May – June 2020 Commentary

map of Michigan bio-industries
Source: MichBio

Medical – Arsenal of Health Care

A major concern regarding COVID-19? Michigan had the fourth-highest death rate in the country at 19 per 100,000 people (as of April 16 according to a database from The New York Times). The fatality rate trailed Connecticut and Louisiana, both at 24, New Jersey (36), and New York (59). Washington State, which was impacted early on, was at 8, while California was at 2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Michigan health care industry numbers

At the same time, Michigan had a higher mortality rate than any other Midwest state. Across the globe, apart from Italy, Spain, and Britain, lower death rates were recorded in France, Germany, and South Korea. Michigan also had the fourth-highest number of confirmed cases in the U.S., behind New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, respectively.

Other states and countries attribute lower incidence numbers to widespread testing — a factor that allows health care personnel to provide treatment sooner. Other reasons include the early call for stay-at-home orders, and moving testing away from hospitals and into neighborhoods. Compounding the challenge of fighting the virus at home, Detroit, the state’s largest city, has a large poverty rate and a population with poor health outcomes.

Another dilemma before the virus spread was the fact that the Motor City had a fairly high unemployment rate relative to other areas; that means more people were packed into single-family homes and apartments. Coming out of the pandemic, health officials say urban areas like Detroit will need more attention to prevent future problems. With federal assistance, the city and state could do a better job of promoting healthier lifestyles.    

One trend working in favor of Detroit’s economic recovery is the city’s 200-year history of manufacturing. As the pandemic has shown, there are limits to relying on production overseas. While American producers won’t be able to compete with lower labor costs, the U.S. cut the corporate tax by almost 50 percent, it has a vast blue collar workforce, and fewer regulations of late means companies don’t have to take away investment dollars for consultants and processing forms.

As more work comes home, Detroit and Michigan have a golden opportunity to seize the moment and market its collective manufacturing prowess. If successful, bulking up on production will add jobs, grow the economy, fill tax rolls, draw new residents, and provide more money for education.

We have a lot going in our favor. Michigan — especially metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids — has a vast research university network (due in part to decades of high auto wages), a rich medical tourism market, and an abundance of large PPE providers, medical device makers, and makers of surgical equipment.

The state also excels at the production of sensors, robotics, precision parts for multiple industries, chemicals, agricultural products, armaments, transportation vehicles, and more.

Vision without execution is just hallucination.

— Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Co.

In light of a manufacturing boon, developers and municipalities must establish more industrial sites, including former public school sites in Detroit. In turn, the city should redouble its efforts to work with communities to reach consensus on the mixture and type of real estate developments that could occur. As part of the effort, the businesses would commit to mentor local students.

In the not, too, distant future, industrial property in Detroit will be in greater demand. That will drive the renovation of existing structures and boost demand for open land. Light manufacturing or distribution operators may not be the most ideal neighbors, but they can be designed and accessed in such a way that everyone wins.

Education – Laptop Learning

Online educational programs have picked up steam in recent years as technology has improved and teachers have become more familiar with posting instructional content. Students, meanwhile, are highly adept at navigating computers and devices. But when the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early March and schools were ordered closed through the rest of the school year, many districts scrambled to develop digital learning platforms.

Seeking to address the lack of virtual lesson plans at a time when schools were ordered closed, Nikolai P. Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, urged state leaders, via an open letter, to continue funding classrooms so teachers could develop and distribute online learning programs to students. He also suggested schools distribute laptops with internet access to families.

On April 2, Vitti said the district was “actively working with the business community to implement a strategy to provide all DPSCD families with a tablet and internet access.” On  April 3, the state opened an application process asking school districts how they planned to implement remote learning. No timeline, however, was given by Gov. Whitmer to actually launch such a program.

Some schools, though, jumped right into developing online learning programs. Detroit Cristo Rey High School in southwest Detroit, a private institution, gathered its faculty and support team, and over the course of two days launched a distance learning platform. The effort proved to be a success at a school that sees 98 percent of its graduates enroll in college. Such a rapid plan from the front lines should be adopted statewide.

Education – Business Heroes

On the campaign trail, some politicians called for nationalizing the country’s health care system — and following the COVID-19 crisis, more legislators sought to manage other sectors of the economy. But such measures never work. The collapse of the “publicly-run” economy last year in Venezuela led to starvation, a lack of medicine, and riots.

Or consider the recent path of Cuba. The Castro regime ruined what was a fairly robust free-market economy when it took over the country in the 1960s, followed by the adoption of a socialist system where few, save for the leaders at the top, actually benefited. Today, Cuba is often cited as one of the poorest nations in the world.

Capitalism, meanwhile, built America from the start. While few presidents have sought to nationalize industries, one measure pondered by President Franklin Roosevelt was taking over American manufacturers and the entire supply chain before and during World War II to build the armaments needed to defeat the  Axis powers. He never acted on the notion, even as labor unions, a main ally of the New Deal, pressured for control to run American factories.

In his well-detailed book, “Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II,” author Arthur Herman laid bare the folly of a centralized government economy. “The United States converted the least of all of its economic output to the war effort, just over 47 percent in 1944 compared to almost 60 percent for Britain and more for Germany and the Soviet Union, only to outproduce everyone else put together, including Japan.”

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