Since taking office in 2010, Gov. Rick Snyder said he is happy with how the state has come together.
At the 96th annual Michigan Farm Bureau meeting last week at DeVos Place, Snyder spent time addressing the industry’s accomplishments and opportunities.
“We were a broken state — we weren’t working together,” Snyder said. “We were so successful, we forgot that you have to be a family. You have to work together to succeed. That’s the spirit we need. We’re not all the way to where we need to be yet.”
He said by working together, the state can go much further than it has.
“We’re an extremely diverse state and we should be proud of that, we should embrace that,” he said. “Let’s channel it and find common ground on every issue. Let’s not dwell on where we might not agree, and advance what we agree on and show we’re better people.”
Snyder named agriculture as one of Michigan’s three major industries along with automotive manufacturing and tourism. He highlighted some of the agricultural industry’s strengths but also noted there are opportunities that can add to its success.
In 2010, Michigan agriculture was a $71 billion industry. This year it surpassed $101 billion, but Snyder said he’s setting a goal to make agriculture a $125 billion industry.
Snyder noted the 11.2 percent unemployment rate when he took office has descended to 5 percent with the creation of 420,000 private sector jobs. That job creation was good for fifth-best in the nation, he said, when most experts projected Michigan would rank last.
“We moved the curve,” Snyder said. “We did it by working together. Our role is to create the environment for success, and we let free enterprise work.”
All of Michigan, however, has a major talent issue at hand, Snyder told the crowd.
He said it’s important that industries, including agriculture, do a better job of connecting with younger generations. For agriculture, that may mean focusing on the new technology and skill sets needed to be successful.
To help educate future employees, Snyder said a better job needs to be done connecting with students at community colleges and intermediate school districts.
“The skilled trades are no longer welder, plumber, electrician, only — that’s what comes to mind,” he said. “But if you’re in manufacturing today, you’re a skilled-trades person. If you’re in agriculture, you’re a skilled-trades person. We should be proud of that and we need to do more to encourage those connections.”
Snyder said there are regions other than Detroit that need help to rebound economically. He pointed to rural areas and small towns that will benefit from his “Rising Tides” program that will section Michigan into 10 regions. A community in each region will be selected to receive help from state government, ranging from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to Michigan State Housing Development Authority to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“Detroit is great for the state, no matter where you live,” he said. “But we have parts of Michigan not coming back as fast as others. I don’t want to leave those places behind.
“We’re doing a comprehensive approach to help people to help themselves.”
The governor also addressed the current comprehensive review of the energy policy in the state legislature. He said an overhaul that addresses the state’s energy needs will make Michigan more competitive.
A resource that gives the state a competitive edge is its access to fresh water in the Great Lakes, Snyder said.
“We have an opportunity no place else has in terms of access to fresh water, but we need to do it in a smart way,” he said. “We need to be responsible stewards for the next 1,000 years or longer. How can we utilize it effectively to give us a competitive edge to provide for people and be more productive in providing food and agricultural products?”
While Michigan has attracted some companies from out of state to contribute to the state’s agriculture industry, Snyder said staying in front of the innovation curve should be a top priority. He talked about a visit he took to Bay City’s Michigan Sugar Co., which began making brown sugar in addition to regular sugar.
“That was a great opportunity for value-added processing,” he said. “Let’s think about that. We need you to innovate on the front end of that, and then how can we communicate and succeed together?”
Food and agricultural products can make Michigan be a better provider to the world, he said. Snyder noted his five trade trips to China in his five years in office.
“We’ve seen a 40 percent increase of exports to China,” he said. “There’s more work to be done. We can take more market share. We can help support the world in terms of food.”
Michigan’s leadership in food and bio safety will increase the state’s exports, he said.
“Keeping our people safe (is) a message that resonates with people across the globe,” Snyder said. “People will want the products they know are safe and secure. We have the tools to be a leader in the world.”