Next month, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) will celebrate 10 years since our first conference. As we look back, it’s clear Michigan’s economy is far better than it was 10 years ago. Dramatic policy changes have been achieved in Michigan — from Right to Work to the elimination of the job-killing Michigan Business Tax and the penalizing personal property tax — and unemployment is now at dramatically lower levels. Not only are more people working but their incomes are rising.
It would be easy to sit back and relax, but challenges still face Michigan’s workers, employers and communities. Michigan is a far better place today than it was 10 years ago, but we all need to work together to take Michigan from good to great.
The WMPF started at a time when Michigan had 15 percent unemployment, and people and businesses were fleeing the state in record numbers. For 10 years, WMPF attendees have prioritized and supported policies that have irrefutably guided Michigan to its current trailblazer status for job growth, quality of life and economic prosperity. Attendees have demanded big goals for bold changes.
In the early part of this decade, the WMPF partnered with others and successfully called on the legislature to repeal the Michigan Business Tax, which impacted numerous businesses, forcing many to close their doors. We then pushed for Michigan to become a Right-To-Work state. The creation of over 500,000 jobs — primarily private sector jobs outside of the automotive industry — and rising worker income have followed these changes. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to build upon these past victories to maintain and attract top-tier talent to build this continuous improvement for Michigan’s workers and their families.
As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to help Michigan keep its position as a welcoming home for both companies and employees. We need to ensure our children have access to excellent education and that our families have the quality of life they deserve. Already, we are seeing results from dedicated investments in early childhood learning, but the work is not over. But, while more money is often the political refrain, we should question what focus will help our kids. Michigan ranks in the top 10 for education spending but in the bottom 10 for results. This is unacceptable. Just as we pursue efficient and effective improvements in our careers, we need to ensure money is spent wisely and our professional teachers have the tools and support needed to prepare our children for their success tomorrow.
For Michigan’s success to continue, we need your dedicated and combined voices. We need business leaders to speak up and improve the system of retirement benefits for public employees so workers don’t lose benefits and our children don’t inherit massive debt. For many Michigan cities, roughly 20 cents on every dollar will go to legacy costs; this is already impacting what we can and should invest in vital public services.
We need your attention to special interest efforts to amend our constitution and impose changes similar to California. We need your voice to make sure we have an educated and prepared workforce to fill all the positions needed to continue to push Michigan forward and improve the lives of all who live and work here.
We need your voice to join the West Michigan Policy Forum and help drive Michigan from good to great.
We welcome you to join the discussion at our WMPF conference on Monday, Sept. 24, at wmpolicyforum.com.
John Kennedy is chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum.