Letter from the Editor: Maker Economy

R.J. King
R.J. King

As we turn to a new decade, here are the primary objectives in Michigan for the next 10 years, presented in order of importance.

Education: This is the top goal of our state. Can our lawmakers develop an equitable system so K-12 public school districts compete on a level playing field? Right now, communities with high property values bring more dollars into their respective classrooms. Cities like Detroit, Benton Harbor, Saginaw, and Bay City can’t match that investment, meaning students in those districts are left further behind. For example, the Detroit Public Schools Community District has drastically improved test scores at the state level, but it doesn’t have the funds to invest in advanced classrooms and laboratories, and it can’t match teacher salaries offered in richer districts. If we can solve this problem, schools will compete based on pure educational quality.

Workforce Development: The nation and state’s low unemployment rate, propelled by federal tax cuts and a deep reduction in regulations, means no child can be left behind. Based on the latest figures, 2018 was the fourth consecutive year in which America’s birth rate declined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With an older population and fewer younger workers, more people will be asked to work beyond the traditional retirement age, the number of immigrants will increase (after passing background checks), and businesses will invest more into classrooms. On that last point, witness how large corporations are investing in career and technical trade schools in Detroit. The trick will be keeping all of that new talent in our state.

Mobility: It’s time to use a playbook from our past. Following the Civil War, Detroit officials, eager to grow the economy, sought out well-trained professionals from across the world who were dissatisfied with their respective governments. By spreading language-specific leaflets throughout Europe, the call for doctors, dentists, engineers, teachers, and architects was a tremendous success. As in the past, the region and state are still blessed with fresh water, natural resources, and low property values. Take the Pure Michigan campaign and rework it for the next generation of mobility — namely, let the world know we welcome network architects, software programmers, AI experts, robotic engineers, and other tech professionals. For those who are concerned Michigan will lose out to Silicon Valley and other global brain centers, consider the race to introduce autonomous vehicles. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and others have talked about building mass-produced vehicles, but they have yet to get a robocar on the road. Instead, they’re forming deeper and richer partnerships with our automakers and suppliers to bring advanced vehicles into the marketplace. That bodes well for our future, as long as we keep the pedal to the metal.

Unity: Citizens must demand more of our political leaders. Politicians are brilliant at pitting voters against one another. One common refrain is we’re heading for an economic recession. Don’t be fooled. More jobs are coming to America and Michigan, once the Trump administration cuts a tariff deal with China and Congress passes a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Michigan is blessed with what I call the ultimate maker economy. It’s time we let the entire world know. At the end of the day, software doesn’t work without hardware. From a value perspective, states and cities that can build and integrate new products and technologies will be well positioned for economic growth for decades to come.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com