Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

The dog that didn’t bark

A short note about last week’s Policy Forum: unlike four years ago, Right to Work was not on the table.

Perhaps we will put it down to the shift of the economy. In a seemingly prosperous time, RtW seemed like a natural; in these grimmer times, less so. But also, we may think of it as another indication of a walking back from GOP extremism. Granted, this is not something to hold one’s breath over, but that other items should take priority suggests that attendees were in fact thinking strategically.

After all, were there one measure to block the growth of W Michigan it would be that of RtW.

Still local businessmen have had a hankering for it, like some long-lost high school love. But examined closely, and the difficulties arise; this is no beauty. In fact, it is a recipe for more of the same, as Peter Secchia notes,

“A lot of companies don’t come here because they perceive Michigan as a rustbelt of union activity and that isn’t the case anymore,”

What he sees is a W Michigan that continues with the same old manufacturing base. More of the same, only better. But it is difficult to see how the future belongs to the older economy.While manufacturing will continue to play a major role in the economy, the real growth will lie elsewhere, that’s why the Chamber’s Jared Rodriguez rightly cited the need for talent retention.

Two items are at stake for West Michigan’s future. Will the region be prepared to participate in a new and transformed economy — this is where talent retention and education play such a critical role. And second, what will be the brand, the image the region brings to the world. A community that steadfastly clings to the old ways is far less likely to be seen on the cutting edge. And that’s the real danger of RtW — it’s not its impact on business recruitment, or even in its ability to hold down wages (dubious as that is) — it is simply that declares fealty to an older way of business (the Way We’ve Always Done It, actually in W Michigan).

A successful push for RtW would certainly make the region “safer” for current small businesses, but it would also leave them out of the competition for the real economic growth of the 21st Century.

So for once, they chose well. Our region’s growth depends on the motivation and participation of all its stakeholders; cooperation¬† is far better than that of needless wrangling. Far better.



Filed under: Economy, , , ,

Continuation or Transformation?

The West Michigan Regional Policy Conference closed Friday with a vote that sharply divides two views of our situation in Michigan. Asked to rate possible issues from one to ten, attendees listed the following as thier top five, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

8.65 Eliminate Michigan Business Tax and make corresponding spending cuts.

8.08 Implement a Right to Work status for the state of Michigan.

7.58 Increase funding for health care provers with effective prevention practices.

6.81 Streamline the state’s permitting practices

6.34 Update funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure

On one hand we had the ongoing political agenda of the business community: elimination of taxes, establishment of Michigan as a Right to Work state. And against that there were continuing questions being posed, often in the same working papers, regarding the steps Michigan and especially West Michigan should take for the future. Issues of training, education, revision of governance, and repair of infrastructure.

Politically, this presents a dilemma. There exists only so much political capital, only so much energy to go around. So a five point agenda is really something of a zero-sum game. Which big bruising battle do you pick up? Right to Work? Business Tax revision? More money for Schools? Funding a infrastructure repair (an estimated aditional $3 billion annual price tag)? Any one of those battles will prove exhausting, all the more with a Legislature controlled by the Democrats.

But this is not simply a vote on politics, or a Lansing agenda. It is deeply, a statement about how the business community understands its current situation. Some proposed agenda items are grounded in policies of Continuity. Changing the tax code is one such policy. Another would be Right to Work legislation; behind it exists the unstated assumption that business is essentially functioning well, thatthe problem isthat of containing labor costs. The corollary, that Right to Work would change outside perception makes the same assumption: there’s nothing wrong with Michigan that one more another heavy manufacturing facility wouldn’t cure (leaving aside that the biggest impact of Right to Work would be in the public service sector).

But what if this assumption of continuity, that things are basically all right, is wrong?

That’s the second policy option: Transformation. The renewed emphasis on education and training; the recognition that Michigan needs to invest an additional $3 billion for infrastructure repair, the increasing role of healthcare and bio sciences – these are all policies of transformation, of moving Michigan’s economy away from its industrial, auto-centric past. One path to that future can be seen in Dow Chemical’s transformation. There are more, as our own Medical Mile testifies.

But all these possibilities finally depend on the creation of an educated work force. The working papers for the Conference outline the difficulty of this path ahead. The transformation of Michigan’s economy and with it, the equipping of our region to compete globally will take the investment of substantial political energy as well as the commitment of significant financial and community resources. As study after study has shown, we have yet to make education part of our culture.

This decision to pursue continuity or transformation was captured by Grand Valley State University president Thomas Haas: “Do we want want to be more like Alabama and Mississippi, or more like Minnesota and Massachusetts? Research shows that prosperity that’s spread over a community follows degrees.”

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , , ,

Mob Wisdom

Put 600 business leaders in a room for two days and what do you get?

