Michigan needs to create an economic environment that is better than competitor states, increases the number of workers with education beyond high school, and leverage assets that give it the best chance to meet the world’s need.
So says Doug Rothwell, president and chief executive officer of Business Leaders for Michigan.
“We need to get more competitive as a state,” said Rothwell. “It’s just like a business. And that’s kind of how this whole (Michigan Turnaround) Plan is structured – the way a business would approach a situation like Michigan faced when we were back in 2009.”
Rothwell was in Kalamazoo on Monday afternoon, the eighth stop on an 18-stop spring campaign to share the second update of the Michigan Turnaround Plan, which it introduced in 2009 and first updated in 2012.
Business Leaders for Michigan is an organization of top executives from more than 80 large companies based in Michigan or that have large operations here. It considers itself the state’s business roundtable, established in 2009 to develop and promote strategies to make Michigan a top 10 state for jobs, personal income and a health economy.
Through the economic recession, the Great Lakes State was near the bottom of most lists, compared to other states, Rothwell and others have said.
Rothwell said a lot of good has happened during the four years since the plan was introduced.
“We’ve made a lot of progress on those, but you still have to work at it,” Rothwell said of various problems that business people said were hindering the state. They included doing away with the Michigan Business Tax (“We had a tax that no other state had,” Rothwell said); lowered costs for state government by doing such things as getting state employee benefits more in line with private sector benefits; balancing the state budget; and putting money aside to pay down debt.
“If you’re a business… The more value you provide for money, the more you’re going to win in the marketplace,” he said. “We think the same is kind of true for a state or a community.”
He said his organization works to study situations from a business perspective and present data. State and community leaders made the changes, he said.
He said a major priority for the organization is communicating the need for people to vote in August on a statewide ballot measure in favor of phasing out Michigan’s personal property tax. He said the tax, on equipment and assets a business owns, is a burden for businesses and is a reason for Michigan having
“The tax discourages investment in the equipment and technology that will create more jobs,” Roithwell said in a December statement. “This is especially important for the many manufacturers that have been at the center of our recovery and are major employers in our communities. We’ve been trying to reform this tax for decades. Now is the time to act.”
Making college more affordable, and making that a higher priority for state government is another priority.
“We’re worried that is Michigan doesn’t provide the talent, … if we’re not producing enough of that talent, those jobs will go elsewhere,” he said.
A big part of the latest update calls on the state to make Michigan “an aspirational destination” by being a welcoming place to all. It also calls on the state to reclaim its reputation as a center for innovation by leverage by leveraging six distinctive assets:
Engineering talent – Develop a global engineering village by branding the engineering sector; growing engineering education capacity; and growing engineering firms.
Geographic location – Make this a gateway to the Midwest by capitalizing on its accessibility by road, rail, sea or air; consolidating logistics operations; investing in strategic trade-related infrastructure (roads, bridges, tunnels and rail); and aggressively marketing the VantagePort (the regional partnership focused on driving expansion and new investment in and around Wayne County’s Detroit Metro and Willow Run Airport system).
Higher education system – Make this a higher education marketplace by strengthening the quality, affordability, productivity and economic impact of higher education; growing university enrollment; and growing industry- and university-funded research and development;
Natural resources – Stimulate the state’s natural resources economy by growing agricultural processing and exports; growing leisure tourism; and leading in alternative energy technologies.
The automotive industry – Make this a global center of mobility by leading in sustainable mobility and multi-modal systems; leading in vehicle/infrastructure technology to improve road safety; and marketing and growing the auto industry.
Health & medical expertise – Make this a life-sciences center by creating a hub for bio-pharmaceutical research and development; becoming a center for research, testing and medical labs; and growing medical tourism.
Business Leaders for Michigan includes executives for company that provide more than 325,000 jobs directly and 820,000 indirectly in Michigan, generate more than $1 trillion in annual revenue and serve nearly one half of all Michigan public university students, according to the organization.
In Kalamazoo, it includes leaders such as William U. Parfet, chairman and CEO of Mattawan-based MPI Research, and Kevin Lobo, president and CEO of Stryker Corp. In Benton Harbor, it includes Jeff Fettig, chairman of Whirlpool Corp., with whom Rothwell was to visit Tuesday afternoon.