Business Leaders for Michigan recently unveiled a strategic plan and public awareness campaign, highlighting what members believe is the best approach toward a healthy economy.
The goal of the group, made up of leaders of businesses that account for nearly one-third of the state’s economy, is to become a “top 10 state” for jobs, personal income and economy.
Michigan currently is ranked in the 30s, having moved up from near the bottom over the past seven years.
To help propel the effort forward, BLM has put together an action plan that addresses the group’s top concerns: K-12 education and job-training systems, college affordability, strength of infrastructure and financial stability.
The plan, which is called the Raise Your Hand for a Stronger Michigan campaign, highlights where there have been gains and points out the priorities the state should focus on to continue momentum forward.
The three-step action plan outlines how to be fiscally competitive, where to invest new dollars and how to grow the economy.
The main challenges to reaching those goals are outward migration, underperformance in new economy sectors, limited resources for investment in the state budget, inconsistencies in policy and a tendency to look for simple solutions.
Blake Krueger, Wolverine Worldwide’s board chair, CEO and president, and BLM board chair, said the plan has overall support from the nearly three dozen members of the organization.
“Once you get the facts in front of people and you look at the roadmaps for who has succeeded in a particular issue, we don’t have a lot of disagreement, even though it’s a room filled with strong-willed individuals who are running a third of the state’s economy,” Krueger said.
The board adopted the principles “unanimously”, said Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO.
To move the state forward, Rothwell and Krueger said members understand it will take both sides of the state working together, and any tension that may have once existed has waned.
“I think that the West Michigan business community understands that for Michigan to do better, Detroit needs to do better,” Krueger said.
The organization is meeting with gubernatorial candidates and other politicians running for office. BLM will list on its website how each candidate aligns with this action plan and, therefore, which candidates have the organization’s support.
The plan outlines how to further strengthen the state’s fiscal stability and create a stronger economic environment than in competitor states.
The group wants to see reductions in state and local debt, cost estimates for proposed legislation and greater service delivery.
Oftentimes, fiscal agencies will push through legislation even when they cannot determine potential cost, which Rothwell said should not happen. Instead, there should be a “pause” until cost can be determined.
There also is a call for establishing minimum qualifications for finance officials and utilizing health care exchanges and stipends to reduce local government labilities and maintain promised benefits.
A top issue Michigan is facing is low K-12 academic performance, Rothwell said.
Krueger highlighted a “desperate need” to increase third-grade reading levels, among other subjects in all grades.
Later this month, BLM is releasing a K-12 policy it said should be adopted as a roadmap, along with a coalition of groups that support it, which include “obvious candidates” in the West Michigan area, Rothwell said.
“You will not see our recommendations and be blown away,” Rothwell said. “A lot of it is tried and true stuff.”
The problem, he said, is there is no consistency. He said the state needs to stick with whatever standards it chooses. There were tests adopted tied to Common Core standards, and they were changed three times in six years, for example.
Whatever happens, he said there needs to be unity. “We haven’t had that.”
Rothwell said more money should be spent on post-high-school education. The action plan there should be a single point of contact for employers and customized on-demand job training programs, which would make job training easier to navigate for employers wishing to locate to or expand in Michigan.
Rothwell said it’s undetermined whether changes in K-12 funding would be most effective.
The plan calls for forming an infrastructure council to “prioritize needs, achieve greater coordination between regions, ensure long-term planning and better asset management, and incentivize localities to improve water infrastructure.”
The plan also calls for user fees to pay for transportation and water infrastructure needs, and expanding broadband in underserved areas.
The state has been using $600 million from the general fund toward infrastructure, Rothwell said.
“The beauty of this investment strategy is if we were to invest what we should in infrastructure in the state and free up the money we’re using in the general fund for infrastructure, we’d have enough money to basically make college much more affordable for kids,” he said.
To grow high-wage jobs, BLM said the state needs a stronger approach to business attraction and a unified economic development strategy.
Leveraging the state’s unique assets would help grow the economy, according to BLM, and it has outlined a 10-year plan to leverage six key assets.
Rothwell emphasized the potential for Michigan to be a “global center for mobility.” Other key asset work includes making an attractive higher education marketplace; expanding logistics, such as the coming Gordie Howe International Bridge, to make the state a “gateway to the Midwest”; creating a center for engineering and life sciences; and growing the natural resources economy.
“Our point is that until you have some key sectors of the economy that are outpacing the rest of the nation, it’s going to be hard to get the top 10,” Rothwell said.
“We can’t just be as good as everyone else; we’ve got to be a lot better than everyone else.”
That’s what will bring “hot jobs” that attract workers, he said.
Rothwell said the state needs to “make bets” on the economy’s strategic assets, as it has in travel through the Pure Michigan campaign, for example.
He added it’s about using the money the state has in a better way.