Well if you’re in West Michigan and at the Regional Policy Conference, you get this:

(P)articipants set these top five priorities for legislative action:

1. Eliminate Michigan Business Tax and corresponding spending cuts.

2. Implement a Right to Work status for the state of Michigan.

3. Increase funding for health care providers with effective prevention practices.

4. Streamline the state’s permitting process.

5. Update funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

This is the politics of the dead end, the politics of rage. It will not restore our State or for that matter safeguard their businesses.

For Democrats, it means we will continue to look opposing candidates who are quite simply, out of touch with the economic needs of our region. Without a positive agenda for the State, they offer little in terms of the way out. I will keep banging the drum, but now is the time for leadership, for a positive future.

And though I seldom (have I ever?) agree with him, Richard DeVos Sr. had it right when he said,

“Stop dreaming somebody’s going to come to town and build us a new factory,” he said. “It’s going to come from here, and we are going to make it happen.”

That’s actually an agenda Democrats can seize.

Cross posted at West Michigan Rising.

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , ,

True Religion

Mackinac on the Grand (our West Michigan Regional Policy Conference) opened with the official sermon from one Dr. Robert Genetski. As reported in The Press, he presented the old time religion: the problem Michigan is facing is due to no other reason than economic perfidy of Lansing, a failure to follow through on conservative economic principles.

And like any good preacher, he had the remedy for it as well, a swearing off of the bottle. Quit. Cold turkey.

“Tinkering around with this business tax is not going to send any significant message. Real action is to eliminate this tax entirely, sending a clear message to the rest of the world that we have changed our economic process here.”

Basically, he suggests that we burn down our own garage to prove we mean business — the act proves the purity of our intention. If this elevation of purity and creed over pragmatic engagement sounds vaguely familiar here in West Michigan, it should. This is the sectarian thought world. Generally around here we know enjoy the sects of a religious kind. The anti-tax creed of the economic radicals that so grips the Michigan Republican Party is only an economic version of the same. No one should be surprised that Dr. Genetski now lives in Allegan County.

But there was more to the true religion, Thursday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , , , , , ,

Moving in with the Folks?

The topic at today’s noon time lunch at the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference is “Attracting and Retaining Today’s Millennial Generation.” The preview executive paper goes over some of the main talking points. More than a demographic term for those born between 1980-2000, the MG is also a term for the highly desirable demographic that Richard Florida first identified as “the Creative Class” — the same group pursued in the Governor’s Cool Cities program, or the rise of the Grand Rapids Avenue of the Arts.

They’re young, educated and mobile. And if West Michigan is to join the global economy, it will need plenty of them. The survey of Michigan college graduates reports that 53 percent first consider the place they want to live, then found the job.

Well at least we have something to offer here. Dan Scripps has already noted the importance of tourism for our region. The redevelopment of urban Grand Rapids is another draw. But is this enough?

But it is not the desire to move, or even their techno-savvy that poses the problem. Commonly reported (surveyed) characteristics of this rising generation include being:

  • success driven
  • inclusive
  • global, civic and community-minded
  • collaborative, resourceful and innovative
  • flexible and adaptive

In short, who wouldn’t want these in their cities? What stands in the way? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Economy, Michigan, , ,

A course for the future?

Thursday starts the two-day event, Mackinac on the Grand, aka The West Michigan Regional Policy Conference, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Nominally the conference is to advance the cause of West Michigan in the halls of Lansing, to articulate an agenda, to schmooze and of course, to lobby. Underneath however, a second issue lurks: how will West Michigan and the Midwest broadly deal with the issue of globalization?

The question at hand is not West Michigan v. Detroit; our business climate against the auto-dominated east. Rather it is West Michigan’s place in the global economy. As Richard Longworth notes in Caught in the Middle (more on that later), the golden days of the Midwest are behind it. In this new era, there will be winners and losers, “dislocations of people and places” is how John Austin relates it.

The old heavy manufacturing model is dead and in its place rise new sources of value: business services, hospitals, universities, tourism, communications. (Interestingly, these are the same themes being picked up by Dan Scripps, candidate for MI-101).

But if the region stands to shine, it also shares in the general reaction of denial found throughout the Midwest. There remains the understandable longing for the now departed past, with its factories and flourishing farms, and of course its older form of politics. There is in all this the danger, too, of a defeatist attitude that finds itself content with being a “mediocre people living in mediocre cities” (Longworth, 48).

Throughout the executive summaries two themes play against each other: the old one of politics as usual, backward glancing, a politics (and policy) of denial; and a new one centered on the questions of what must we do to meet our future.

Who will win? The vote is Friday.

Tomorrow, we will look at each of the eight summaries individually.

Filed under: Michigan, , , , ,


August 2020