Brian Long’s short-range economic forecast based on a monthly survey of purchasing managers (page 26) shows the regional economy is registering at the increasingly common “flat” level, but far more troubling is the report from Kent County Family and Children’s Coordinating Council, which has both immediate and long-term consequences — grave consequences.
The coordinating council, a group of 21 county leaders representing a cross section of business, philanthropy, government and nonprofit agencies, reviewed the results of a study that showed that despite dozens of historic and recent efforts, Kent County’s population is growing increasingly poor and remains divided socio-economically by address and ethnicity.
The study, while discouraging, is predictable — so predictable, initiatives have already been undertaken by some of the region’s largest employers. Grand Rapids Business Journal has reported often on such work, and especially on the findings by Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer.
Time and again, Glazer’s well-respected work at University of Michigan and Michigan Future over the past decade has shown the direct link between a region’s educational attainment and its attraction to ever more employers and entrepreneurial growth. Decade after decade, U.S. Census reports show Kent County’s education attainment averages little better than 24 percent of the total population.
Glazer’s blog, issued just days before the coordinating council’s report, again offers examples from across the country of such links. He wrote: “We have written frequently on the correlation between college attainment and both income and employment. It is now the best predictor of both. Education attainment is also a –– if not the — major cause of rising income inequality. College attainment is by far the best pathway out of poverty and to the middle class. Unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction.”
Metro-area entrepreneurs and business leaders have for more than a decade identified the causes and impacts now sadly realized with no reversal of the trend. Educational institutions have been on board with more offerings, from “re-training” programs to master’s degrees and Ph.D. programs.
Van Andel Institute and the domino effect of creating a medical hub and research center in Grand Rapids promises to continue to bring highly educated and talented individuals to the area. So, too, do advanced engineering and design programs and such opportunities as 5×5 Nights and StartGarden. But new jobs, careers and the growth of local companies is entirely tied to the educational attainment of those who live here and those who are growing up here.
One is reminded of the proverbial rhyme intended to teach the dire consequences of overlooking even the smallest of actions: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. … For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.”
Even seemingly small actions by business owners and employers now — training, educational benefits, etc. — to assist in the correction will pay tremendous dividends and sustain this wanting region.