BLM marks Michigan’s strengths, weaknesses


To be a “top ten” state, Michigan needs 36,000 more residents working, $10,000 more income per person and $12,500 more GDP per person.

That’s according to the 2018 Economic Competitiveness Benchmarking Report released by Business Leaders for Michigan, a business roundtable that includes top leadership responsible for driving nearly one-third of the state’s economy.

The annual report used multiple indicators to measure statewide and regional performance.

While the state has been faring well compared to other states in economic growth, that growth is slowing, and there’s still a long way to go in many areas, according to Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO.

“As a state, we can’t afford to let our foot off the gas where our economy is concerned,” Rothwell said.

Per capita personal income, per capita GDP and population levels are examples of this, the study found.

While the state’s unemployment rate has dramatically decreased in the past 10 years, the report noted labor force participation rate, while improved over the last year, remains below peer state averages.

Still recovering in many areas since the last recession, BLM highlighted Michigan’s greatly improved tax climate and high rank in total cost of doing business and called the state a national leader in research and development and exports.

Among some of the state’s remaining main issues: economic development not reaching full potential, poor education outcomes and crumbling infrastructure.

Rothwell said Amazon’s decision not to consider Grand Rapids for its second headquarters is a perfect example of why the state needs to continue improving.

The company’s recent decision to split the headquarters between New York City and Washington, D.C., both high-cost areas, stems from the value those places have to offer, he said.

“What you've got to always look for is a balance between cost and value,” Rothwell said. “I'd say, right now, Michigan’s doing better on the cost side and not as good on the value side.”

With the midterm elections behind us, Rothwell said he sees an opportunity to work with the new legislature on some of the goals laid out earlier this year in its economic action plan, including increased investment in talent and infrastructure, reduction of unfunded liabilities and purposeful effort to leverage Michigan’s competitive strengths.

He said he appreciates the next governor’s commitment to improving the state’s infrastructure. He added BLM believes it would be best to raise user fees for the long-term task, rather than using general funds.

On education, he said he hopes to see work across party lines to improve outcomes to create the needed workforce.

“I think there's broad agreement that the performance of the K-12 system is nowhere near where it needs to be,” he said.

He said recommendations on how to improve education, which he hopes the governor and legislator will react to, should be released next year by Launch Michigan, an education improvement alliance comprised of top business and education leaders from around the state that launched earlier this year.

Moving forward, Rothwell said he wants to highlight that economic development is in the interest of everyone in the state.

“We all ought to ensure that we don't make economic development a political football,” Rothwell said.

He said he wants to see a strong economic development program that focuses on the state’s assets. The coming Gordie Howe International Bridge, for example, will be another way to enable more trade between the U.S. and Canada, he said. The state also could continue to grow the mobility sector through the auto industry, he said.

“We need to be focused in terms of leveraging what we have that others don't,” Rothwell said.

In the meantime, Rothwell wants to encourage everyone in the state to continue pushing toward success.

He said just because the state is doing better in some areas does not mean it’s time to relax.

“When it comes to our state’s prosperity, better isn’t good enough. We need to be consistent but never complacent,” Rothwell said.

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