap Michigan’s budget surplus and boost funding for higher education.

The 2022 URC Economic Impact Report prepared by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group showed that, for every dollar the state has invested in URC institutions, the URC has put $22 back into the state economy. The three URC universities grant nearly 12,000 degrees in high-tech areas annually, as well as nearly 13,000 degrees in high-demand areas such as business, computer science and engineering, and nearly 2,500 medical degrees.

“Those are the kinds of graduates needed to create autonomous vehicles, medical devices, better agricultural crops and solutions to the challenges our communities and businesses face today,” Affolter-Caine said. “These are the graduates Michigan must have if it wants to compete to win.”

Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, said the fast-changing auto and mobility industry needs fewer production workers and more high-tech workers every day. He noted that, if Michigan universities aren’t given the resources they need to produce these workers, Michigan companies will look elsewhere for talent.

“If we’re going to remain a strong auto state, we need graduates in fields such as artificial intelligence, battery science, autonomous vehicles and computer software design. Only then can we compete nationally and globally,” he said.

Gun control

Increasing gun violence locally and nationally prompted Kalamazoo-based Urban Alliance Inc. to shift its typically adult-focused outreach to youth, creating a series of day camps that are centered on breaking the cycle of gun violence.

Known as Life Camp, the events will be offered once a month in June, July, and August, and are open to youth ages 11-16. Participants will take part in discussions and activities designed to assist youth in avoiding gun violence cycles and differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable gun uses. The camp centers around the “Hands are Meant to Heal, Not Kill” theme and helping show kids the path away from gun violence.

“Our goal is to educate, empower and equip Life Camp attendees with the tools and resources needed to step outside the cycles of gun violence within Kalamazoo,” said Urban Alliance Outreach Manager James Harris. “In addition to helping local youth avoid gun violence, we also want to help them become advocates against gun violence.”

The camps will award up to $150 to attendees who excel in leadership during various activities.

“Camps like these give us a jumpstart to create a different narrative about the usage of guns,” said Urban Alliance Executive Director Chris Pompey. “Guns can be used to hunt or for recreation at the shooting range safely and legally. Locally and nationally, we need to understand what safe, legal, and acceptable gun use looks like to ensure that no one is hurt or ends up in serious trouble.”

Life Camps are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., June 14, July 11 and Aug. 16. Information is at urbanalliancekalamazoo.org.

Facebook Comments