Economic development experts question the state's preparation for future growth

Jun 4, 2018

Birgit Klohs, President and CEO, The Right Place
Credit The Right Place

The annual Mackinac Policy Conference has come to close. During last week’s program a discussion about the state’s preparation for future economic growth.

What are the elements for economic development?

“The bedrock is really three things: Workforce talent, infrastructure and a quality of life. Okay, those are the bedrocks.”

Birgit Klohs is CEO of regional non-profit economic development organization, The Right Place.

“Recently the CEOs of the country are being polled and the three top site location factors are talent, infrastructure and incentives. Taxes are number seven. So, everybody always gets excited about the taxes and are they too high or are they too low. Businesses factor this in from the very beginning. Talent, infrastructure and incentives are the top three. Simple.”

No matter how you look at it talent is at the top of the list and there’s a skills shortage in the state of Michigan.

“And I think that one of the biggest challenges we’re seeing is that we do not have coherent policy.”

That’s Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

“All of our policy is piecemeal and so as a result of that we have this really fragmented system that tries to grab at the best practices of multiple models and we’re falling short. We’re focusing on preparing our kids for tests rather them having the crucial skills we know they’ll need to be successful in work.”

Preparing Michigan students at a high performing level is critical for sustaining future economic growth. That includes workforce development for those who do not go on to college.

“Our system is disparate. It’s not systemic," explained Klohs. "We did an analysis in seven counties in West Michigan four years ago. We had over 300 workforce development and talent development programs and organizations, over 300 in just seven counties. So, it needs to be way more focused, way more coordinated and it needs to start early with our youngest children because if you’re not prepared to go to school you’ll never succeed. So, the pipeline that has to come either in colleges, or enter the skilled trades, starts at age one, not at age 15. And we are not coordinating this. Over last 10 years I think the legislature has changed its approach to our education system what, three or four times? And every time we don’t like the outcomes we do a 180 and go the other direction and start over. We don’t give it a chance. When I took this job 30 years ago Michigan was number five in educational attainment, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana were at 48, 49 and 50 and we always giggled. And now we’re turning into Michissippi. Is that acceptable to us? It should not be acceptable to anybody in this state to be at that low of an attainment level.”

Currently, there are 850,000 jobs in the state that need to be filled.

Patrick Center, WGVU News.