Letter from the Editor: Working Together

R.J. King
R.J. King

As Michigan strives to diversify its economy at a time when the federal government is encouraging citizens to “Buy American,” the road ahead is paved with opportunity.

The challenge is to seize the moment, organize disparate forces, and create a winning strategy to boost our overall economic health. It won’t be easy. For decades, Michigan relied too heavily on the automotive industry — a plum any state would love to have — to generate jobs, wealth, and prosperity.

The game plan worked when times were good. Yet when the nation became gripped by an economic recession, as the saying goes, Michigan didn’t catch a cold, it came down with pneumonia. The dramatic boom-and-bust cycles of the auto industry inflicted severe pain when things literally went south — factories were closed, jobs were lost, and new, less costly manufacturing operations were set up in other states and countries.

Too much of a good thing never lasts. Historically, wages here are higher than in most other states — an example of our relative wealth can be found “Up North,” where many residents enjoy a second home that helps fuel the growth of wineries, resorts, downtown districts, and four-season recreational offerings — yet labor rates are also an Achilles heel when the sun sets on an economic expansion.

To stem the tide, over the past 20 years advocacy groups like Business Leaders for Michigan and the Detroit Regional Chamber, along with agencies like the Michigan Economic Development Corp., among others, have sought to draw new businesses and expand our economic output in health care, technology, mobility, aerospace, robotics, defense, and finance.

The strategy bore fruit, yet much more work is needed. Consider in recent decades Michigan has struggled to attract residents and break the 10-million population threshold, especially among highly educated professionals. By comparison, Florida’s population has skyrocketed. In 1980, the Sunshine State had 9.8 million residents. Today it’s home to nearly 21.5 million people.

So how do we become more like Florida? While some may insist the weather plays a part in Florida’s success, the argument fails to take into account that few people venture out during most of the summer months, when the weather there is hot and steamy.

Rather than ruminate over what we can’t control, which accomplishes nothing, a new bipartisan collaborative is embracing the concept that progress only materializes through concerted and coordinated action. To that end, Sen. Mike MacDonald, R-Macomb Township, and Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, are showing that when members of two opposing political parties look past their differences and focus on the common goal of growing the state’s economy, much can be accomplished.

In recent months MacDonald and Tate have quietly, yet persistently, helped form the Michigan Aerospace and Defense Collaborative. The nonprofit advocacy group, made up of active and retired military personnel, industry leaders, and business associations, is working to help land major contracts and attract new companies in defense, cybersecurity, and aerospace.

The effort has already borne fruit with the Michigan Launch Initiative, through which the state is actively marketing itself as a cost-effective site for sending small rockets loaded with advanced satellites into space. They’re also working with the automotive industry and military sector to land new mobility and transportation contracts.

Now imagine what would happen if other business and political leaders worked together in the same fashion to grow our health care, technology, or energy sectors. Our state — and world — would be a much better place.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com