Commerce Chair Calls For Changes

    LANSING — Reviewing ways to improve Michigan’s business climate and how well the state does in supporting job creation tops the agenda for a West Michigan lawmaker who now leads a key House committee on business issues.

    State Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, will chair the House Commerce Committee for the next two years, a time that he sees as an economic crossroads for Michigan

    As Michigan lags the rest of the nation in the economic recovery and job creation, legislators need to examine the state’s business climate — including the regulatory and tax structure — and make the necessary structural changes, Huizenga said.

    Examining the state’s regulatory environment, tax structure, and economic and work-force development are all on the table in the new legislative session that began last week, said Huizenga, whose chairmanship of the House Commerce Committee puts him in a position to steer the debate toward many issues in Lansing that affect business.

    While offering no answers for now, Huizenga comes to the job with a litany of questions and a goal to improve the state’s business climate and encourage business expansion and job growth.

    As Michigan continues to struggle fiscally and economically, lawmakers cannot afford to wait any longer in attacking the broader issues, he said.

    “We need to do this now. We can’t afford to wait a year or two while the rest of the nation starts to heat up and create jobs and create those new businesses. If we do, we’re behind the eight ball,” said Huizenga, a second-term lawmaker and third-generation co-owner of Huizenga Gravel Co. in Zeeland

    “We just need to ask the hard question: Why the heck can’t Michigan keep those jobs? Everyone around us is bailing out slowly — why can’t it happen to us?” he said. “How do we create the climate that is going to generate success?”

    Rather than “picking winners and losers” for targeted tax breaks and economic incentives for new business investments and job creation, he said he believes the state needs to create a better overall business environment that lures new investment, particularly in technology and advanced manufacturing.

    The first step is to convene legislative hearings to identify problems, their scope and the potential solutions.

    Huizenga, 34, said he wants the House Commerce Committee to hear from not just the usual business groups and advocates but from labor unions and other parties as well.

    “We need to have a good, solid understanding of what we’re getting ourselves into and what we need to get ourselves out of,” Huizenga said.

    As the year unfolds, Huizenga will coordinate his panel’s legislative agenda with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Jason Allen, R-TraverseCity, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

    In appointing Huizenga late last month to chair the House Commerce Committee, new House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, cited his background as a small business owner and his “commitment to public service.”

    “For too long, our state has faced tough economic challenges and job losses. As a result, the leadership of our Commerce Committee in the House must be solid, experienced and focused on bringing Michigan back,” DeRoche said.

    Huizenga takes over as chair of the House Commerce Committee as many economists are forecasting moderate job growth for Michigan this year, although the state’s manufacturing sector will continue to struggle.

    Economist George Erickcek of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research forecasts flat employment in West Michigan in 2005 in the goods-producing sector and just 0.2 percent growth in 2006 for the sector.

    In seeking to improve the state’s business climate, the House Commerce Committee will examine the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the state’s lead economic development agency.

    Huizenga wants to gauge how efficiently and effectively the MEDC operates and “are they doing their job correctly?” Huizenga believes the state needs to tool its economic-development efforts more toward attracting, supporting and growing high-tech businesses and advanced manufacturers.

    “Do they have the right tools as it is and do we just need to look at a whole new paradigm?” he asked.

    Huizenga also wants to examine the role and use of venture capital and angel investors in stimulating new businesses and job growth in Michigan

    As lawmakers examine issues surrounding the state’s business climate, the Legislature will likely take up the issue of tax reform this year, including the state’s Single Business Tax and unemployment tax.

    Those debates will also occur amid the backdrop of the state’s ongoing budget crisis with which the GOP-controlled Legislature continues to grapple, trying to come to some kind of consensus with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

    The continued budget problems lend a sense of urgency for lawmakers to examine the broader issues of the state’s business climate and how best to stimulate job growth, Huizenga said.

    “The height of insanity is to do the same thing and expect different results,” he said. “So let’s do things differently.”    

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