Business Leaders for Michigan: State Should Focus on Urban and Metro Areas


DETROIT ­— Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of 80 top business leaders, seeks to boost economic growth by drawing more skilled manufacturing, fostering innovation and intellectual capital, and retaining more graduates. The state also should be a magnet for immigrants with advanced degrees.

At a recent Detroit Economic Club meeting, Business Leaders for Michigan presented “Michigan’s Metropolitan and Urban Strategy” at the MotorCity Casino in Detroit. The report is part of the group’s Michigan Turnaround Plan, a six-step outline to grow the state’s overall economy.

“This proposal is an urban and metropolitan strategy that recognizes cities do not stand alone as islands within their regions,” says Jim Nicholson, president and CEO of PVS Chemicals Inc. in Detroit. “It identifies where our metro areas stand compared to their peers across the country, highlights their assets, and recommends actions the state can take to help facilitate their growth.”

The report focuses on the “next economy,” which the panel said should be fueled by innovation and driven by exports and globalization, with a focus on manufacturing. “Growth is an intersection of innovation, commercialization, and manufacturing,” says Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institute, and a panel member. “Manufacturing drives innovation in the United States.”

According to the report, the working-age population in Michigan’s metro areas — home to 82 percent of the population — is growing more slowly than the national average. The trend is preventing a more robust recovery.

The group recommended three action items to accelerate the growth of Michigan’s cities and metro areas:

  • Strengthen the link between manufacturing and innovation.
  • Support strong regional systems to train existing workers and welcome new workers.
  • Make investments that focus on distinct assets of central cities to transform regional economies.

Additionally, the group says the state should help skilled immigrant workers with advanced degrees obtain residency, citing immigration and diversity provide a platform for economic growth.

“We are pleased to see that this report reflects the importance of manufacturing to our state,” says Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “It’s been our strength, and instead of running from it, we should be embracing it and helping it grow. We know we can’t grow the innovation jobs that we want without a strong manufacturing base.”

However, metro areas face a challenge of how federal and state funds are directed, says Rothwell. The flow of funds should be more aligned with how metro areas actually look, including simplifying and realigning the geographic boundaries of public services, he adds.

Most important to sustaining long-term growth is building on basic things such as sound fiscal management, results-oriented redevelopment strategies, and cost-effective and reliable public services, Rothwell says. “If our communities cannot deliver the basics and do them well, then any other actions aren’t going to achieve the results we all want.”