Time for a True Turnaround

Tired of waiting for direction from Lansing, Michigan’s business leaders are luring new enterprise themselves

Business leaders are waking up to the fact that politicians need assistance when it comes to marketing and attracting new companies to the region and state. With Gov. Granholm and the Michigan Legislature seemingly preoccupied with a potential $500-million budget shortfall by the end of the year, and another $500 million next year, business leaders (and everyday citizens) aren’t about to support another round of tax hikes without considerable structural reform of state and local governments.

As The Wall Street Journal and many other outside media outlets have noted in recent months, Granholm’s drive to grow the state out of a five-year recession by perpetuating a large government bureaucracy isn’t going to work. While state leaders should be commended for offering more tax breaks to lure film producers a few months back, imagine the stampede of businesses coming to the state if taxes were lowered for everyone. Combine that with real government reform, including the elimination of overlapping services, more competitive wage and benefit packages for public workers, and an overhaul of personal property taxes, prison operations, and most other public departments, and the table would be set for a true economic turnaround.

Knowing that 2010 will be a watershed year for Michigan, as voters select a new governor and dozens of legislators (due to term limits), business leaders aren’t waiting to see if a new batch of politicians can manage the lifeblood of any booming metropolis — the attraction and retention of highly skilled jobs. After all, companies like Google, the search-engine giant from Silicon Valley, aren’t opening offices in places such as Ann Arbor and Birmingham because they enjoy our cold winters or sizable taxes (though they did receive tax breaks).

Rather, the business community rightly recognizes that outside companies are coming here to tap into our highly skilled workforce and promising research, technology, and products emerging from our universities. That’s why business groups such as Detroit Renaissance and nonprofit organizations supported by corporate and private funds such as The New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan are investing millions of dollars to identify employment growth, establish efficient means of transportation — especially near our airports, and remove barriers to growth.

“Oakland County has done a great job in luring new companies here via its Emerging Sectors initiative, and we want to emulate and enhance that,” says John Austin, executive director of The New Economy Initiative. To that end, Austin, backed by $100 million in foundation support, is leading efforts to foster innovation, support more university research, drive more training, and recruit companies focused on logistics, creative arts, freshwater technology, medical devices, biofuels, alternative energy (sans government mandates), and a host of other growth sectors. Given the challenges in Lansing, their timing couldn’t be better.

R.J. King

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